Tag Archives: Irish

Jameson Cooper’s Croze

The Jameson Makers series was launched around this time last year. The idea was to let three of the key craftsmen behind the Jameson brand build their own expression.

Brian Nation (Master Distiller, so responsible for spirit production) created Distiller’s Safe – a fairly young blend of pot still and grain whiskies all matured in ex-bourbon oak, showcasing the spirit character predominantly.

Billy Leighton (Master Blender, so responsible for crafting the right mix) created Blender’s Dog, which has the widest range of distillates, cask wood types and ages of the series.

And finally Ger Buckley (Head Cooper, so responsible for cask selection and management) created Cooper’s Croze (reviewed here). Cooper’s Croze is a blend of whiskies rumoured to be between 12-16 years of age, consisting of single pot whiskies from first-fill and second-fill bourbon casks as well as sherry casks, and grain whisky matured in virgin American oak. The name comes from Ger’s favorite tool, the croze (an implement used to make the groove into which the head of the cask or barrel is positioned). Cooper’s Croze is probably the most widely available offering in the series, as it was the first to launch.

All three Makers series expressions are bottled at 43% ABV, are non-chill-filtered, and priced at a premium of ~$100 CAD. That makes these among the most expensive Jameson-branded whiskies in my database (although there are of course higher-end offerings from Midleton, who own the Jameson brand). Here is how the Makers series compare in my Meta-Critic database, relative to other similarly-priced and higher-end Midleton Irish whiskies:

Green Spot: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson: 7.84 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.38 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 18yo Limited Reserve: 8.62 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Jameson Blender’s Dog: 8.51 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Bold: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Cooper’s Croze: 8.53 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Distiller’s Safe: 8.26 ± 0.65 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.47 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Lively: 7.90 ± 0.37 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.07 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.83 ± 0.45 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.23 ± 0.54 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.07 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.13 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.55 ± 0.84 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.78 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.26 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

While the Makers series are typically outperforming the lower-priced Bold/Round/Lively expressions released around the same time, there are certainly higher-ranked Irish whiskeys at this list price.

While I was curious to try these, I wasn’t about to shell out those kind of clams for them. The LCBO recently placed the series on clearance, dropping the prices to $45 CAD (at which point, they sold out within days). Given that Cooper’s Croze was the highest ranked offering, I thought I’d give that one a try and picked up a bottle before they disappeared from the shelves.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Classic quality Irish blend. Sherry cask notes assert themselves up front, with darker fruits –  raisins, sultanas, and berries. Also apples and green grapes. Honey with a touch of brown sugar. Lots of caramel and vanilla. Light wood spice. Fairly clean nose, although it does have a little solvent. Reminds me a bit of the 2015 Middleton Very Rare.

Palate: Vanilla and caramel are the most prominent here. Fruits come in after, and seem more dried now – except for the apple (stewed apples). Citrus is new. A lot more oaky than the nose suggested. Classic wood spices come up considerably, cinnamon in particular. Ginger. Texture is a bit watery unfortunately, and it is a little ethanol hot. Seems a bit young for the rumoured age of whiskies in the blend, honestly.

Finish: Medium. Caramel sweetness and citrus initially, then the more woody elements. Fairly light on way out, like many Irish whiskies. Not bad.

All told, this is a decent Irish whisky – sort of the poor man’s Middleton Very Rare. That said, I’m going to guess it has a higher proportion of grain whisky in the mix, as it is a bit ethanol hot. Still, a blended Irish whisky buff is likely to enjoy this.

Personally, I would give it a score just slightly below the overall database average of ~8.5, but the Meta-Critic score is reasonable. I don’t think it’s worth the current $100 CAD list price – but the heavily-discounted LCBO price made this a good bargain.

The highest score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray. Josh the Whiskey Jug gives it an average score (but a positive review). Less positive are Richard of Whiskey Reviewer and Jonny of Whisky Advocate (although interestingly Richard ranks it as the best of this Makers series, and Jonny as the lowest). The lowest score I’ve seen is from Ruben of Whiskey Notes (although he also ranks it above the other two Makers series expressions).

 

Midleton Very Rare 2016

Late last year, I reviewed the 2015 vintage of Midleton Very Rare from a friend’s bottle. This is a premium blended Irish whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers at the New Midleton Distillery in East Cork.

The LCBO wants a pretty steep $216 CAD for it at the moment, which is more than I am willing to pay. But when I came across the 2016 edition on sale at a Shanghai duty free for ~$140 CAD, I thought I’d take the plunge. I recently brought it over to my friend’s house for a dinner party, and we were able to directly compare the two vintages side-by-side.

