Tag Archives: Irish

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. 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 is individually numbered and 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 ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.36 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.43 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.10 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.60 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
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 equivalent (or higher) 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. 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). Absolutely no hint of acetone or any other organic solvent smell (which I frequently detect on entry-level Irish and Canadian whiskeys). Great nose for sure.

Palate: Similar fruits as the nose, but with sweet cereal characteristics coming to the fore now. Creamed wheat sensation. Butterscotch joins the vanilla from the nose, 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. Much more character than your typical blended Irish whisky.

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 absolutely no off notes (which is rare). 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, and the guys at Quebec Whisky. In contrast, Jim Murray is not supportive of this whisky. Price seems to be an issue for many reviewers.

Redbreast 21 Year Old

The oldest member of the Redbreast family, this 21 year old expression is currently the highest ranking Irish whisky in my Meta-Critic database.

As I previously introduced in my review of the popular Redbreast 12 year old, the classic Irish pot still style involves a mix of malted and unmalted barley that is triple-distilled in single large copper pot stills. This method introduces a distinctive sticky mouthfeel in the whisky (sometimes referred to as “greasiness”), while still producing great malt complexity.

Like others of the line, Redbreast 21 yo is matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon barrels and first-fill oloroso casks, resulting in a complex whiskey. Jim Murray has just declared the 21yo his Irish whiskey of the year in the 2017 edition of his popular “whisky bible”.

So I thought it was time to crack open my bottle and give it a proper review here. It retails for $250 CAD at the LCBO, and is bottled at 46% ABV.

Here is how it compares to other highly-ranked Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.49 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.92 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.77 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.10 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey: 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.01 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.89 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

While I discourage directly comparing scores across different classes of whiskies, the Redbreast 21 yo does rank in the top 20 of the >900 whiskies tracked on my site.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, and guava) and lighter fruits (pear, golden delicious apple). Faint hints of concentrated fruits, like prunes and sultanas.  More tropical than I remember the 12yo being. Fair amount of honey. Wood spice and a bit of vanilla (but surprisingly not overly oaky). Peanuts. A touch of eucalyptus and some heather.  More alcohol singe than expected for the low ABV, but no real solvent smells.

Palate: Rich fruits, tending more towards plums and prunes now. Brown sugar joins the vanilla, and gives it a fudge-like taste and mouth feel (very rich and creamy). Eucalyptus even more noticeable now, as are the spices, with black pepper joining the wood spices (cinnamon and cloves in particular). Some crushed coconut adds to the nutty effect. The woodiness is also enhanced now, but still not overwhelming. The heather notes pick up as well. There’s relatively little burn here, although the spicy kick can linger.

Finish: Long. Juicy fruits linger the longest, with a cola taste and some sweet honey. Spiciness contributes to a mild burn (which is pleasurable).  No real bitterness from the wood, which is very impressive for the age. Leaves a sticky residue on the lips and gums (which is a classic single pot still characteristic).

rebreast-21As expected, this is an amped-up experience from the 12 yo – although it hits many of the same notes.  The extra time in wood has helped mellow some of the harsher characteristics still present in the 12 yo, and enhances the “tropical” and sweet notes. The slow burn of spices at the end of the finish is also in keeping with its ripe old age, but surprisingly it has avoided being “over-oaked” and bitter.

I agree with the critics – this is a top-notch Irish pot still whisky. Aside from Jim Murray’s top score, Josh of the Whiskey Jug and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both rave about this whisky. Similarly, Oliver of Dramming/Pour Me Another One and Serge of Whisky Fun both give this one top marks. André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky give it the lowest scores I’ve seen.

Writers Tears Irish Pot Still Whiskey

Writerṣ Tears is an unusual Irish whiskey.  Classically, the Irish method is to triple-distill malted and unmalted barley together, in a single copper pot still. This is known as a Single Pot Still whiskey. But most entry-level Irish whiskey is actually a blend of single pot still whiskey and cheaper-to-produce grain whiskey (i.e., much like a blended Scotch whisky, except with single pot instead of single malt).

Writers Tears is priced similarly to some entry-level Irish blends, but is actually a vatting of 60% malt whiskey and 40% single pot still whiskey, all distilled in copper pots. This is an unusual pairing, and is likely to be more flavourful than a typical Irish blended whiskey.

The name reflects a fanciful association of this style of malt/pot still Irish whiskey and writers’ inspiration. It has been said that they enjoyed it so much, that when they cried, their tears were of whiskey. 😉

Writers Tears is sourced from a “Cork distillery” (read: Midleton). It is aged in American Oak bourbon casks, and bottled at 40% ABV. It is currently $50 CAD at the LCBO.

