Friday, November 26, 2010

Malt Mission 2010 #391

Irish Whiskey Danny Boy
Danny Boy
Blended Irish Whiskey
40% abv
$24.99 (USD)

My years in the US taught me many things, but in the world of whiskey it was a true eye-opener to see the sheer volume of Irish whiskey that America throws down its throat. From only four distilleries operating in Ireland (Bushmills, Cooley, Midleton/Jameson, and the recently re-opened Kilbeggan distillery), at least ten times as many labels are currently out there in the market.

This is just one of many brands one finds on the shelves and in this case, it comes from Cooley distillery, makers of Kilbeggan, Tyrconnel, Locke's, and Connemara whiskies.

This growing segment of the world of whisk(e)y has, to date, received only a small fraction of the ink spilled on its Scottish cousins even though as little as a century ago it outperformed Scotch globally. Back in 1994, Jim Murray wrote The Irish Whiskey Almanac, and a few years later Classic Irish Whiskey but since then the topic has generally been relegated to a chapter in books covering Scotch AND Irish whiskies or world whiskies, like Murray's own World Whiskey Guide (2002).

While the world wide intraweave has literally over one hundred English language Scotch whisky blogs, there are currently only a handful of dedicated Irish ones. The folks at Irish Whiskey Chaser provide a useful links page for the Irish whisky drinker/researcher.

The future seems bright for Irish whiskey. With annually increasing sales as a category, increasing variety of flavour (pot still grain, pot still malt, column still, peated, wine casks, etc.) and with apparent reinvestment from all corners of the industry, not least of all William Grant & Sons purchase of Tullamore Dew with an apparent clear intent on building a distillery in Ireland, Irish whiskey is on a path to regain a good chunk of what it lost back in the 1920s.

Goodness knows they could use it right now. So go grab a bottle of Irish. In fact, while you're at it grab some sherry; they say Spain could be next.

Tasting in "the valley hushed and white with snow"...


Pencil shavings and sweet, vanilla-accented spirit.

Toasty and nutty oak impressions, new make grain sweetness, and some sweet strawberry jam in there, too.


Really, very much as expected. Young, simple, innoffensive verging on bland but entirely enjoyable whiskey. The website tells us the whiskey is "just like the famous and much loved melody." Perhaps... if sung by your half passed-out uncle.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Malt Mission 2010 #390

The John Walker
Blended Scotch Whisky
43% abv

Watched a great piece on Bloomberg late last night, as the wee'un refused to pass out before 1am, about the creation and rise of Google. The relevance of this relates directly to this post as my engagement with this whisky called attention to the complete superiority of Google as a search engine.

Using Google to search "The John Walker" the top results related to the whisky and also brought up relevant images and video. Bing apparently hates whisky and the first TEN results had only to do with the (amazing) Walker Brothers, some English jewleller, and a German Studies professor at Birkbeck. The videos and images were equally unrelated. Sure, sticking " " around the term, like we used to do back in 2002, got me the results I wanted, but c'mon.

If "don't be evil" really had any meaning they would spend more time (and money) creating ways to share information OTHER than personal information with advertisers and researchers and thinkers and hackers (like Wikipedia, which incidentally NEEDS your support) But Bing just confused me and got me downloading new music and online lectures.

Moving on, as I have nothing too clever to say as I lie here quietly typing between a sleeping wife and a sleeping baby...

In a conversation with friends and whisky lovers the other night, the idea emerged of whether companies could release their fancy-bottle whiskies alongside plain package versions with the appropriate price difference. The topic is relevant in the case of this beautiful £2000 bottle, which, in the press release, spends nearly every word in and around describing the luxury, workmanship and eleven layers of lacquer with only two lines relating to the liquid itself.

That being said, and perfume bottle comparisons aside, I think the pack is beautiful. Disctinctively Johnnie, bold, confident and stylish. Would I buy it? No. Would I drink it? Oh hell yes.

