Before scoffing a few top-notch whiskeys we rattled through the formality of our first AGM. The President, Gary Mongey, recapped the year and it really was amazing to see everything that had been achieved in such a short time. The society is now a well-oiled machine with varied, monthly tastings and money in the bank for future cask investments. It also had a significant role earlier in the year bringing a brand new whiskey into the world.
There won't be any let up in pace in 2010. The programme of tastings has already been sketched out and contacts made within the industry to get access to the most knowledgeable speakers and most interesting whiskeys.
The future is exciting but there wasn't any difficulty pulling minds back to the present when we started on the whiskey tasting part of the evening. We called this one "The President's Selection", and it should be an annual event. The idea is that we up the budget for the last meeting of the year to buy some especially fine whiskeys, as selected by our president and vice-president.
Our VP, Leo Phelan, introduced the whiskeys. There are full-sized photos of the bottles we tried on the Irish Whiskey Society's Flickr account.
Midleton Very Rare 2008. Any tasting that starts with Midleton VR has to be special, right? There is no doubting the refinement of Midleton. It is a blend, the grain whiskey being used to dial back the assertiveness of the pure pot still component. Only the best ex-bourbon casks are used to age the whiskey for between 12 and 25 years so there are no strong sherry or woody notes.
I like the idea of letting the spirit itself speak as clearly as possible and I'd drink Midleton any day of the week. But it still underwhelms and at €135 it's too expensive. That said, it's different every year and I've only sampled one other vintage.
My rating: 7
Bushmills 21yo. This was the only standard bottling from Bushmills that I had not tried so I was glad to have the chance finally. It has a very unusual nose, down to it's maturation half-and-half in oloroso sherry and bourbon casks, followed by two years in ex-madeira casks.
Normally I'm not a fan of smelling anything but whiskey from a whiskey. I don't want it to smell like port or sherry, for example, and this Bushmills has the discernable scent of fortified wine. It's quite muted though and the balance of flavours is so good that it just works.
My rating: 8.
Tyrconnell Single Cask 15yo. Up to now this has been my favourite Irish whiskey, a mouth-filling explosion of vibrant flavours. This particular bottle, however, failed to set anyone alight on the night. No doubt this is down to variation between single casks. My own bottle has Cask No. 957/92. This one was 3176/92.
My rating: 7
Bushmills Millennium Cask #142. At the turn of the century, Bushmills sold matured casks of whiskey distilled back in 1975 to interested parties, bottling and labelling it on their behalf. There is a lot of this about still so it can be had for about €100 a bottle. I had never tried it though.
As with the Tyrconnell, there is significant variation among the casks so quality varies. I like the base Bushmills malt, matured in bourbon casks, so I enjoyed this one too.
My rating: 8
The Irishman Cask Strength. This is a very unusual Irish whiskey "blend". It contains both pure pot still and malt, but no grain whiskey. This was my third time to try it and every time I've been really impressed. At 56% it packs a wallop but it's exceptionally well-balanced and has a very even finish without dryness
My rating: 8.5
Tyrconnell 17yo Single Cask. This is the same whiskey as number 3, above, just two years older. There was an audible gasp in the room as we nosed this one. It's magnificent, and it follows through fully on the palate. It just sparkles, and keeps developing in the mouth and on the finish.
This whiskey is not even on sale yet so we were very fortunate to be the first to try it, from a bottle without a printed label. Cooley has very little stock of this age so for a few years to come this expression will be very limited.
This is recognisably the same whiskey as the 15yo Tryconnell I have at home but it has a little more clarity, a little more refinement. This is my new favourite Irish whiskey!
My rating: 9