First a bit of background on this whisky. Midleton Very Rare is produced in a vintage year manner, with reportedly only 50 hand-picked casks going into each batch. It is a blend of single pot still whisky and grain whisky, all triple-distilled. Although this is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, the casks are reported to be between 12 and 25 years of age, matured in either ex-bourbon or ex-Sherry casks. Consistently bottled at 40% ABV, each bottle has a unique identifier number, and is presented in a nice wooden case with a registration card.

Since each batch is a new defined vintage, each year is expected to differ somewhat from the others – although all within an overall profile range. Having the two vintages side-by-side gave us a good opportunity to directly test this.

As this is my second review of a Midleton Very Rare, I’ve tried to break down the various vintages in my MetaCritic database, where possible. Given its limited availability, there aren’t many reviews of each vintage, so you will have to go by the composite score in most cases (i.e., only the 2015 vintage meets my reporting cut-off level of a minimum of 3 reviews).  Here is how they compare to some higher-end Irish whiskeys:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.35 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.35 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.46 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.07 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.83 ± 0.45 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare 2015: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.16 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.97 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Middleton Very Rare gets a very good score for an Irish whiskey – although the 2015 vintage seems to score a bit lower than most.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the 2016 vintage:

Colour: The whisky is presumably not artificially coloured, as the 2016 was noticeably darker than the 2015. I would describe it as medium amber.

Nose: Honey and vanilla lead off, with a similar whipped cream note as I found on the 2015 (but fainter here). Apple and pear as before, but I am getting slightly tart red berries now (including some red currants). Much stronger baking spices than before, with a good amount of cinnamon in particular – definitely spicier overall. There is absolutely no hint of any organic solvent notes, which is impressive for an Irish whisky. The only thing missing here is the caramel – that was much more pronounced on the 2015 vintage. Personally, I’d give the 2016 a slight edge for the spicier and cleaner nose, but I could see that some may prefer the sweeter 2015 vintage.

Palate: Initial arrival is dominated by sweet vanilla, andit is still relatively fruit-forward, but with less caramel than the 2015 edition. Not as creamy either (although I’m still getting a faint touch of chocolate). Definitely spicier here, with noticeable cinnamon and a good amount of black pepper. A bit grassy, but lacking the cereal notes of the 2015. Mouthfeel is lighter and more watery now – much less silky than the 2016 (I’m guessing less grain whisky in the mix?). Some bitterness creeps in at the end of the palate, which wasn’t there before. Still no alcohol burn.

Finish: Medium. Similar Juicy Fruit gum sensation as before, but both the spicy and bitter notes from the oak wood are accentuated over the 2015 edition. Still not very long. A touch of astringency comes in at the end.

While the 2016 got off to a good start on the nose, the mouthfeel is definitely “thin” in comparison to the 2015, which is disappointing. I like the extra oaky spice in the 2016, but this is matched by a greater bitterness and astringency on the finish, which is not appealing. I personally scored the 2015 vintage at around the overall Metacritic average for all vintages of this whisky, but I would have to give the 2016 just a decimal point or so lower. It is still a very good whisky, but the value-for-money proposition is even less favourable in my mind (at least at standard list prices).

FYI, from among the dinner guests who also sampled both vintages, I can say that the 2015 was the unanimous favourite. This seemed to be due to the more overtly caramel sweetness in that vintage, along with a “smoother” palate (their descriptor, I believe they meant oilier). It should be mentioned that none of them were particularly big whisky drinkers.

The only reviewer in my database who has reviewed both is Jonny of Whisky Advocate. And although he notes many of the same differences that I found, he gives the 2016 a higher score. Among the other reviewers (for various vintages), you can check out Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Josh the Whiskey Jug for very positive scores. More moderate praise comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with the lowest scores from the guys at Quebec Whisky. Jim Murray is historically very variable on this whisky, but hasn’t reviewed the recent batches.

Bushmills Black Bush

Bushmills Black Bush is another example of an inexpensive blended Irish whisky – but it is in a different league from its entry-level little brother, Bushmills Original Blended.

As I explained in my Bushmills Original review, Bushmills blends single malt whisky with column-distilled grain whisky (just like blended scotch).  In the case of Black Bush though, the malt component makes up a greater relative proportion of the blend compared to regular Bushmills, or to other blends at this price point (i.e., I’ve seen up to 80% malt reported online for Black Bush).

The malt component of Black Bush is a mix of Oloroso sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. This should add some sherried sweetness into the mix – another unusual feature at this price point.  The whisky has no official age statement, but I’ve seen differing reports online that the base malt has being been aged for “up to 7 years” or for “8-10 years” before blending with the grain. None of that is mentioned on the label though, so all such claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

Bottled at the standard 40% ABV, it is currently $37 CAD at the LCBO (compared to $32 for Bushmills original).