The John Walker was created out of a desire to have a "top shelf" Johnnie Walker along the lines of Louis XIII from Remy Martin, Ambassador Jonathan Driver informed us at the Coburg Bar in London. With such an aim, the liquid had to be gold and Jim Beveridge, Master Blender of Johnnie Walker, was given the enviable task to "go away and make a technically brilliant blend."

Pulling from grain distilleries like Cambus, malts like Cardhu, Glen Albyn, and Talisker, the whisky uses the full stable of whiskies available to a Diageo nose. It isn't made up of a bunch of old whiskies, or just rare closed ones, rather it is a wide spread of styles and ages to create something different and exquisite. Jonathan spoke of "breaking conventions by knowing traditions", and there is no doubt that the nose behind it all has the chops for the task. And really, that is what blending is all about.


Accumulative, growing and developing with each whiff, floral, fresh and outdoorsy with chamomile and sweet grass, coffee, brown sugar, complex and alluring. Citrus and smoke appear, with more aromatic sweetness. Something new with each nosing.

Licorice, honey, more chamomile and coffee, mocha, a distinctly resiny character balanced by a beautiful melon freshness. Elegant and layered with richness.


As cynical as a whisky geek can tend to be, this was really quite wonderful and I can only hope that the folks shelling out the dough for this stuff appreciate the provenance, the history, the quality casks and the blending skill that went into making it. To make up for those who don't, I seriously advise those who DO give a shit to find a drop of this and taste it. It is a remarkable blend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Malt Mission 2010 #389

Johnnie Walker Blue Label
King George V
Blended Scotch Whisky

43% abv
$480 (USD)

The last malt mission was posted at the height of another season altogether; tonight I have traded shorts and sandals for a thick wool jumper and cozy slippers to compose two posts from my wee cottage in the Scottish Highlands. Yes, I am back on the island to stay.

And I couldn't be happier. Arrived on the day of the incredible Whisky Show, reconnected with friends, spent days relishing each sip of the perfectly tempered cask ales I missed so much, and was fortunate enough to be invited to enjoy a few drops of (arguably) the world's finest blended scotch whiskies at the Coburg Bar at the Connaught in London.

In a quiet, candlelit corner of the bar, Ambassador Jonathan Driver shared the liquid histories of three different Johnnie Walkers: Blue, King George V, and The John Walker (Malt Mission #390). The intimate setting and warm environment was ideal for careful dramming and Jonathan's knowledge, sincerity and charm resonated with each small group lucky enough to join him.

He explained that this whisky was inspired by the desire to have a "late night" alternative to Johnnie Walker Blue, to create something flavourwise that was more luxurious than robust. The press release informs us that the whisky was created to celebrate the first Royal Warrant granted to John Walker and Sons Ltd to supply Scotch whisky to the British Royal Household in 1934 and also says some rubbish about luxury and how the whisky is geared for "power players."

Jonathan was not afraid to discuss the liquid in depth, not that we gave him any choice. It emerged that this whisky was created from rare stock from nine of the Scottish distilleries that operated during the days of Johnnie Walker himself, including the much loved, but lost distillery, Port Ellen. These same facts also mean, we were told, that KGV will only be able to maintain its recipe for 6-7 years.

For more on the House of Walker and for all Johnnie Walker had on the mission, click HERE.


Fruit-forward with grapes, candy orange, raisins and banana chips. Solid woody impressions, and then the expected, deep and tarry smoke delivered gently. Overall restrained, tight and bright, and politely asking for a drop of water.

Wood and oak-extractives on the palate, vanilla, tannins, all rather intense and hitting my palate with pins and needles. Again, water needed.


A very rich drop with woody whisky in the mix and a muddy road of peat through its core, I was given the impression that this whisky was, perhaps, blended to be enjoyed with ice. A shame, some may say, but in this case a mute will not hurt the instrument, it will just gently restrain the timbre while leaving the melody itself sufficiently expressive.

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