May 012016

With Passover finally over, lets get back to the enjoyable business of reviewing some whisky.

Few distilleries have been a constant source of so much consternation to me as Auchentoshan (well, and Jura). It’s a distillery I want to like, but have just not been able to enjoy any of the regular bottlings I have tasted. I don’t really like triple distilled whisky, and at 40% ABV and chill filtration, the standard bottlings are just not interesting in any way.

A Typical Day at Auchentoshan © Malt and Oak

A Typical Day at Auchentoshan
© Malt and Oak

Older, cask strength bottlings are another story, and from time to time I come across one that I can actually enjoy, like the 22 year old bottled by the Glaswegian Good Spirits that I was invited to taste by the great guys at the Glasgow Whisky Club, incidentally, the evening before my visit to the distillery.

At the distillery tour, the participants (it was myself and two young ladies, one from Australia and one from Italy who were “taking the morning off” from a professional conference they were attending) were invited to taste this distillery only bottling, aged 9 years in a Bordeaux cask, and it was REALLY good. Cask strength, unfiltered the liquid really showed what Auchentoshan is actually capable of, triple distillation or not.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Auchentoshan Distillery Exclusive, Bordeaux Cask #205, Distilled 15.2.2006, Bottled 30.9.2015 (56.5% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Deep Copper, long lasting residue.

Nose: Bittersweet chocolate, red berries, almost port like, it has depth, wine dryness, gummy drops. You can spend some real time with this one. A drop of water brings out a minty freshness. Some cereal

Palate: Here’s the wine, with dry spices, pepper and clove, with a hint of the triple distilled initial tang of bitterness.

Linger: White pepper, a dryness inside the cheeks, clove and a slight sweetness. Light spice on top of the gullet.


Why can’t all Auchentoshans be like this?

Dec 042015

Saint Patrick is the fourth century saint who brought Christianity to Ireland, using the shamrock to explain the trinity and driving all snakes off the island. We’ll complete the Redbreast core trinity today, and move on to a very promising sample I received from Douglas Laing, with a story all to its own.

Photo Credit: Irish Distillers

Photo Credit: Irish Distillers

The Redbreast 21 is yet another creation of Billy Leighton, Irish Distillers’ master blender who, together with his predecessor Dr. Barry Walsh, uphold both the tradition and the future of the single/pure pot still Irish whiskey, advanced through the company’s four brands of the style. It’s worth mentioning that Redbreast was a brand owned by a Dublin wine merchant, Gilbeys of Ireland, who filled new make spirit from the Jameson Distillery in Dublin. The decline of Irish Whiskey and Jameson’s closing of the Dublin distillation operation almost drove Glibeys’ Redbreast into extinction, were it not for the Midleton team who revived it in 1991, following the Pernod Ricard takeover.

The Redbreast 21 was too heavily musty for me, a sherried version of the very vegetal Green Spot and Yellow Spot whiskies, but I can understand why some of my friends sing this dram’s praises, as it does open up quite and gets somewhat lighter with the sherry coming out over the mustiness.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Redbreast 21 (46% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Amber, thin legs form with a lot of droplets that remain on the glass.

Nose: Starts off very musty, classically Irish nose which is somewhat dirty and very acetonic. Hints of lemon, herbal notes, hints of dried fruit and some leather and musty cereal. The time in the cask really took the triple distilled pot still style to its fullest. This is a complex dram, that needs time to breath, as it does the mustiness abates and makes way for the spice and sherry.

Palate: Musty and acetonic, with a sour cereal note. Spice (pepper, white pepper and some faint yet sharp cinnamon) come through with a bitter citrus rind note that comes through as well.

Linger: Sweet with bitter overtones with spice layered behind it and the signature mustiness stays long in the mouth.


Heavy, musty and vegetal, this could have easily been the top “Spot” whisky (say “Red Spot”) above the Green Spot and Yellow Spot. Very complex and interesting.

As with all the Midelton Pot Still whiskies, the quality is very apparent, and for fans of the style, this is a fabulous dram!

