Tag Archives: Irish Whiskey

Gateway Series #6: Jameson Irish Whiskey

In the last Gateway Series review, we published our review of Bushmills. This time around, Jameson is on the bill. We actually did the tasting side by side, but we agreed so the story is not all that interesting. We both came down solidly on the side of Jameson. An anticlimactic end to a somewhat epic rivalry with political, social, and religious overtones…

Jameson Irish Whiskey

What The Distillery Says:
World famous for distinctive flavor and smooth characteristics. Triple distilled from the finest Irish barley and pure spring water; then matured in oak casks. Carries hallmark of quality which has made it the best selling Irish whiskey around the world.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Creamy on the nose with subtle notes of honey.
Palate: Creamy mouth feel, much more so than Bushmills but the flavor is equally mellow and muted. There are not many pronounced flavors.
Finish: The finish rivals Jack Daniels in smoothness. This lightest oak notes linger for the briefest moment.
Comments: What the best thing about Jameson? You can get it almost anywhere. There’s a reason I singled it out as part of the “4J” bar. Over time I’ve actually reversed course in the Jameson versus Bushmills debate. I find that I prefer Jameson more now than I used to. It’s creamier and offers a little more flavor. Not much mind you but some. Not enough for me to stock this at home, but I’ll have a dram if you’re buying.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Richer than Bushmills. There are notes of honeysuckle and something floral I can’t quite place (heather?).
Palate: Sweet and smooth. Caramel cream candies.
Finish: Smooth and fleeting.
Comments: Unlike Richard I have always preferred Jameson to Bushmills (and Black Bush to either). There is just a touch more to it. And, yes, you can get it anywhere. Not always a bad thing in my book.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average (a slight step up from Bushmills Original)

Gateway Series #5: Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Bushmills Original

What The Distillery Says:
The cornerstone of our family, it’s a blend of our own triple distilled malt whiskey with a lighter Irish grain whiskey.  Making it an approachable whiskey with a rich, warming taste of fresh fruit and vanilla.

What Richard Says:

Nose: Woody and peppery with vegetal/grassy notes.
Palate: Uber-mellow on the palate.  It’s a very cereal taste with the minutest hint of sweetness and pepper.
Finish: Peppery grains but very smooth.  You get some of the wood on the finish too.
Comments: I cut my whiskey teeth on a bottle of Bushmills Original so it holds a special place in my heart.  That said, I’ve come a long way in terms of development and experience in appreciating whiskey.  I ask for a lot more from my dram now that this whiskey can provide.  Is it bad?  No. It’s very consistent and drinkable but nothing make me take notice either.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Not much on the nose.  Everything is subtle.  Notes of caramel and wet coffee grounds.
Palate: Not very bold.  Cereal, sweet and peppery with a hint of cucumber skin.
Finish: A little spice, very little burn and a little bit of wood.
Comments: Like Richard, I was introduced to Bushmills early in my whiskey education.  And, also like Richard, I now ask more from my dram.  In my youth, I sought anything that I could palate neat and was not too expensive.  I was not looking for complexity or nuance.  This was long before I before I began proselytizing the Way.  Bushmills will always taste the same though and there is something to be said for that.  A mediocre dram you can count on.
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average

‘The Best’

Inevitably, when we are out proselytizing, someone asks the question, “What is the best whiskey?” For someone new to whiskey, this seems like a reasonable question. “Tell me what is best and I’ll try that,” is the implication. However, what is best for me may be swill for you. You may find the Bowmore Legend to be the finest thing on earth, but I would not touch it with Richard’s tongue. Taste is subjective and much more complicated than one might think. What are we really looking for? The best value? The best flavor? The best bourbon? The best Irish? Scotch? And on and on. So, I recruited Richard and we will be tackling this most perplexing of questions in a our first ever joint blog (not counting reviews).

Matt’s Answer:
I can tell you that I would drink Glenmorangie Original every day and be happy. I will recommend Redbreast Irish whiskey to everyone. And, I could drink anything produced at Buffalo Trace or Four Roses and be contented. The next logical question is, “Why?”

Again, a question more complicated than it seems. Is Glenmorangie Original the best single malt Scotch that I have tasted? Not by a long shot (that is a tight race between a Claret Aged Glen Grant and Macallan 30). However, Glenmorangie Original is a great whiskey at a good price and it holds a great deal of sentimental value to me. When I was a student at the University of Wales, my flat mates would often find me watching rugby or ‘Neighbors’ with my giant mug of Glenmorangie in the common room. It was my time in Wales that really crystallized my love of single malt Scotch. I could get a good bottle for very little at the Co-Op down the road. The selection rotated through the regions and Glenmorangie was my favorite of the offerings.

There are stories behind my love of the other distilleries as well. I have a deep affection, deeper than mere tasting notes, for the distilleries that top my list. Sure, I factor in taste, value, and reputation into my recommendations, but do not be surprised if ‘awesome’ is the only statement on taste I can give you off the cuff.