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic whisky database compared to other Bushmills, and some other just-above entry-level Irish whiskies:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.63 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)

Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.27 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.31 ± 0.41 1on 9 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.15 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)

Bushmills Black Bush is getting a very reasonable score for the price.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light, with a touch of sherry (red fruits, raisins) along with some light fruits (apple, pear). A bit of apple cider. Sweet, but not artificially so (as I found on the original blended) – more your classic vanilla here. Certainly a lot more malty, which is nice. No real alcohol burn or off notes.

Palate: Mild, with even less fruit showing up now – but more of the vanilla and caramel. Touch of baking spices, and baked goods in general (i.e., a bit cakey, maybe stewed apples). Thin body, with no real burn – somewhat watery mouthfeel. Certainly nothing offensive about it, but not much to really recommend it either. Would be better at higher proof.

Bushmills.Black.BushFinish: Short. Same notes as nose and palate, fading out without any real off notes.

This is definitely better than Bushmills Original blended, you could actually drink this one neat (although you are likely to find it a bit boring). For the extra $5 CAD, I would say this one is a no-brainer – Black Bush is a much nicer experience than the Original blended.

That said, I still think the average Meta-Critic score is a bit overly generous here. I would score it lower than the Meta-Critic – but then, I was also harder on the basic Bushmills Original too.

A number of reviewers really like this one, including Ralfy, jim Murray, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Personally, I’m more in keeping with Oliver of Dramming and Thomas of Whisky Saga. One of the lowest scores I’ve seen is from Serge of Whisky Fun.

Bushmills Original Blended Irish Whiskey

Having reviewed a few mid-range and higher-end Irish whiskies lately, I thought it was time to get back down to basics.

Bushmills Original blended whisky (aka white label) is the flagship for the Bushmills distillery – one of the oldest distilleries in Ireland, having survived the massive consolidation of the 1980s. Although the bottle labels like to point out Bushmills was founded in 1608, the actual licensed distilling company has only existed since 1784. It has certainly moved through a lot hands since then – and was sold a couple of years ago by the large whisky drinks conglomerate Diageo to Casa Cuervo (of tequila fame).

This is a blended Irish whisky – specifically a blend of single malt and cheaper column-distilled grain whisky. This differs from a number of Irish whiskies, like the Midleton brands I’ve reviewed previously, who combine traditional single pot still whisky with grain whisky in their blends. While Bushmills may be thought of as more scotch-like in that sense (i.e., a blend of malt and grain whiskies), it is still triple-distilled like other Irish whiskies (thus producing a typically lighter spirit).

This basic Bushmills expression is bottled at 40% ABV. It is currently $32 CAD at the LCBO, making it one of the cheapest Irish whiskeys you can buy here.

Here is how Bushmills compares to similar entry-level Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.05 ± 0.35 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.64 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.98 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.52 on 11 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch: 8.31 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.81 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt: 8.15 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original: 8.01 ± 0.48 on 3 reviews ($$)

As you can see, this is the lowest scoring Irish whiskey in the dataset – although none of the true entry-level expressions do very well.  Typically, it is worthwhile considering spending a little more to go up to the next bottling (e.g., Black Bush for Bushmills, Select Reserve for Jameson, etc.).

I sampled this basic Bushmills recently in a bar.  While these sorts of entry-level blends are not intended to be drunk neat, here is what I find in the glass when doing so:

Nose: Sweet caramel and light honey. Green apple. Very grainy, with some hay. Surprisingly, some mild ethanol singe, and a slightly funky tar note. Better than it sounds (and better than I expected).

Palate: Way too honeysuckle-sweet for my tastes. Maybe agave syrup? A bit of artificial strawberry flavour (fruit roll-ups come to mind). Incredibly watery, absolutely no burn – and no mouthfeel, while we are at it. Seems very grain-dominated, with almost no sign of the malt. Some light rye spices come up at the end.

Finish: Sickeningly sweet continues, with a touch of eventual woody bitterness. Reminds me of some cheap American whiskies that don’t qualify as bourbon, or maybe regular Crown Royal here. Some astringent dryness too. At least it’s short.

BushmillsAgain, it should go without saying – if you want to sip on something neat, start with a higher-end blend or a decent single malt/single pot still whisky.  As a stand-alone pour, I find Bushmills original blended less complex (and less interesting) than even regular Jameson – and like the Meta-Critic, I would rate it lower. But many may find it more acceptable than Jameson’s in mixed drinks due to the sweetness factor.  At a minimum, I would recommend this one on the rocks, to help cut the sweetness.

The only reviewer I’ve ever seen who actually seems like this whisky is Martin of Quebec Whisky, followed by Patrick (although most reviewers are more aligned with Andre’s score). Ralfy, Jim Murray, and Josh the Whiskey Jug all fall into a similar camp of low scores (as an aside, Josh’s tasting notes are remarkably similar to mine on this one). But personally, my own quality assessment is more in line with Nathan the Scotch Noob, Thomas of Whisky Saga or S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer. I strongly recommend spending a couple of dollars more for a better Irish whisky.