Here is how it compares to some typical Irish blends at this price point:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.69 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.37 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($$)
Green Spot: 8.46 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.81 ± 0.55 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.32 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($$)
Jameson Signature Reserve: 8.40 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.60 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.88 ± 0.48 on 10 reviews ($$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch: 8.24 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.75 ± 0.39 on 15 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.48 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.77 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Writers Tears is clearly one of the best values for the price in this class (i.e., has the highest score for the $$ price class of Irish whiskeys).  This is particularly impressive, given that it is close to the overall average rating across my entire Whisky Database (~8.54).

I recently sampled this from a friend’s bottle, newly opened for the evening.

Nose: Crisp orchard fruit, with green apples, pears, and plums.  Light honey sweetness. Fragrant camphor/eucalyptus aroma, which is distinctive. Unfortunately, there is also a fairly strong organic solvent smell, mainly acetone (i.e., nail polish remover). If not for the latter, this would be a lovely nose. May fade once the bottle has been opened for awhile.

Palate: Same fruits as the nose, along with a touch of green banana now. Not really floral, but I am getting a dried hay note. Vanilla, butterscotch and a touch of baking spice (mild – maybe nutmeg). Still with the eucalyptus, moving more into sweet menthol. Unfortunately, this still brings with it echoes of that solvent – it seems like the two are somewhat inseparable. No real burn from the ethanol, easy to sip.

writers-tearsFinish: Medium. I suppose you could describe it as gently warming. Slightly sweet up front, dries to a more astringent effect.

I haven’t come across this much eucalyptus since the Swedish malt whisky, Mackmyra First Edition. Unfortunately, I can’t really separate it from the solvent aroma, which drags down Writers Tears to a below average score from me personally (although still close to the Meta-Critic average). This is an easy to sip whisky, more flavourful than your typical Irish budget blend.

I think it makes a very good introduction to the lighter Irish pot still style, as it still has a decent amount of flavour. I don’t have a lot of experience of this malt/pot still class, but Writers Tears strikes me as very Midleton-like in its profile (not surprisingly).

For reviews of this whisky, Jim Murray, Tone of Whisky Saga, and Serge of Whisky Fun are all very positive.  Ralfy is also generally supportive (and has an amusing backstory for his review).  Somewhat less positive reviews include Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer and the guys at Quebec Whisky.

Redbreast 12 Year Old

Redbreast gets a lot of attention from whisky enthusiasts – especially those who typically specialize in single malts.  It is an example of the Irish pure pot still style (aka single pot still), which is the traditional method for Irish whisky production.

This process involves a mix of malted and unmalted barley that has been combined and triple-distilled in a large, single copper pot stills. This method introduces a distinctive “greasiness” in the mouthfeel of the whisky, while still maintaining a lot of classic malt whisky flavours.

You may not have noticed this before in Irish whiskies, since most are actually blends of single pot still whisky and lighter grain whisky (e.g. Jameson’s, Powers, etc.). In this sense, a single pot still whisky (like Redbreast 12 Year Old) is closer to a classic single malt, while the more common entry-level Irish whiskies are closer to scotch blends.

Indeed, many enthusiasts are comfortable describing the flavour of pure pot still whiskies in the same terms as single malts (in this case, cluster E on my flavour map). That would place it in the same category as a number of the traditional vatted speyside/highland single malts that have some proportion of wine cask-aged whiskies in their mix.

Produced by Middleton, Redbreast 12 year old is a very affordable whisky – by comparable quality single malt standards. It currently sells for $75 CAD for a 750mL bottle at the LCBO. While bottled at the standard 40% ABV, there is a cask-strength version of the 12yo (57.4%) that you can pick up here for $110.

Here is how it compares to a number of whiskies of similar flavour and price in my Meta-Critic Database:

Aberfeldy 12yo: 8.16 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.34 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.45 ± 0.26 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.04 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.59 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.27 ± 0.38 on 15 reviews ($$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.78 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.71 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.38 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew 10yo Single Malt: 8.00 ± 0.79 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.48 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)

Again, for the price and flavour cluster, you can see the Redbreast 12yo does very well. Indeed, it is the Meta-Critic score leader for this cluster in the <$75 group ($$$).

Here is what I find in the glass for the standard 12 yo Redbreast:

Nose: Nutty and slightly malty (the latter fades with a bit of time in the glass). Spicy, with pepper and a bit of black licorice (anise). While not overly sherried, I suspect some proportion of this whisky spent time in a sherry cask – I get hints of light berries and milk chocolate raisonettes. A touch of solvent smell, but I can’t place it.

Palate: Rich up-front hit of brown sugar, vanilla and honey. Slightly flat cola too. Light fruits again, with tart citrus kicking in now. Very oily and juicy, giving it a chewy mouthfeel that is quite distinctive. Much more substantial than most Irish whiskies I’ve tried. Just a touch of bitterness comes in at the end, which some may find harsh if used to the lighter Irish whiskies.

