The elegance of Irish Whiskey

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.

John Maxwell and Wine Baron dive into Irish Whiskey


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

Irish Whiskey at Allen’s

Allen’s is the neighbourhood bar I wish I was a neighbour of.  Thankfully I still get here a good 3 or 4 times a month.  Proprietor John Maxwell and I sit down and taste through the wonder and nuance of Irish Whiskey.  We lined up 1 oz shots of 8 of Ireland’s best and slowly get to know these beauties.  They are delightful and full of personality.

I am writing the refined notes as we speak.  Check back here shortly for the rest of the story!

"Ox-er-wha" … oxerwhat?

That’s how you pronounce the hottest new white wine in Ontario!   Viewpointe’s 2006 Auxerrois is the only one from Ontario that we know of.   A sibling of chardonnay, this white wine offers very interesting alternatives in flavour.  Medium gold with a spicy, grapefruit nose with a hint of creaminess.  Flavours of grapefruit rind, honeycomb and a whisper of vanilla. Very easy to enjoy.  Balanced.  Reminds me a bit of a well-crafted Grüner Veltliner. Long finish.  This is a COOL wine!   Wine Baron.

Valdivieso of Chile, Number 6 winery in the world!

The wines of Valdivieso never cease to amaze me. They’re always stunning.

4 of these wines are now in stock:  Malbec Single Vineyard, Syrah Single Vineyard, both in the low $20’s, and Cabernet Sauvignon at unbelievable price of $12.95, & their world-famous Blanc de Blanc ChampenoiseAvailable for our Ontario restaurant clients and the public who have a palate for exclusive wines not in LCBO.

Icewine Alternatives to knock your socks off

Bored with icewine?  Me too.  I recommend Sauternes and Austrian sweet wines from Neusiedlersee region. Complex, interesting, aristocratic.

Chateau la Tour Blanche is a great Sauternes to try.  Historic, aristocratic:

Andert Josef of Austria is my pick for the best Neusiedlersee sweet wines.  He produces Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.  Carriage Trade agency carries both…


Tinto Roa Reserva – Ribera del Duero 2004 ($27 US) RATING: 92-93.

A dark and expressive wine with distinct aromas and flavours of dark chocolate, caramel macchiato, black tea and espresso. Very extracted. Tons of tannins. A beautiful example of a Spanish barrel-aged Tinto Fino (same as Tempranillo).

Collazzi Toscana 2005 ($28 US) RATING: 96.

One of the world’s great wines. Recently tasted this one with a couple of the gals in my life. A dark and significant wine with notes of oregano, green tea, green bell pepper and vanilla. Ongoing layers reveal baking spices, cinnamon, brioche-like flavours of custardy bread, and dark bitter chocolate. A very big wine, stunningly integrated and complex with good acidity. A long, seamless and balanced finish. Masculine nose, feminine finish. Overall, the gals felt that this was “Clark Gable in a glass.” Not in Ontario. We enjoyed it in New York.

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