For many years, the Irish whiskey business was dominated by just a couple major players. Through consolidations, sales, and reorganizations, the names of the owners changed, but the status quo remained essentially the same. (Today those two owners are Beam-Suntory and Diageo.)
The only significant competition to those two was from the Cooley Distillery, founded in 1987 by John Teeling. Cooley produced a variety of whiskeys that were sold under various brand names — two of the better-known ones being Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell — in addition to doing contract bottling for other companies.
Eventually, the state of the spirits industry being what it is, the Teeling family sold Cooley to Beam. But that didn’t mean they were out of the whiskey business for good. Because now they have returned to the market with their own eponymous label.
Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey is the company’s entry-level product, a blended Irish whiskey like Bushmills or Jameson. It is reportedly composed of 35% malt whiskey and 65% grain whiskey, and aged somewhere between four and seven years. Interestingly, the blend is then finished for an additional four-to-six months in Flor de Caña rum casks.
The color of light straw, this whiskey has aromas of caramel/toffee, vanilla, and coconut. A light whiff of alcohol, but not too much. It is light-bodied and slightly thin in the mouth, dry, and with a touch of astringent oak on the finish.
You can definitely taste the presence of the malt whiskey, with the flavor of cereal grain, plus the vanilla and coconut returning. I didn’t detect any contribution from the rum, none of the spice or “rumminess” you’d expect from the finishing.
I was surprised to see that this clocks in at 92 proof (46% abv), as it doesn’t have that much heat. I also liked the way the malt and grain whiskeys are in balance. Both are testimony to the quality of the blending.
Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey costs a little more than some of its competitors, but it’s money worth spending. This is a fine whiskey.
St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner, which means many drinkers will be turning to Irish whiskey for their drink of choice. The Irish whiskey category is hotter than it's ever been, so there are more choices than ever before.
Here at Professor Cocktail we do the heavy lifting so that you don't have to. ("Heavy lifting" sounds better than "heavy drinking.") We sampled a variety of Irish whiskeys so that we could decide which to recommend to you.
For this taste, we focused on blended Irish whiskey. This is by far the most popular type of Irish whiskey available in the U.S., as well as the most widely available.
A blended whiskey is a combination of different whiskeys, including both single malt and neutral (or near-neutral) grain whiskey. Blending the whiskey gives it a lighter, less flavorful character that many drinkers find more pleasant. (It turns out that more flavor isn't always better.)
For our line-up we selected a variety of the most common blended Irish whiskeys, several submitted by the spirits companies themselves, and a few from our own stash. We also included one extra-aged whiskey for comparison. (All Irish whiskey is aged for at least three years — but often no longer than that.)
This group of whiskeys was defined more by their similarities than by their differences. As expected, all of them were fairly light in flavor and without a lot of complexity. The colors, tastes, and aromas didn't vary as widely as with many spirits. Even so, there were still some differences that allowed us to pick our favorites.
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey ($24) — Straight-ahead blended Irish whiskey: a little sharp, a little sweet, with a malty flavor that reminds you of breakfast cereal. This is light and easy, and very drinkable. (Recommended)
Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey ($23) — The stand-out of the entry-level whiskeys. This spirit has a rich, honeyed flavor, with just a touch of smoke, that was very appealing. Vanilla notes contribute to the mild sweetness, but everything stays in balance. Overall, a very nice whiskey. (Highly Recommended)
Concannon Irish Whiskey ($25) — This whiskey, distilled by Cooley in Ireland, is aged in petite sirah casks at the Concannon Winery in Livermore, California. That gives it the expected "winey" notes, which aren't uncommon with Irish and Scotch whiskey. What was a surprise was the aroma and flavor of smoke. It was definitely the strongest char of the group, reminding us more of Scotch than the usual Irish. That could be an advantage for some drinkers, but the flavors didn't balance for us, making this one a disappointment. (Not Recommended)
Bushmills Blended Irish Whiskey ($24) — A raw, grainy flavor on first sip gives this whiskey plenty of bite. It mellows out after that, though, and ends up more astringent and spicier than most of the others. Reactions were mixed, but the floral/vegetal accents were popular with some. (Recommended)
Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve ($38) — The only whiskey in the tasting with an age statement, this is a blend of whiskeys from 12 to 15 years old. The extra time in the barrel gives this whiskey the darkest color or any in the sample. It also gives it the most complex flavor. Less sweet than the others, it has a tart, fruity taste with elements of caramel and spice. Although one taster found it bitter, overall this got high marks. (Highly Recommended)
Jameson Blended Irish Whiskey ($25) — The expected grainy, sweet character, but little else to distinguish it flavor-wise. This whiskey seemed hotter than the rest, and consequently seemed even lighter in taste. (You can taste the alcohol, but the malt flavor is overmatched.) I prefer Jameson in cocktails, but if you're searching for that Irish whiskey "kick," this is the way to go. If you're looking for a subtle sipper, look elsewhere. (Recommended)
Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey ($21) — A typical Irish whiskey, produced at an untypically fine level. Medium sweet, slightly honeyed, slightly malty. This made us think of breakfast: cereal and toast. An excellent everyday whiskey and a nice finish to the tasting. (Highly Recommended)
Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey Final Grade: B Price: $20 (750ml)
Tullamore Dew is an old brand of Irish whiskey, first distilled in Tullamore, Ireland in 1829. It's gone though many changes, owners and locations over the years, and is currently owned by spirits conglomerate William Grant & Sons, makers of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie scotches, amongst other brands. It is currently made at New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, although Grant & Sons recently announced plans to build a new distillery in the town of Tullamore.