Finish: Moderately long, with persistent spice – and that cola effect is back.  Not a lot of variety, just a consistent fade out. The bitterness persists as well, encouraging you to take another sip. Not particularly complex, but longer lasting than most Irish whiskies.

Redbreast.12The Redbreast 12 yo is a solid performer, with more substantial character than most commonly available Irish whiskies.  But it still carries through the typical Irish sweetness, just mixed with a single malt-like balance of flavours. This makes Redbreast 12 yo somewhat unique in my experience – sort of a hybrid of a typical Irish whisky and a sherry cask-matured speyside single malt.

Ideally, I think it best suited for those wanting to take their Irish whisky experience up to the next level. Or those who find some of the stronger sherry-finished highland/speysides to be a bit much (i.e., think of it as a sweeter Glendronach 12 yo). Indeed, I would personally rate it much closer to the Glendronach 12 yo (which gets a Meta-Critic score of 8.58 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews). But that still makes Redbreast 12yo a great value.

For a range of opinions on this whisky, the lowest scores I’ve seen come from André and Patrick at Quebec Whisky and Ralfy. Most seem to be of comparable opinion to Serge of Whisky Fun or Jim Murray. The highest scores I’ve seen come from John Hansel of Whisky Advocate and Michael of Diving for Pearls.

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

The Teeling family has a long history of Irish whiskey making, having founded the well-known Cooley distillery.  Around the time of Cooley’s eventual acquisition into Beam-Suntory, Jack Teeling (son of Cooley founder John Teeling), struck out on his own – and under his family name.

While setting up a new distillery in Ireland, Teeling Whiskey got busy buying sourced Irish whiskies for relabeling under their own label. The first of the whiskies released –  Small Batch – is a malt/grain whisky blend with a relatively high proportion of malt (I’ve seen a 35:65 malt:grain mix reported online). A high proportion of first-fill bourbon casks has also been reported.

Unusually, Small Batch has spent a number of months being finished in rum casks. While it is common for new operations to source outside whisky initially, rum cask finishing is certainly not exactly a typical approach.

Let’s see how it compares to some other Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database (in alphabetical order)

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.74 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.44 on 18 reviews ($$)
Jameson: 7.82 ± 0.58 on 17 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt Whiskey: 7.97 ± 0.54 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers (Gold Label): 8.04 ± 0.64 on 9 reviews ($$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.30 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.56 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($$$)

That is certainly a very respectable score for the price class. Below are my nosing and tasting notes for this whisky. Note that my sample come from a batch that was bottled on 02/2015.

Nose: Sweet. Very sweet. Sugar cane sweet. Lightly floral, with orange blossoms. Light-bodied fruits, like green grapes, pears, plums, apricots, and green apples. Main impression is diluted sweetened apple juice. No solvent notes. A touch malty, with very light aromas overall (like most entry-level Irish whiskies). But could easily be mistaken for a light golden rum, given that sweetness.

Palate: That sweetness is still present – a pure, refined white-sugar sweetness (with none of the complexity of honey, brown sugar, or even corn syrup). Not getting a lot of the fruits, except for the citrus (more tart lemon now). Some caramel. Light dusting of baking spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg. Definite grassiness coming through. Relatively light body and mouthfeel, but with a lot of alcohol burn (likely due to the higher 46% ABV).

Finish: Medium length, but not much going on here. A slight bitterness creeps in, but its subtle. Mainly just sweetened apple juice on the way out, with a touch of the spices. Pretty mild.

Teeling.Small.BatchThe nose is misleading on this one, with its pure white sugar sweetness.  Once you actually take a sip, this seems more like a decent light Irish whiskey – but with some significant alcohol kick.

I strongly recommend adding a splash of water to the Small Batch, to help tame the burn. It really improves the mouthfeel, and also slightly enhances the floral elements (although not the fruit). The slight bitterness of the finish also seems to disappear. I think the overall Meta-Critic score is pretty much right on the money here.

Like the AnCnoc 12yo, this would make a good summer sipping whisky – or a great base for cocktails. It should appeal to the typical Jameson’s drinker looking to add some uncomplicated extra sweetness. Of course, you could also go for Jameson Black Barrel (known as Select Reserve now) or Bushmills Black Bush for similar quality scores.

One of the most positive reviews I’ve seen of Teeling Small Batch is of Dominic Roskrow of Whisky Advocate. Josh the WhiskeyJug and Ruben of WhiskyNotes both give it a fairly typical ranking from among the Meta-Critic panel. Nathan the Scotchnoob is probably the least impressed.