I was invited to Allen’s in Toronto to learn about Irish Whiskey. Proprietor John Maxwell is passionate on the subject, so I felt I was in good hands.
I will accept responsibility for the “beginner” level notes. Any literary sophistication that may have crept in are John’s influence. Following is the lineup of our tasting experience:
1. Kilbeggan (by Cooley Distillery, independently owned) – This is a blended grain and malt whiskey. It is floral, super clean and light. A good description would be “easy going and approachable. Yet it has dimensions to it. A pleasant nose of hay and heather, with nutty tones, in a framework of pure innocence. A smooth, whiskey with an enjoyable malty finish. We rated it “Tops.”
2. Jameson (by Irish Distillers/Midleton, now owned Pernod Ricard) This 5 to 7 yr old whiskey is produced from a mixture of malted and unmalted Irish barley. It’s heavier, with more wood sensation. The oak weighs it down as we taste it, and the nose is more subdued because of the oak. It’s a big seller, but it didn’t win me over.
3. Locke’s Blend (owned by Cooley Distillery) – This is an 8 year old blended product that is made in the same distillery as Kilbeggan (#1 above). It has a delightfully smokey nose and greater mouth-feel. “A lovely whiskey to contemplate,” as John put it. Nice overlay of honey notes, silky smooth, and nice tones of wood and maltiness. Soft, clean and great personality. We rated it “Tops.” Note, there is also a Locke’s Single Malt available.
4. Tyrconnell (a historic brand that Cooley Killbegan has revived). Single pot, single malt. About 15 years in cask. Clean and focused. Winner of many Gold medals, this whiskey is gorgeous: “on it’s mark, like an arrow,” John proclaimed. I felt it was very smooth. It deserves an honourable mention as one of the top 3 whiskeys of the tasting.
5. Jameson 15 yr. Pronounced medicinal and vanilla notes. This whiskey is more about the cellar. It’s interesting, and it has many supporters, but it was not my cup of tea, er… whiskey.
6. Connemara Peated Single Malt (by Cooley Distillery) – A high end whiskey that’s cask strength, not diluted! 57% alcohol. Ireland’s only peated whiskey, in which the malted barley is dried over a peat fire. 12 years old. Complex, rare and unique flavours. Burning tire, aristocratic vanilla and iodine notes. The beverage gives a serious jolt! The best in the flight. John: greatest whiskey ever. Our rating: “Top of the top.”
7. Greenore (by Cooley Distillery). This is not a malt or a blend, rather it’s a 100 percent grain whiskey, 8 years old. Ireland’s only non malted. Completely different. Like a vodka aged in oak. Medicinal, vanilla nose, a very different flavour than the others. Interesting whiskey.
At the close of the tasting, it was remarked “God bless Cooley Kilbeggan for introducing so many interesting new Irish Whiskeys to the market!”
We finished off with Johnny Walker red label, just for comparison, a good benchmark to indicate what most people think of, when they think whiskey.
But the evening wasn’t quite over. Not with so many regulars at this end of the bar. John invited some of them over. Delighted to meet Peter, Heather and Robert. I was glad to have a fine wine along for the occasion. We opened a yet-to-be released Viewpointe Focal Pointe (Reserve) Cabernet Franc, as I have connections with the winery. The consensus: this is an aristocratic, old-world style wine with elegant notes of black cherry, plums and some earthy, herbal accents on its nose, and a hint of underlying floral characteristics. Soft texture, spicy finish.
I am thankful to John Maxwell for his hospitality and whiskey expertise. This was an eye-opening experience. Having dabbled in single malt scotch, I was quite unaware of the quality, elegance and breadth of the Irish whiskey experience.
I can’t think of a more qualified person in Canada to have done this with. Will be back for more! WB