Powers 12 Year Old John’s Lane

Following on my review of the Powers Signature Release, I have also gotten to try their top-of-the-line expression, Powers John’s Lane. This single pot still whisky bears a 12 year old age statement.

This whisky is named after the original distillery where Powers used to be made. John’s Lane Distillery was shuttered during the massive distillery consolidation in Ireland in the 1970s. The Powers name is currently owned and produced by Midleton, which makes all the well-known single pot still Irish whiskies (such as Redbreast, Green Spot, etc.).

As previously mentioned in my Powers Signature review, the whiskies that go into the Powers line are reported to be aged mainly in refill American oak bourbon casks. However, the John’s Lane release uses a mix of first- and second-fill ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, and even includes a small amount of Iberian oak in that latter category. This mix is supposed to reflect an earlier style of production and maturation at the original Powers distillery.

Bottled at 46% ABV, this expression is not available in Ontario (sadly). A 50 mL bottle was included in a sampler pack of higher-quality Midleton single pot still whiskies that a friend brought back from Ireland for me.  A typical world-wide price for a full bottle would be ~$85 CAD.

Here’s how it compares to other Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.36 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 12yo: 8.50 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.08 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength 9.07 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Yellow Spot 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, it gets a very good score for its price range – slightly higher than Redbreast 12/15 and Yellow Spot, and on par with the more expensive Midleton Very Rare.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: A touch darker than Powers Signature Release, with a bit more golden caramel.

Nose: Caramel and vanilla up front. Pear, plum and apple notes dominate for fruit, but slightly candied. Not really getting much of a sherry fruit influence, except for some golden raisins. Floral, with an herbal quality. Also earthy, with tobacco and spice (pepper in particular) and some anise. No off-notes to speak of, which is impressive for this price point. While the core notes are similar to Signature Release, John’s Lane seems a lot more open and welcoming, very fragrant.

Palate: Rich up-front, with vanilla and butterscotch. Honey and pancake syrup. Not overly fruity, but the same ones from the nose are present, along with some banana and citrus (grapefruit) added to the mix. Milk chocolate and coffee show up. Baking spices, with nutmeg and cinnamon, plus some pepper and anise. Remains very earthy, with pleasant leather notes. Very creamy mouth feel. Bit of tongue tingle – not too much (better than Signature Release). Also has some slight bitterness coming in at the end, but again not bad.

Finish: Medium length. Light sweetness lingers, with that candied fruit again. Milk chocolate and some mild spice persists as well. Very nice and easily sippable.

Powers.12.Johns.LaneWith water, you get an even more candied nose. The palate gets sweeter too, and less creamy. Personally, I think it is better neat without any water – you don’t need to play up the sweetness any further. It dilutes fast too, so I suggest you go sparingly on water if you do try it.

Although I compared Signature Release to Redbreast 12 yo, this Powers John’s Lane actually reminds me more of Midleton Very Rare – but more spicy/earthy in this case.  It is also reminiscent in some ways to the lighter higher-end Canadian whiskies (e.g., Gibson’s 18‎ or Crown Royal Monarch). For the typical price internationally, Powers John’s Lane is a great buy and a worthy step up from Signature Release in my view. I would happily pick it up at the going rate.

While generally positive, reviewer opinions are more varied than typical on this one. The most positive reviews I’ve seen come from Dominic of Whisky Advocate, Michael of Diving for Pearls, and Josh the Whiskey Jug – who all loved it, giving it top scores. Also very positive are Serge of Whisky Fun and Thomas of Whisky Saga. Ralfy and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer give it more modest scores. My Annoying Opinions is the only really negative review I’ve seen.

Powers Signature Release

Among some Irish whisky drinkers that I know, the entry-level Powers Gold is generally considered to be of higher quality than most other common blends (i.e., Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, etc.). I haven’t had it yet, but I thought I would try the next bottle up in the series – the single pot still Powers Signature Release.

I’ve covered a few Irish single pot still whiskies before, but I realize that I haven’t explained the origin of this traditional Irish style. Originally called pure pot still, it reflects a style of Irish whisky made from a mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley distilled in a single pot still. As explained on my source of whisky flavour page, there are a lot of advantages to using malted barley. The addition of unmalted barley in the mix was essentially a tax dodge – to help finance the empire (especially during the Napoleonic wars), England applied a heavy tax on malted barley used in Scottish and Irish whisky production. And thus was born the pure pot still style, out of economic necessity.

While this tax was eventually rescinded, the style became popular in the early 19th century and eventually became the dominant Irish whisky form. It was eventually out-competed by low cost blended whiskies (where pot still malt whisky was combined with much cheaper grain whisky produced in continuous column stills). Indeed, the pure pot still style almost died out during the massive Irish consolidation of the 1970-80s. Green Spot and Redbreast are the only two long-standing pure pot still whiskies to have remained in (somewhat) continuous production.