I wish to thank Kirsty Clarke and Stewart Craigon of the Whisky Corner for sharing this beauty with me. To friendship!!



Dec 032015

We’re in the midst of a flight of Irish whiskey, having so far tasted the very surprising Jameson Caskmates (reviewed here) and the Redbreast 12 (reviewed here). The 15 year old is, in my opinion, the best of the age stated Redbreast expressions, and is much more harmonious than the 12. It was initially released as a limited edition, and was later added to the regular core range.

This expression is made of whiskey matured in both Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks, in an unspecified ratio. The 15 year old is presented at 46% and is non chill filtered. As I mentioned while reviewing the 12 year old, there is a lot of craftsmanship (or should it be craftpersonship?) and skill that went into crafting these whiskeys, and I think this expression is the standout.

Midleton's Four Styles of Pot Still Whiskey Photo Credit:

Midleton’s Four Styles of Pot Still Whiskey
Photo Credit:

Midleton produces four styles of single (or pure) pot still whiskey: The full bodied Redbreast with distinct sherry influence; Midleton is a more delicate whiskey – with a very interesting experiment going on with Irish oak in the Dair Ghaleach series of which I tasted whiskey from tree 9; The Spots – Yellow and Green – highlight fruity and vegetal notes; and the Powers range is supposed to highlight spice. I have not yet had the opportunity to taste any of the Powers.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Redbreast 15 Year Old (46% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Copper, slow legs with a lot of residue.

Nose: Far gentler than the 12, much less of the bourbon like nose, less “Irish”. There’s dried fruit, honey, some acetone very far in the background with some mustiness, but overall this dram is far more harmonious.

Palate: Much mustier than the nose, with a deeper sweetness. There’s dried fruit and light wood spice with a plastic like feel in the mouth, with hints of bourbon and pepper.

Linger: Sweet, with some bitterness on the back of the tongue. Slightly mouth drying, with a sweetness that comes out over a layer of spice.


This is a very harmonious dram, sweeter than the 12 year old and more balanced. If you don’t mind (or even like) the mustiness brought on by the triple distillation, you’ll absolutely love this whiskey.

Dec 022015

Who invented whisky is a question that will probably forever be contested between the Irish and the Scots. There is, however, no contesting the fact that while the Irish whiskey industry led the field during the 18th and 19th centuries, to the point of being able to choose a different spelling for the product, yet came dangerously close to extinction in the 20th. At the same time, Scotch whisky rose to global prominence.

In fact, the signature Irish style of whiskey, the single potstill – created to avoid paying tax on malt – almost died out completely for not adopting to the times and making blends with grain whisky (or whiskey) made in patent stills. 1909 is the year in which the Royal Commission found in favor of grain whisky being considered, well, whisk(e)y, further boosting the Scottish blends. Given that blended whisky was taking over the world, the Irish industry was simply in no condition to compete, especially in the face of World War I, the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, cooperation with Prohibition in the United States (which was the largest export market for Irish Whiskey) by not supplying the black market through bootleggers and the Irish Civil War. The true death knell came in the 1930s when the Economic War (also know as the Anglo-Irish Trade War) blocked Irish exports from all markets in the British Commonwealth and the Great Depression prevented the industry from bouncing back from the horrible 1920s, leaving a decimated industry behind, comprising of only three distilleries in the Republic: Jameson, Powers and Cork Distillery. They merged to form Irish Distillers Ltd. in 1966, with Bushmills, a UK company, joining in 1972.

By 1975, there were two distilleries in Ireland, both owned by Irish Distillers – Bushmills and Midleton, in Cork. Irish potstill whisky was still made at Midleton, but was wholly used in Jameson Blended Whiskey, which was to become the cornerstone to the resurgence of Irish whisky in the 1990s, following Pernod Ricard’s purchase of Midleton (Jameson) and their throwing their marketing power into the promotion of Irish whiskey, a move followed by Diageo’s purchase of Bushmills. Also, the establishment of an independent distillery by John Teeling in 1987 marked the first new distillery on the island in over 100 years.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

The 1990s and especially the first decade and a half of the 21st century were really good to Irish whiskey, and its popularity surged, prompting the return of the most iconic Irish whiskys to the shelf – the Single Pot Still Whiskey.

