Tasting Irish Whiskey


On Whiskey is a monthly column on whiskey and whiskey drinks by Warren Bobrow. For more of this great column, click this logo.

On Whiskey is a monthly column on whiskey and whiskey drinks by Warren Bobrow. For more of this great column, click this logo.

There is something about Irish whiskey that is very personal to me. Perhaps it’s the country itself. I’ve been fortunate to visit this lush, island nation several times.

There are so many shades of green that the eyes never grow tired of the variations in shade. The people of this land of many shades of green seem to offer something that is missing in world travel today – their friendly demeanor and strong conviction to their own heritage. This heritage is especially apparent in their whiskeys distilled from the terroir with grains grown on this island of vast agricultural diversity.

The Gulf Stream flows from the Caribbean all the way past Ireland. The water, although not warm like the Southern Ocean, is not as frigid as the rest of the Atlantic Ocean. Flowers from tropical cacti and plants like palm trees reside in Dublin, forcing the observer to think tropically even in the whiskeys that they drink. That’s not to say that the whiskeys are light in character.

What Irish whiskey is to me changes depending on the weather.

They say in Ireland that if it’s not raining, step inside a pub…When you leave (the pub), it will be raining. Irish whiskey is uniquely distilled to make the sun shine from the inside of your stomach out. No, I wouldn’t go that far to say that the sun always shines when you’re drinking Irish whiskey, but I will say that you will gather a smile on both sides of your mouth when you are enjoying Irish whiskey.

One such handcrafted brand that I’m rather fond of is named Knappogue Castle.

Sitting in front of me are three 25 ml bottles of this gorgeous Irish whiskey. This whiskey is a single malt. Most Irish whiskey is blended from several different malts. Not that the blended stuff is bad, it’s far from bad!

It just happens to be that this single malt Irish whiskey is some of the best that money can buy.

I have three samples in front of me. A 12-year old at 40% ABV, a 14-year old in twin woods, bourbon oak and Oloroso sherry at 46 ABV and a 16-year old also in twin woods, bourbon oak and the Oloroso Sherry finish at 40% ABV.

Photo by Warren Bobrow

Photo by Warren Bobrow

Tasting notes follow:

12-Year-Old Knappogue Castle

No caramel coloring means the lightly yellow hue of this not-so-young whiskey is a dream come true alongside a cup of strong Irish Breakfast Tea. Not that I’m advocating drinking strong whiskey for breakfast, but it couldn’t hurt! Lightly smoky with a sweet finish, notes of lemon curd reveal themselves along with the spicy nose. White chocolate, violets and hazelnuts along with darker fruits come into view quickly. The finish goes on and on, leading me to think that they use American bourbon oak for the finishing wood. This is a sweeter effort than the John Powers (my usual slurp of Irish whiskey) and I like it very much. Try it with a splash of Fruitations Tangerine Soda and Cocktail syrup and a hit of seltzer. Finish this drink with a pinch of sea salt and two or three drops of Angostura Bitters. That’s it!

14-Year-Old Knappogue Castle

Not tainted with coloring agents, like scores of whiskeys, the 14-year-old Knappogue is a thing of rare beauty. The sun begins to shine brightly from the inside of your body, out when I drink little sips of the 14-year-old version. Brown bread toasted on a dry shovel over an open fire comes to mind slathered with sweet butter and whole cherry preserves. There are whispers of raw honey, tropical flowers and tobacco smoke that come into view along with brown butter crisps. Bourbon oak and Oloroso Sherry casks are used in aging this elegant beast. You must not put anything in it but air.

16-year-old, Sherry Finish Knappogue Castle

Like the 14-year old, the 16 is aged in bourbon oak, and then finished in Oloroso Sherry casks. Each and every sip of the 16-year-old whiskey thrills me. Little bites of brown butter simmered hazelnuts are immediately in view melting into caramel, maple syrup and graham cracker crusted chess pie. Melted stone fruits come into view along with fleur du sel and Southern French herbs and more melted butter. The sweet finish of the sherry is front and center with the herbal essence and deep extraction from the cinnamon tinged finish. Again, no caramel coloring means the color of this whiskey is true. This is rare and lovely. Get some… now! And you better not mix it with cola.

Knappogue Castle. Some of Ireland’s best!


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