The inclusion of unmalted barley introduces additional characteristics into the whisky. Chief among these are “green” fruit notes (aka tropical fruits), some additional spice (pepper in particular), and a thicker or “stickier” texture.  I gather the modern term “single pot still” was only introduced to overcome objections from the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau on the use of the term “pure” (although it does accurately reflect a single distillery designation, consistent with single malt whisky).

Powers is owned and operated by Midleton, which also makes the other two single pot still whiskies described above. The whiskies used in this release were mostly matured in refill American oak bourbon barrels (as is Powers custom, to avoid overwhelming the base spirit). A smaller proportion of first fill bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks were also used to help add additional character. There is no age statement, but it is believed that the barrels used for this release are mainly in the 7-9 year old range. Given this mix, it is easy to see how you might speculate that Powers Signature Release is essentially a younger form of Redbreast 12. 😉

Here is how it compares to other whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.65 ± 0.47 on 15 reviews ($$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson: 7.82 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.98 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.52 on 11 reviews ($$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.81 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.97 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)

Note there are relatively few reviews of this whisky so far.

I picked up my bottle for $60 CAD at the LCBO. Powers Signature Release is bottled at 46% ABV, which is higher than typical for whiskies in this price point, and is non chill filtered. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: I don’t know if colourant is added, but my sample bottle is very similar in colour to my Redbreast 12 yo.

Nose: Honey and a bit of vanilla lead off, followed by typical pear and apple notes, along with plum and green banana, with a hint of raisins. Reasonably fruity, but definitely more towards the unripened fruit end. Slightly herbal, with a touch of menthol. Dill and pepper. Unfortunately, a fair amount of organic solvent off notes, contributing to the youngish sensation. The nose is also a bit shy and closed. Water brings up the pear and banana notes hugely, and adds some peach and apricot. Definitely recommend you add a little water to open up the nose.

Palate: There is more character in the mouth than the nose suggested, with an up-front hit of caramel and sweet vanilla. Similar fruits as the nose, getting even more of plums and raisins. Chocolate. Baking spices come through, cinnamon and cloves in particular. A hint of black licorice (wish there was more, in fact) and some pepper again. A fair amount of tongue tingle after you swallow (more than I would like).  Chewy – a good mouthfeel initially, but too ethanol hot on the way out. Some coffee-like bitterness creeps in at the end. With water, the sweet fruit notes from the nose are accentuated, and the ethanol burn is attenuated slightly. Again, I recommend water here.

Finish: Medium short. A bit of astringency shows up over time, along with some oakiness. Mild spice persists until the end, including that anise and pepper.  Water may bring up both the sweetness and bitterness.

The comparison to Redbreast 12yo is obvious – they are fairly similar in profile. However, the standard Redbreast offering does seem a bit more balanced (although adding a bit of water here does help bring it closer to Redbreast’s level). The Powers Signature is a bit sweeter in its initial approach too.

The Meta-Critic score is a little low for this one, in my view. I would personally put this on par with Writer’s Tears (both of which get an 8.4 from me). Both are decent and serviceable, but with a few youthful characteristics holding them back from being top recommendations.

The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray.  Relatively low scores were given by Ralfy and Serge of Whisky Fun. For additional commentary outside of the Meta-Critic panel, you could check out Masters of Malt and Wine Enthusiast.

Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton

Following up on my review of the standard Green Spot, this is a relatively rare example of a wine-cask-finished Irish whiskey – Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton.

Château Léoville Barton is a grand cru Bordeaux wine-maker, but one with Irish roots.  The Chateau takes its name from the family of the 18th century Irish merchant Thomas Barton, and is still run by his descendants to this day.  So when Midleton began to experiment with secondary maturation of their whiskies in novel casks, this shared heritage must have seemed like a natural fit.

This whisky starts out as the traditional Green Spot pot still whisky, aged in a mix of 75% ex-bourbon casks and 25% Oloroso sherry casks for 7-10 years. For this expression, it then gets transferred into French Oak Leoville Barton Bordeaux wine casks for an additional 12 to 24 months of aging. It is thoughtfully bottled at 46% ABV (as opposed to 40% for regular Green Spot), and is neither chill-filtered nor coloured.

Typically, I am a fan of fortified-wine finishes for delicate whiskies, as it can add a lot of extra complexity (when well-matched to the underlying base spirit).  My experience with regular wine barrel finishes is more mixed however, as this can some times introduce an odd sourness to the final product, with a mismatch of competing flavours. So I was curious to see how this expression would perform.