Tullamore Dew, sometimes referred to as "Original," is the entry-level expression of the whiskey. (There are also 10-year and 12-year-old versions available.) It has a pale-gold color in the glass, accompanied by the sweet, honeyed aroma of cereal grain that fades quickly. So far it is about what you'd expect of a basic blended Irish whiskey — those familiar with Jameson or Bushmills will recognize it.
Those traditional characteristics continue on the palate, with a medium-sweet, honey flavor, with a fair bit of heat on the finish. Tullamore Dew isn't as smooth as most older whiskeys, or those containing a higher proportion of malt whiskey (like my favorite, Bushmills Black Bush), but the finish is quick, so it's not unpleasant to sip. From the taste, I assume this is made with a high percerntage of grain, rather than malt, whiskey.
There really isn't much about Tullamore Dew that is distinctive. The distiller clearly wasn't trying to break any new ground here. Rather it is a well-made, traditional Irish whiskey blended to a middle-of-the-road, but still pleasing, profile. It is a tasty, well-balanced spirit, good enough and affordable enough to drink every day and to mix in the cocktail of your choice.
Bushmills Black Bush Blended Irish Whiskey Final Grade: A- Price: $32 (750ml)
Like many Americans (and maybe even a few Irishmen, although I'm more skeptical of that), I spent St. Patrick's Day drinking Irish whiskey. Unlike most of them, I did so with pen and pad in hand, scribbling notes as I enjoyed a glass of Bushmills Black Bush.
Black Bush is the premium blended Irish whiskey produced by Bushmills Distillery. It's a blend of malt whiskey and batch-distilled grain whiskey that is aged in Oloroso sherry-seasoned casks.
Black Bush has a welcome aroma of spice and malt, reminiscent of toasted cereal grains. (This is not surprising, given that Black Bush is reportedly made with 85% malt whiskey, a higher ratio than the usual blended Irish whiskey.) After some time in the glass, the scent of caramel starts to come through as well. It's a very inviting aroma that promises good things to come.
The taste confirms that promise. The flavor of caramel and malt continues on the palate, along with the essence of oak and sherry. The time spent maturing in former sherry casks definitely gives this whiskey an additional something special.
Black Bush is a remarkably balanced whiskey, achieving harmony between sweetness and spice, and smoothness and fire. (Is "smoothness" a word? If not, it should be.) Is has just the right amount of heat to it, giving it a nice kick without making it hard to drink.
All in all, a marvelous Irish whiskey that can be enjoyed any time.
Michael Collins Irish Whiskey is a blend of malt and grain Irish whiskey, as most standard Irish whiskeys are. (They also produce an all-malt version.) It is double-distilled, in contrast to most Irish whiskeys, which are triple-distilled. This should lead to a bolder, less smooth product, and in fact Michael Collins is a bit bolder than some of its competitors.
The flavor on the tongue is malty, a bit sweet with some hints of raisins and a touch of smoke. If someone handed you a shot and told you it was Scotch, you might not call them on it, although it doesn’t quite have the unique character I expect from a decent Scotch.
Michael Collins is going its own way with this blend, aiming for something with a little more heft to it than its better-known competition, and getting part of the way there.
This whiskey will bring a little more to a cocktail and a bit more edge to an Irish Coffee, but still be very sippable should the mood strike. A reasonable value and worth a try if you’re looking to expand beyond the standards.