Thursday, 24 July 2014

Whiskey and politics

A posse of drinks industry heroes recently met the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food in Leinster House. Marie Byrne of the Dublin Whiskey Company brought the entrepreneurial vibrancy that suffuses Irish distilling at the moment; Willie Masterson, malted barley grower, told of farmers' readiness to supply the extra grain that the phenomenal growth in Irish whiskey will require; and Peter O'Brien, chairman of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland and corporate relations director for Diageo, explained the enormous ongoing contribution of drinks production to the Irish economy.

You would think this would be a rather convivial encounter. "You want to generate how many jobs and attract how many extra tourists to the country? That's marvellous! What can your representatives in government do to help?"


But no. The visitors were treated rudely and condescendingly by the committee members, none of whom seemed prepared to begin an intelligent and constructive partnership. Éamon Ó Cuív set the tone by decrying the "violence and misery" that the demon booze has visited upon us, and the other five speakers trotted out sanctimonious variations on the same theme.

Even Senator Mary Ann O'Brien disappointed. She is not a career politician but a businessperson who built a successful export-oriented chocolate company. I had expected her to support fellow luxury goods entrepreneurs instead of throwing them under the bus.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe...

If we did have political representatives capable of independent and productive thought, perhaps they would sound like this:
"There is nothing wrong with an Irish person enjoying an alcoholic drink. It is a pleasure we share with every other society on the planet, a part of our common humanity and something we have enjoyed for millennia. The state should not punish this activity."
"Changing the binge drinking culture is our job, not the job of the drinks industry. We were elected to lead, we are paid to lead, we will lead."
"We have generated a lot of noise about alcohol abuse but while pretending to give a damn we actually made alcohol of indifferent quality widely available in petrol stations and late-night convenience stores, and in bulk at low cost from supermarkets. We sabotaged sensible ideas like café-bar licensing and the introduction of smaller 'schooner' glasses in pubs."
"We are closing the Daíl bar. Nobody should be drinking in the workplace. We will set a more mature example."
"The recent interest in craft brewing and distilling is a great opportunity to move the focus of drinking away from quantity towards quality."
"We will also encourage, via Bord Bia, the matching of Irish foods with Irish drinks, encouraging a healthier pattern of consumption."
"We will subtly shift an unfortunate perceived link abroad - particularly in the the US - between Irishness and alcohol abuse, towards an association between Ireland and the world's best craft spirits, ciders and beers." 
"Bottles of fine whiskey will be ambassadors for Irish quality and craft in every nook and cranny of the globe."
"We will foster a pride in and appreciation of our native spirits at home by not pricing them out of reach of ordinary folks. The new distilleries need a thriving local market to bootstrap their growth and gain valuable consumer feedback."
"VAT of 23% on a bottle of whiskey is already an excessive grab from people's after-tax income. Adding a further €14.66 in excise duty (including VAT on that duty!) is arbitrary, punitive and unbecoming of a democracy."
"We will not discourage whiskey tourism  - so successful in Scotland - by making great spirits but taxing them so they can't be affordably sampled in their own country." 
"We can phase out archaic taxes like excise duty if we ruthlessly eliminate wasteful public spending due to over-administration and corruption."
"If alcohol abuse imposes a cost on society we will seek to recover those costs more directly from those who abuse alcohol. Spreading the cost across all drinkers is not a disincentive."
"We wish the new brewers and distillers the best of success. The country is behind you. Slaínte!"

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ómra 2001 Single Cask Single Malt

Hot on the heels of their Teeling Single Cask, online German whiskey retailer, Irish Whiskeys, has released another exclusive bottling. This is a single cask, single malt, triple-distilled in 2001 at a distillery in Northern Ireland (more we are not permitted to say). It was matured in a bourbon hogshead and bottled at 51%. There are only 120 bottles, €79.90 a pop.

It has been christened "Ómra" which, I have just learned, means "amber" in Irish.

Photo courtesy of Irish-Whiskeys.de

As well as shipping to various continental European countries, owner Mareike Spitzer tells me they now ship to Ireland too. Welcome news!