As usual, let’s start with how it compares in my Meta-Critic database to other high-end Irish whiskies, including various winey cask finishes:

Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.43 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.47 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.03 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.80 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.81 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.65 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.53 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

My sample was obtained through a swap with the user Throzen on the reddit whisky network. Released in small batches each year, it is currently available at the LCBO for $90 CAD for a 700mL bottle.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: A slight reddish hue added to standard Green Spot.

Nose: Thick raspberry jam and blueberry fruit compote jump right up your nostrils! A luscious nose, with all kinds of sweet, ripe berry notes. Lots of honey. Oatmeal cookies. Some vanilla. The initial difference from standard Green Spot is astounding, with the wine cask dominating. But with time, I can start to pull out those more subtle lemon curd and buttery notes that are coming from the base spirit. Faintest touch of acetone. With water, the honey notes are further heightened, along with some dark fuits (figs?). It’s worth a little splash.

Palate: Very creamy, with the luscious fruit medley leading the way. Slight sourness, like sour cherry. Some lemony citrus again, maybe some orange too. A little bit of burn, likely due to the higher 46% ABV. Mouthfeel and taste seems a bit fudge-like, actually. Similar baking spice as the regular Green Spot, and vanilla too – a good mix. The dry oakiness reasserts itself at the end. Water increases the honey sweetness and earthiness (same as on the nose), and softens the burn.

Finish: Medium long. Lots of cereal notes showing up now, and the spiciness lasts a surprising length of time. Also the vanilla.  This is a lot more layered and longer-lasting than most Irish whiskeys I’ve had.

No doubt about it, that was a unique experience – one of the best wine barrel finishings I’ve come across yet. Green Spot is a bit of an open slate in some ways – and this nicely tells a great story all around it. But the original Green Spot is still there, buried under a jammy fruit avalanche.

It is quite an enchanting mix actually, and much better than what I normally see for wine casks finishes. And by all means, feel free to play around with a little water on this one – a small amount actually increases the aromas.

I would actually rank it slightly higher than the Meta-Critic average. Recently brought back to the LCBO, I recommend you pick one up while you still can (the Midleton “spot” family tends to sell out quickly, I’ve noticed). Surprisingly, it only costs $5 more a bottle over the regular Green Spot. It’s worth that on the extra 6% ABV alone!

The must enthusiastic reviews I’ve seen for this whisky probably come from Josh the Whiskey Jug and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Throzen and xile_ of Reddit are also all very positive. Jim Murray (who is a big fan of regular Green Spot) is the only negative review I’ve seen for this expression.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey

Green Spot is popular single pot still Irish whisky (aka a pure pot still). This is the traditional method for whisky production in Ireland. Like in the case of Redbreast, a single pot still means a combination of malted and unmalted barley that is distilled together in a single large copper pot still.

There are some analogies here to Scottish single malts, as single pot still whiskies make the flavourful base for the more common blended Irish whiskies. Similarly, individual single pot still bottlings form the higher-end of the Irish whisky market, just as single malts do for scotch whisky.  Note that Irish whisky is typically triple-distilled, often resulting in a gentler base spirit than most scotch whiskies.

Produced by Irish Distillers, Green Spot is also distinguished as one of the few remaining “bonded” Irish whiskies. Along with its longer-aged sibling Yellow Spot, these bonded whiskeys are specifically produced and sold by an independent wine merchant in Ireland, Mitchell & Son of Dublin.

The whisky’s name is said to have originated from Mitchell’s practice of marking casks of different ages with spot of coloured paint. Green Spot (the second youngest, at 10 years old originally) became their most popular seller, and is the only one to remain in continuous production. Yellow Spot (which was 12 years old) was relaunched in 2012, and will be the focus of an upcoming review.

The Green Spot sold today is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, and is a little younger than earlier versions (reported to be between 7 and 10 years old).  It is aged in 75% American oak ex-bourbon barrels and 25% in Oloroso sherry casks.

There is no statement about colouring, and so it is likely caramel colored – although I don’t think much is used (judging by its light apple juice appearance). There is also no statement about chill-filtering, so I think we can safely assume that it is (given that it is bottled at just 40% ABV).

Let’s see how it compares to other higher-end Irish whiskies (single pot still and blends) in my Meta-Critic database:

Green Spot: 8.47 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.44 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.34 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.03 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.80 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.62 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature: 8.13 ± 0.60 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.19 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.81 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.45 ± 0.37 on 15 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.77 ± 0.26 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Green Spot gets a reasonable score for its price point, in the Irish whiskey class. It’s released in small batches every year, and is just recently available again at the LCBO for $85 CAD. My sample came from a 50mL sample (in a glass bottle), obtained as part of set sold in Ireland.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Lightly sweet, with white sugar and barley as the principal notes. Caramel and creamy vanilla. Lightly fruity, with apple and pear, and some faint sherry overtones (golden raisins). Citrus (lemon curd). A touch of mint, and something slightly herbal. A nice Irish nose, with no real off notes (beyond perhaps the faintest touch of glue). Water brings up some nose hair prickle (oddly) and unripen green fruits.