This style of whisky is made at Midleton and is marketed under several brands like Redbreast, Powers and the Green Spot and Yellow Spot. It contains both malted and unmalted barley (but no other grain) and is triple distilled. The brands differ in the ratio of malted to unmalted barley and probably in distillation practices such as the cut and the speed of distillation, creating their distinct characters.

I tasted four expressions of Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey (the fifth one I tasted was the 12 Year Old Cask Strength I tasted at the Show, but don’t have notes for it) in this flight.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Redbreast 12 Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey (40% ABV)

Appearance: Copper, thin legs that run down glass rather quickly.

Nose: Cereal, note of sherry, some baked fruit (though not overly sweet), caramel, stone fruit that’s maybe not fully ripe with white pepper and clove in the background with a whiff of perfume and the lightest musty note. I expected more of the mustiness here, but it’s not overly prominent in the nose.

Palate: Sweet and lightly musty with an almost bourbon like sweetness (tastes like the influence of corn, despite the fact that none is used in single pot still whiskey). The grain influence of the unmalted barley is strong. There’s a hint of chocolate and some saw dust.

Linger: A musty sweetness, some spice in the back of the throat with a long finish that’s not overly complex.


It’s very Irish, so I guess the guys and Midleton did a good job 🙂 I liked it better than both the Green Spot and Yellow Spot, and surprisingly less than the Jameson Caskmates (reviewed here).

This is an obvious case of de gustibus, as there can be no doubt as to the craft and quality that has gone into this whiskey, and my own non excitement over triple distilled whiskey is truly my own.

Nov 302015

I have to start off this series of reviews of Irish whiskey with a confession: I’m not a big fan of triple distilled whiskey. This is not snobbery, I just find that the third distillation adds a certain musty note that I find rather disagreeable (yes, also in most Auchentoshan expressions). Yet, in a category with so many different whiskies and the care that goes into crafting those that are higher up on the rungs, it is incumbent upon me to keep tasting and trying different expressions, and try to asses them for what they are. I’ll also answer the question I know is on the tip of your tongue: No, I don’t find that note in either Springbank or Mortlach, and have not had the opportunity to actually sit down seriously with Springbank’s Hazelburn (other than a quick taste of the 12 year old) to actually see how I fare with it.

With that caveat aside, I took to tasting a flight of Irish whiskies which included the Jameson Caskmates, four Redbreast expressions and a Cooley in a Madeira finish.

This first expression is the Jameson Caskmates. I’ll admit to have come to this whiskey with absolutely no expectations. I mean a NAS Jameson, at 40% ABV, right? WRONG!!

This dram was actually surprising, going well beyond anything I expected. The story of this expression is that some Jameson whiskey was finished in casks that were seasoned with Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery stout, and they even made a cute video

The result is surprisingly good, to the point of me wondering how it would be at cask strength. That happens for me only with drams I like.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Jameson Caskmates (40% ABV)

Appearance: Copper, thin and quick legs.

Nose: White wine, pineapple, coconut, pine nettles, some herbal notes, thyme, lemongrass and a hint of eucalyptus. After some time you get light pickle in vinegar with some bourbon like notes.

Palate: Sweet caramel, popcorn, sort of an unsweet bourbon, hints of red apple peel, some acetone and spice.

Linger: Sweet on the tongue with bitter citrus in the back of the throat, with overtones of spice. The finish is surprisingly bitter and very rewarding.


Definitely a dram that exceeded any expectation I had of it. I was honestly expecting a NASty triple distilled disaster, and was wholly taken by surprise by this expression. This is actually a bottle I’d buy….

Might this be a turning point in my relationship with Irish Whiskey?