Official tasting notes:
Nose
Ripe fruit, hazelnut, vanilla, toffee, sherry sweetness. 
Taste
Oily, malt, nutty, apricot. 
Finish
Very long-lasting and sweet.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Midleton Very Rare 2014

Irish Distillers have just released this year's edition of Midleton Very Rare. It's the 30th anniversary of Midleton Very Rare but it's also significant because this is the first to bear the signature of Master Distiller Brian Nation. He succeeded to that role when Barry Crockett retired in 2013.

Master Distiller Brian Nation. Photo courtesy of Irish Distillers.
Midleton is a blend of pot still and grain whiskeys, matured in lightly-charred ex-bourbon American oak casks for between 15 and 22 years. I expect it will retail for about €150 in Ireland.

Official tasting notes:
Nose
Rich, with vanilla sweetness on a layer of oak char from the influence of American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels. A soft floral note introduces the sweet spice of cinnamon, green pepper, and garden mint. Beautifully rounded with hints of green apple and banana.
Taste
Full, with the sweet spice of vanilla, cinnamon, and liquorice and the flinty note of barley grains. Ripe fruit combines with the charred oak, adding to the complexity.
Finish
Sweet spicy flavours that linger, fading slowly to leave the last word with the barley.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Teeling Single Cask Single Malt 2007

I wrote yesterday about a "new" Teeling single cask, single malt whiskey bottled exclusively for Irish Whiskeys, an online retailer in Germany. I slipped up a bit there because that was, in fact, released last year. I didn't document it then so better late than never.

What I should have been writing about is their actually new, just released, single cask, single malt Teeling. It was double-distilled in 2007 and matured in an ex-bourbon cask until 2014. Mareike Spitzer, the company founder, selected the cask herself.

324 bottles have been produced, at 46%, without chill-filtering or colouring. It sells for €49.
Nose
Wood, apricot, marzipan, apple, cream.
Taste
Wood, vanilla, citrus, oily, fruit.
Finish
Very long with intense woody notes.

Photo courtesy of Irish-Whiskeys.de

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Teeling Single Cask 11 Year Old

Update: this was, in fact, released last year (though it's still available). I meant to write about this Teeling single cask, single malt.


A new Teeling whiskey has surfaced in Germany last year. It's a single cask, double-distilled, single malt bottled exclusively for Irish-Whiskeys.de, an online seller of Irish whiskey based near Frankfurt.

Distilled in August 2001, it matured in a bourbon cask for almost 12 years, until July 2013. It is bottled at the cask strength of 57%. It is neither chill-filtered nor coloured.

Tasting Notes (from IrishWhiskeys.de):
Nose
Vanilla, peach, apricot, grass, oak.
Palate
Oily, intense fruit, sweet vanilla, oak, subtle hints of pepper.
Finish
Long-lasting, intense.
It sells for a very reasonable €65 and can be shipped to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

Photo courtesy of IrishWhiskeys.de

The Irish Whiskeys company was founded by Mareike Spitzer in September 2011 when she found it hard to find a good selection of Irish whiskeys in Germany.

I asked Mareike when her interest in whiskey began. She tells me her husband was quite the fan which piqued her curiosity so, at a whiskey show in Frankfurt in 2008, she sought out something mild and sweet. She found it in Jameson Gold which, to this day, remains one of her favourites (it's one of mine too!).

Mareike toured Ireland recently, meeting with distillers old and new like Slane Castle, Cooley, Teeling, Bushmills and Glendalough. While here she enjoyed some of the best spirits this island has to offer, including Teeling's 26- and 30-year old single malts, and 15-year old cask strength, sherry-matured Bushmills malt.

Irish-Whiskeys.de is an online-only vendor but you can meet them in person at various whiskey shows this year: Whisky Herbst in Berlin, Whiskymesse Rüsselsheim, Aquavitae in Mülheim and Whisky & Tobacco Days in Hofheim.

Their catalogue is pretty comprehensive and up-to-date. I spy some other exclusive bottlings, some whiskeys that aren't available in Ireland, and some labels I don't even recognise. It's already a great selection but Mareike aims to keep expanding it and to add more single cask bottlings, in particular. There will be another of these soon, perhaps by the end of this month.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Teeling 26- and 30-Year Old Vintage Reserve Single Malts

I think I first heard of Teeling's Vintage Reserve collection at Bloom last year. The 21-year old Silver Reserve was on the way, to be followed, Jack Teeling told me, by the Gold and Platinum Reserves. I recall it because that is when I learned, to my surprise, that platinum is a more valuable metal than gold.