Palate: More syrupy sweetness up front, almost honey-like, with accentuated caramel notes. Very soft, coats the mouth and tongue – absolutely no burn. Buttery. Some baking spices and ginger now, which are nice. Not very fruity, beyond the continuing lemony citrus. A bit of bourbon oak asserts itself at the end. Very easy drinking. Water dulls what little fruitiness is here, but seems to bring up the spiciness a bit.

Green.SpotFinish: Medium. “Soft” is really the best way to describe this whisky. Although there is a touch of bitterness associated with the wood, these are not offensive.  A throat lozenge sweetened with honey and lemon might describe this well – makes me think of a high-end cold remedy!

A solid expression, with some nice lemon and spice notes. Certainly nothing wrong with it – but nothing particularly exciting either. Better than most NAS Irish whiskies I’ve tried, and a good easy-drinking introduction to the class.  I think the average Meta-Critic score is reasonable. But at $85 CAD, there are probably better value options across the range of  Irish whiskies for you to try.

The most extremely positive reviews I’ve seen for Green Spot come from of Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Jim Murray. Nathan the Scotch Noob and Serge of Whisky Fun are also very positive. Personally, I probably fall more in line with Josh the Whiskey Jug, Richard and John of Whiskey Reviewer and Ralfy. The only truly negative review I’ve seen on this one comes from My Annoying Opinions.

Redbreast Lustau Edition

Redbreast has always had a strong following among single pot still whisky devotees. In Redbreast’s hands, this combination of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in copper pot stills, produces a distinctive flavour profile that rivals many single malts. The standard 12 year old expression remains a staple for many whisky fans, with its great flavour-to-price ratio.

So you can imagine some trepidation when a new entry-level NAS version was announced, the Redbreast Lustau Edition. Rest assured, there are no immediate plans to retire the standard 12 yo expression. Lustau is meant to be a new permanent release, to complement the existing stable of standard Redbreast whiskies (i.e., the 12, 12 Cask Strength, 15 and 21 year olds).

The concept behind this new expression is interesting. Irish Distillers (who own Redbreast) have a close relationship with the sherry maker Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. For this release, they prepared customs casks from a local cooperage in Jerez, which first held Bodegas Lustau’s popular Oloroso sherry. The sourced Redbreast whisky for this expression comes from a mix of ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks, blended together and finished in these Lustau first-fill sherry butts for one additional year.

It has been widely reported online that the base Redbreast spirit is between 9 and 12 years old for this expression.  Bottled at 46% ABV, Redbreast Lustau is not chill-filtered, and no color has been added (which are always appreciated). Although not listed yet in inventory for the LCBO, I recently spotted it as a local store for $90 CAD (which is $10 more than the standard 12 yo).

Let’s see how it compares to the other Redbreasts in my Meta-Critic database, and some of the other wine cask-finished Irish whiskeys:

Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.87 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.66 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.47 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Although based on only 6 reviews above, the Lustau is more than holding its own against the standard 12 yo – and is scoring quite highly for the class overall.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Slightly darker than the standard 12 year old, with a bit more of a reddish hue that the usual Redbreast golden tones.

Nose: Definite sherry cask finishing, with chocolate, raisins, prunes and dates. Brown sugar and honey, with a bit of marzipan. Light fruits are still there, especially apple (think stewed apples). Some citrus (orange). Black licorice (anise) and a bit of cinnamon.  I previously speculated there was some sherry cask in the 12 yo mix, but this definitely amps it up. It is not a “sherry bomb” though, and the integration of sherry notes to the base Redbreast character seems good.  A faint hint of solvent, less noticeable than the 12 yo (likely due to the extra layering of sherry sweetness).

Palate: Sweet, in a honeyed way, with raisins and dates adding richness. Definite chocolate and nougat – almost candy bar like. Candied orange peel now. Oakiness comes through as well, with some spice – plus vanilla added to the cinnamon. Despite the higher ABV, it seems to have a less oily mouthfeel than the 12 yo – more like whipped frosting instead of the usual creaminess. Some of the classic Redbreast character may be subdued (i.e., less nutty here), but the effect is still pleasant, with more added than lost.

Finish: Moderately long, but fairly light. You get persistent sweetness and spice – and a rising flat cola effect that I first noted on the 12 yo.  Some woody bitterness picks up, but it is less noticeable than the 12yo (again, likely due to the extra sherry sweetness here).  Not particularly complex, but decent for the class.

Finishing in sherry casks can be a double-edge sword. For a base spirit with substantial character, it brings in additional notes and sweetness. But for a delicate base spirit, it can drown out the subtleties that provide identity (see for example my recent review of Westland American single malts).

