Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bushmills 1608 400th Anniversary Review!

In 1608,

"King James I grants Sir Thomas Phillips a royal licence to distil ‘uisce beatha’, the gaelic for 'water of life', or whiskey as we know it today, in 'the territory of the Rowte' in Co. Antrim. This is the first official recorded evidence of whiskey-making in the area that was to become Bushmills." -

   400 years later, in 2008, Bushmills produced a limited addition 400th Anniversary whiskey. Never to be released again, today this one is fairly scarce in a lot places. It's a blended whiskey, but only just, reputedly containing 95% malt and 5% grain spirit. To put that into perspective, some american blended whiskeys use 80% neutral grain spirits. In canada, it could be even more. 30% of the malt in the 400th anniversary whiskey is pretty interesting. It's crystal malt. What does that mean? Well, typically, crystal malt is used in beer making, not distilling. As far as I know this is the only whiskey to contain crystal malt. They add crystal malt to some beers to sweeten the flavor a bit, because some of the crystal malt caramelizes when heated in the kiln and thus does not ferment, entering the final product with some of it's sugars more or less intact. We had a bag of light crystal malt laying around from an old beer kit, and it is quite sweet. Like sweet corn flakes.

   What effect does this have on a pot still whiskey? They say it gives the whiskey and remarkable smoothness.

   Suffice to say, being a Bushmills fan, I was pretty excited when I found this stuff. When it was first released, the suggested retail price in the U.S. was $100.00. It's currently listed on for about $90. I found it on for a bit less... How much less?


   I almost bought two bottles at that price! The bottle comes in a very nice gift box/casket, which actually works pretty nice standing up in my liquor cabinet. It would certainly work well as a gift for the Irish whiskey lover in your life. On the inside of the box is a nice brief history of Bushmills. It looks like pretty high class stuff.

ABV: 46%

 This has been a tough one for me honestly. I get a big hit of sweet right of the bat, but not the fruity, young. lively, sweet I get from some other Irish blends, this is different. It's richer, robust, almost like a sherry cask sweetness, without the other pleasant undertones that usually accompany a sherry cask aged whisky. I also get underlying cereal grains, and with water a little bit of caramel, but much less than I remember from the regular Bushmills. I start to get a little bit of fruit, but in a darker, baked, unsweetened fruit bread kind of way.

 The initial taste is pretty light, but then I start to taste the crystal malt quite a bit. Pretty consistent with the nose. Not huge, but certainly flavorful. Smooth I guess, but not remarkable.

 The finish is really nice, if a little hot. Rich, malt singing loudly, cereal grains, and fades to a nice peach flavor that lingers. Nice finish length. My favorite part of this whiskey.

I was really excited to try this one, being a fan of the regular Bushmills, but I have to say I was initially a little underwhelmed. This bottle has settled a bit with time into a nice dram. We had fun opening the bottle and tasting a little bit each week to see how the bottle was doing. In the end, I'm glad I only payed 35 bucks. At the premium it demands in it's home territory (£49.00)), I'd have to say I'd be a bit disappointed. Still, this is quite the respectable whiskey from Bushmills. A lot more flavorful than many Irish blends. Many of the other reviews were highly favorable as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Jameson Irish Whiskey Review

Jameson Irish Whiskey bottle image

   Not much to say about Jameson. People love it, it's grown tremendously in recent years, and the bottle looks great. It has a really strong brand image, nice website, and just saying 'Jameson' makes me feel pretty happy. It has the image of being Ireland in a bottle. Oh, and the Latin on either side of the coat of arms, "Sine Metu" means, "Without fear". How cool is that?

Price: around $20

ABV: 40%

Color: light yellow

Nose: Quite sweet and fruity this one. Also got a somewhat unpleasant metallic smell. with a splash of water the fruits open up into peaches, apples, and maybe a bit of citrus.

Flavor: Sweet and fruity, almost fruit juice like, with the same metallic offness. a hint of malt.

Finish: Nice light malt mixes in with the sweet. Then more fruity sweet. A little hot in the throat for this ABV. And a little more metallic, but much less. fades to a hot fruity finish.

   I like Jameson. It's so fruity and fresh tasting it's almost not even like whiskey. Maybe a good one to try if your new to whiskey? Mixes with club soda and a lime really, really well. The metallic quality of it is somewhat of a let down. It's been there from the time I open this bottle to the end. If that could be sorted out I would recomend this whiskey a lot higher. Perhaps I just got an off batch? 

   In the end, this is a decent bottle of $20 whiskey. Wouldn't honestly pay anymore than that for it.