Richard’s Answer:
So Matt tells me that I’m supposed to co-write a blog about the “best whiskey” out there and my experiences with getting that question. I too get that question a good bit. Another version getting to the same point is when I’m asked “which whiskey should I buy?’

“Best whiskey?”[smirk] That’s a bit like picking your favorite child isn’t it? Maybe it’s not as drastic but you see what I’m getting at. Like Matt I have my favorites. But my favorites are not necessarily going to be your favorites. No matter how high the regard in which I hold my tastes and preferences I’m not arrogant enough to say that something is the best. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Even between Matt and me there is a good bit of disagreement. We grew up in the same area, like the same types of food, and generally don’t have differing opinions on much…except whiskey. On Buffalo Trace we both agree. I kind of think their distillery manager walks on water but that’s just me. On Glenmorangie, not so much. I like it but I’ll take a dram of Macallan or Highland Park over the product of Tain any day.

Even when picking a whiskey for myself “the best” isn’t absolute. It’s really the best at that given moment. The setting, circumstances, and company can play almost as much a part in me picking one whiskey over another as the taste.

Why am I rambling on? Because I want to stress that taste is incredibly subjective. We offer reviews to highlight and inform. We don’t see our opinions as the end all be all on these particular drams. If you ask me what the best is then I will always answer with a question. More likely, I will answer with a series of questions. These questions will help me understand what you are looking for or could be looking for in a whiskey. From there I can recommend something that I think you might like. Putting all the ratings, reviews, and pomposity aside; that’s really the best any of us can hope for.

Fad Focus #1: Peat

Whisky, like most things goes through phases. Some of these phases are more macroeconomic like the historical boom and bust periods for whisky sales and their impacts on production and distillery openings and closings. Other phases tend to seem more like fads.

fad – noun
a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., esp. one followed enthusiastically by a group

– Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006

Fads are not necessarily a bad thing. All fads aren’t the equivalent of a polyester leisure suit. In whisky fads tend to be inroads to innovation. This blog will be my first in a 3+ part series discussing the various fads in whisky that have come and gone. Today’s focus will be the continued “peatification” (I just made that word up) of whisky in recent years.

What is peat you ask? Peat is an accumulation of decayed or decaying vegetation that typically forms in damp regions that can be cut, dried, and used for fuel. When it comes to whisky, peat can be used in peat fires to dry malted barley that will go into making whisky. At a very basic level this tends to impart a smoky flavor most prevalent in Scotch. Peat taken from coastal areas may also impart a salty or briny flavor in addition to the smoke.

In years past Scotch was easily categorized by its use of peat. Today the degree of peat used in Scotch production varies widely by region and distillery. Islay tends to be known as the powerhouse region for producing peaty whiskies but peat branched out. Connemara Irish Whiskeys use peat and tend to taste more like Scotch than their Irish brethren.

How do we measure how peaty a whisky is? Peat levels are measured by the phenol level in parts per million, usually abbreviated as “ppm”. Phenols are organic compounds imparted on the malted barley when peat is burned to dry the barley. The higher the ppm level is, the more heavily peated the whisky.

So you may be saying “thanks for the history lesson but this has gone on for decades, why is this a fad?” Well, using peat isn’t. The degree to which we’re seeing peat used is. A long time ago in a whisky industry far, far away whiskies were all easily categorized and labeled. Irish was triple distilled and unpeated. Speyside had very little peat (0 to 10ppm lets say). Islay whiskies were heavily peated (20 to 30ppm lets say). Campbeltown and Highland whiskies fell somewhere in the middle. In this land of yore the Speysides were deemed the most desirable because they were easier to drink without all that peat and more closely resembled the famous blends that sold so well. This is partly how brands like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet became the powerhouses that they are today. The more peaty stuff was relegated to aficionados and blends.
Jump a head a few decades and Scotch started seeing a boom in interest. With the boom came the desire for new and differentiated experiences. Those peaty whiskies started getting more attention because they have a more robust flavor.

With me so far? Good because this is where things start to turn the corner. As the push towards peat accelerated we started seeing distilleries releasing peatier and peatier whiskies. At first these whiskies came from their peatier stocks that may have gone into blends before. However, soon they started making their whiskies peatier. From out of nowhere Bruichladdich comes out with Port Charlotte at 40ppm and Ardbeg blasts out with whiskies like their Uigeadail release. Now peat is really kicked into high gear. Then last year Bruichladdich came out with Octomore at whapping 131 ppm.

Let me just say that I like peated whiskies. I like them a lot. Some of my absolute favorite drams are very peaty. But it’s seems that we’re getting to the point where we’re kicking up the peat notch more and more just for the sake of doing it.

I liken it to hot sauce. I love spicy food. I love hot sauce on just about everything to some degree. But there are sauces out there that take the heat to such an extreme that they sacrifice flavor. I worry that Scotch may head in that directions. 131ppm! When will the madness stop?

– Richard