Redbreast Lustau

Redbreast Lustau

The classic “sticky” single pot still character of Redbreast is able to hold its own here pretty well.  It does seem to be lacking a few of the classic Redbreast features (i.e., the “tropical fruits” and nuttiness). But personally, I never found a lot of tropical fruit in the 12 yo any way (although I do detect them big-time in the 21 yo).

Perrsonally, I find this treatment has added rather than subtracted from the standard 12 yo expression. In a structured tasting alongside the 12 yo, this would be a great way to showcase the effect of additional sherry finishing. The higher ABV here (46% on the Lustau, compared to 40% on the 12 yo) is also helping with a greater flavour experience overall on the Lustau. Head-to-head, I expect most would prefer the Lustau (I know I do).

As an aside to how quaffable this new expression is, I actually drained the glass before I thought to add water!  So I had to pour a second one to experiment. 😉 Water quickly dulls the nose, and if anything accentuates the solvent note. In the mouth, it further lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring out anything new. Fairly neutral on the finish.  As a result, I recommend you sample Lustau neat.

The persistent bitterness in the finish of the 12 yo was always a bit of a turn-off for me on that expression (and so, I personally ranked it a little lower than the Meta-Critic average). Although there are only a few reviews of the Lustau so far, the average score presented here is quite high, and in keeping with what I would give this expression. Nice to see a NAS expression that brings something new to the table!

There aren’t many reviews of this one out there yet, but I recommend you check out Josh the Whiskey Jug, Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ruben of Whisky Notes for very positive reviews. Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer gives it a below average score for the class.

Midleton Very Rare 2015

Midleton Very Rare is a premium blended Irish whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers at the New Midleton Distillery (located in the East Cork town of Midleton, not surprisingly). Midleton is a storied named in Irish whiskey production, and this whisky is distilled at the same location as the well-known Jameson’s family (among many others).

As the name suggests, Midleton Very Rare is produced in limited batches, and in a vintage year manner. It is a blend consisting of some single pot still whisky and some grain whisky, all triple-distilled. Only 50 hand-picked casks are used for each year’s release, making this relatively rare indeed. Although this is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, all casks are reported to be aged between 12 and 25 years, matured in either ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry casks.

Since each year is a new defined vintage, each differs slightly and has its own character (within the overall profile range). Consistently bottled at 40% ABV, each bottle has a unique identifier and is presented in a nice wooden case. It is currently available at the LCBO for $215 CAD.  So something to consider as a higher-end gift for the Irish whiskey drinker this holiday season!

Given its limited availability, I have integrated all vintages into one general category (to provide a meaningful reviewer number). Here is how it compares to some higher-end Irish whiskeys:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.92 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.45 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.73 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.36 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.43 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.10 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.82 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.60 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.79 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.72 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.18± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 8.09 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.47 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.76 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Middleton Very Rare gets a good score for an Irish whiskey – but it is also fairly expensive for this class, and there are cheaper options available for roughly equivalent ratings.

I recently sampled this from a friend’s bottle, brought back directly from Ireland (newly opened for the evening).

Nose: Starts with classic light honey sweetness, as is common to many Irish whiskies, supplemented with whipped cream. Noticeable caramel. Apple and pear fruits dominate, but there are also hints of sherry aging, with red plums and dark berries. Classic “Juicy Fruit” gum sensation. Vanilla and some of the lighter cooking spices (nutmeg especially). Faint whiff of acetone, but much less than what I normally detect for Irish whiskies (and Canadian whiskies for that matter). Great nose for sure.

Palate: Similar fruits as the nose, but with sweet cereal characteristics coming to the fore now. Creamed wheat sensation. The caramel and vanilla from the nose are here, accentuated with some additional light chocolate notes. Hay and a generally floral characteristic (that I can’t quite identify). Silky mouthfeel, extremely “smooth” to drink (given the low 40% ABV). Absolutely no alcohol burn. More character than your typical blended Irish whisky, but still easy drinking.

midleton-very-rare-2015Finish: Medium. The Juicy Fruit gum and woody/spicy notes persist the longest. My only regret here is that it isn’t longer!

Profile-wise, the Midleton Very Rare is exactly what I like to see in an Irish blend. It is a virtually flawless presentation of this style, with more complexity than usual. Tasty, with few off notes. Unfortunately, it is pretty pricey – and is only bottled at the industry standard of 40% ABV.

For reviews of this whisky, please keep in mind that different vintages are being considered below. Among the most positive reviews I’ve seen are Jonny of Whisky Advocate, Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Josh the Whiskey Jug. More moderate praise comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with the lowest scores from the guys at Quebec Whisky. and Jim Murray (although the latter is variable, depending on vintage). Price seems to be an issue for many reviewers.

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