Beam Inc buys Cooley! (Plus short Kilbeggan review)


Yep, forget all that stuff I said about Cooley being the only independent distillery in Ireland. They are now owned by Beam Inc. There's a lot of talk flying around the whiskey community about this. I at first I had that slight bummed feeling of, "Oh, another small guy bought up by 'The Man,' " but actually, this will probably work out better for everyone. Cooley was growing so fast that they would soon run out of whiskey (remember, whiskey isn't like beer, it has to be aged for a minimum of 3 years). So they need around 50 million to expand, and Beam bought them up for a cool €73m. When compared to the other Irish whiskey players, (Pernod Ricard and Diageo) Beam is kind of a small fry. Anyway, you can read more about this if you wish at the whisky advocate


 Kilbeggan is another Irish whiskey from our friends at Jim Beam, er, Cooley. Unlike Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan is a blend, and a inexpensive one at that. You can find a bottle of Kilbeggan usually sub 20$ range. So, naturally, it competes against Jameson and Bushmills. You've probably heard of (and tasted) those two, so why not give Kilbeggan a try? Many people love it, and it usually gets pretty decent praise. 

Price: <20$

ABV 40%

Color: Light yellow. Chardonnay. 

Nose: Pretty light, but not unpleasant. at first light fruity (apples), with light caramel and some light malt. It's pretty light. Malt comes out more with time in the glass. 

Taste: Not much at first, but gets better with time in the glass and a few drops of water. pretty consistent with the nose. It's, well, um, light. Nice malty Tyrconnell towards the end. 

Finnish: not bad. nice Tyrconnell-y malt that fades pretty quick and turns a little bitter. 

Comments: Not bad for $15. Less sweet than Jameson, less caramel than many. I think there is Tyrconnell in there, which adds a nice malty quality. Not metallic-y like some other blends which is nice. Not one I'd spend much time drinking neat, which is OK. My wife loves it on vanilla ice cream. Don't mind keeping this one around. 

Cooley has recently refurbished and reopened the historic Kilbeggan distillery, expect good stuff  from them in the future.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey Review

   So I just spent about an hour reviewing this whiskey. I imparted my experiences, my wisdom, and indeed a part of me into an informative review of Tyrconnell and it's history, and how it has changed my life and in fact the world for the better... Would you like to read it? So would I, actually. I was just adding the pictures when an internal conspiracy by 'The Man' chose to erase my post, no doubt to keep you, the discerning consumer, away from the information that will keep you informed and help you make wise decisions in a bleak world of crumbling free will and bad pop music........

  OK, it's not that bad. Something happened, my draft wasn't saved, and now I have to start over.

   Tyrconnell is a very interesting whiskey. This particular bottle that I am reviewing has sat unassumingly in the back of my 'cheap stuff' liquor cabinet with it's Irish kinsmen, occasionally seeing the light of day when i feel like sipping on something a little different without having to put much thought into it. Honestly, as I am sipping on a dram and writing this review, I can see that I didn't really give this whiskey the respect it deserves. Now, I am slightly saddened to see the the bottle is almost empty of my friend Tyrconnell.

 Tyrconnell is somewhat unique for several reasons. For one thing, it is a pure pot still single malt Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey of recent history has been dominated by blended whiskey (Jameson, Bushmills, Tullimore dew).  Tyrconnell is made from only single malt pot still whiskey, and not mixed with any grain spirits. Also, Tyrconnell is distilled at the Cooley distillery. Of the three big distilling company's in Ireland, Only Cooley is still completely independently owned. The other two big guys are owned by major spirit conglomerates that can dump millions into to advertising and the like. Thus, Cooley whiskeys are generally less known by the mass public. However, within the whiskey community, Cooley is highly regarded, even winning some very prestigious awards in recent years.

 Cooley has a line of fine whiskeys that include some blends, and two main single malts: Tyrconnell and Connemara. Connemara is peated, Tyrconnell is not. They also have a line of whiskey targeted at the U.S. market called 'Michael Collins' with a blend and single malt, as well as some more experimental stuff (like Connemara bog oak). To be fair there are some other great single malt Irish whiskeys out there, I just chose to review this particular expression because, well, it's in my cabinet. And I like Cooley.

Price: $30ish

Color: Very light. White wine (I know, kinda general)

   Big sweet malt and grains. Very appealing and fresh smelling. Since the day I opened this bottle, one fruit has dominated the noise for me: Bananas. Sometimes ripe bananas, sometimes banana bread or dried bananas, but lots o' bananas. Maybe a little oatmeal, with bananas. Water opens it up a little but not necessary.