Teeling, more au fait with the metal markets than I, have dubbed their new 26-year old single malt "Gold Reserve" and their 30-year old, top-of-the-range whiskey, "Platinum Reserve". The 30yo will set you back about an ounce-and-a-half of platinum, or €1,500 (wow!); the 26yo will lighten your purse by a mere half-ounce of gold, or €475.

The Gold Reserve is 26-year old single malt, doubled distilled in 1987 and matured for the most part in bourbon casks. Alex Chasko, TWC's master blender and distiller, says that the whiskey hadn't quite gelled so he moved it for the final 15 months to white Burgundy casks, a wood choice hitherto untested on Irish whiskey, never mind on such old and rare spirit.


It was a brave move but it worked. I've tried this whiskey a couple of times and it's a stunner. For what it's worth, in my opinion, this is one of the best Irish whiskeys you can walk into a shop and lay your hands on today, at any price. It is limited to 1,000 bottles, at 46% ABV.

The Gold Reserve hits the spot for me but some might plump for the 30-year old Platinum Reserve instead. This is a rarer tipple, with only 250 bottles released, again at 46%. It's just the one ex-bourbon cask, double-distilled in 1983. I sampled it on the same night as I tried the Gold. On another occasion it would have been the highlight of the evening. But that Gold...


The new whiskeys are available initially only in Ireland at Dublin airport and the Celtic Whiskey Shop but they will eventually find their way to select international markets and travel retailers.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Centenary Series Whiskey Collection

Things were really kicking off a hundred years ago. As if the excitement of a front row seat to World War I wasn't enough, some in Ireland chose the war years to violently oppose British rule. A limited uprising was succeeded by a successful war of independence and then a civil war. We'll be commemorating blood-soaked centenaries for years to come.

That same period also feels like the birth of the modern era. There were long-distance telephone calls, cinemas, Model T Fords, cubism, general relativity and quantum theory. Aviation milestones were coming thick and fast since the first powered flight only a decade earlier.

The Irish Whiskey Collection at Dublin and Cork airports has selected five events from this period - one for each year from 1914 to 1918 - to commemorate in whiskey form:

  • 1914: James Joyce's collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published.
  • 1915: Hugh Lane, great patron of the arts in Ireland, died when the Lusitania was sunk.
  • 1916: WB Yeats's poem of the same name was written.
  • 1917: John McCormack recorded Keep the Home Fires Burning.
  • 1918: Constance Markievicz was elected to Westminster. She refused to take her seat, choosing to join the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin instead, where she became the first female government minister.

Five casks of single malt, double-distilled in 1988 have been set aside in the Teeling Whiskey Company's warehouse. They were selected for their balance of spice, fruit and wood, according to Alex Chasko, TWC's whiskey wizard, who rates them as "some of the best casks we have in the warehouse".

Each year one of these ex-bourbon casks will be bottled at 46% for sale at The Loop in Irish airports. There will be 250 bottles of each. Collecting all five is an opportunity to track the maturation of some very old Irish malt from 25 to 29 years old. "There is still loads of life left in these casks with a very exciting flavour profile", says Alex.

The 2014 Centenary whiskey was released in March. A 70cl bottle goes for €395 (or €295 Duty Free). That sounds expensive but Teeling's recent 26 year old Gold Reserve will set you back €450. I wouldn't often say this, but I've tasted the Gold Reserve and it's worth it. It is a "wow" whiskey. I haven't had the opportunity to try the Centenary yet but Alex tells me people have the same reaction to that.

Official tasting notes:
Nose
Sweet full body nose with mango, tropical fruit, cracked pepper and apple notes to the fore. 
Taste
Spice and ginger gives way to jam fruits and toasty well-balanced oak dryness. 
Finish
The tropical fruit returns with lychee, strawberry and bubblegum in force.

The events of almost a hundred years ago - independence and Prohibition, in particular - were disastrous for the Irish whiskey industry and almost killed it off. A century later, with the industry in rude health, we can remember that time more fondly and offer a toast to some of the inspiring figures who helped shape a brand new nation.