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:
Sweet full body nose with mango, tropical fruit, cracked pepper and apple notes to the fore. 
Spice and ginger gives way to jam fruits and toasty well-balanced oak dryness. 
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.