   Nice light mouth feel, the expected maltyness, and sweet fruit with maybe a hint of spice. Probably the closest to 'refreshing' I have come with a single malt whiskey. With water a little more dessert-y.

Finnish: Malty again, with dried fruit. Really pleasant and surprisingly drying.

Comments: I've enjoyed Tyrconnell more and more throughout the bottle. For me, it's not really a 'main event' type whiskey. Rather, I have enjoyed it most in the background, adding to whatever I am doing. Not a big in your face whiskey, just one to sip while talking with friends or reading a good book.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Snow Day!! Highland Park 12yr

I have chosen the Highland Park 12yr, or HP12 (does anyone really call it that?) as my first review for several reasons. Firstly, it is the whisky I have been drinking and enjoying most lately, as you can see by the mostly empty bottle in the pictures. But secondly, it is the whisky that peaked my interest and lead the way for me into the world of Scotch Whisky.

   A little background history: I've had experience with whiskey most of my life. My earliest memory of it comes from my grandfather Frank, who I have always looked up to very much, drinking Bushmills on rocks when every I would visit them as a kid. My dad was an occasional scotch whisky drinker, and his dram of choice was Glenmorangie. He would let me have a smell and sometimes even a sip when he would get a new and exciting bottle to sip and savor. And of course use the accompanying tin to store change. Honestly, I hated the stuff. I would never tell my dad because I knew it was special to him and if he loved it it must be great, right? Gooegh, hated it. Tasted like dirt. Really, I still remember the taste in my mouth. From then I made a mental note to myself that I hated Scotch Whisky, and didn't return to that thought until not long ago. I didn't, however, hate whiskey. Far from it, actually. I became quite fond of bourbon. Makers Mark and Evan Williams were my drink of choice, but I also drank Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Fighting Cock, and few others. Almost always on the rocks. I had lately been learning more a about whiskey, and started trying a lot of Irish blends neat. Started learning about nosing, got some glencairin glasses, etc. I was walking through the liquor store with a bottle of Killbeggan, when I decided to try scotch tasting, even though I knew I hated scotch of course, but I was interested in furthering my education. First, they had Famous Grouse. Sweet on the pallet, nice mouth feel, wow, not bad! To bad I hate scotch though. Next, Black Grouse. Way to smoke for me, hate scotch. Lastly, Highland Park 12yr. now this was different. So complex in my mouth! And smokey... and I hate scotch. Left with my bottle of killbeggan. Little did I know, but my mind was officially blown. Couldn't stop thinking about the HP12. Thought about the flavor for days, literally. and that started my deep interest in scotch whisky. Now, I'm all about it. Read 101 whiskys to try before you die. Been to all the websites. Learned about the different scotch regions. more websites, reviews, videos, tastings etc etc etc. My mind is still blown by scotch whisky. 

I imagine everyone knows about Highland Park by now. If not, check out thier website, it's fantastic. Lots of great info/videos, very well done. One bit of info that was particularly useful to me was about the peat they use. Being a rookie, I thought all peat was the same. Very much not true. The island of Orkney (the location of the Highland Park Distillery) Is the northern most Distilling Island in Scotland. There are no trees. So, the peat they use is made up of mostly heather, attributing to the different character of the smokey peat in HP.

Purchase Price: 32.99$

 Nose: At first, I simply got a ton of smoke, (remember, I'm new) and if I focused I could smell sweet light heather honey (yep, got that from the website). As I've continued to enjoy the bottle, my nosing has changed quite a bit. Now, if I hold the glass upright, I still get hints of smoke, but when tilting the glass and nosing, the smoke becomes very subtle. I have to look for it a bit. What I do get now is this:

Slightly smokey, a little bit of the original heathery honey, and really nice salty caramel, and a little something else, sea air? Nah, probably searching a bit there, but something.

Taste: I'm not very good at this one. Surprisingly sweet on the entry, still salt caramel, and a rich flavor, can't pinpoint. Sausage? Really pleasant smoke in the nose while chewing and exhaling.

Finish: Awesome. Nutty, Coffee, lingering hints of salty sweet.

Conclusion. I love it. Favorite whisky right now. Definitely recommend.

Comments welcome, I'm a rookie, I really don't know what I'm talking about, and don't want to get in the habit of taking myself to seriously.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Well might as well start post #1. I was hoping to start with a review, as I have some interesting stuff in my cabinet right now, but I haven't had the time to write one up. Hopefully I will have time soon to write my rookie opinions down of some of the different whiskys I've had lately. Stay tuned!