A Lesson in Irish Whiskey

Irish WhiskeyAh yes, the redheaded stepchild of whiskey – Irish.  And that descriptor actually works; Ireland is full of redheads!

In all seriousness, many whiskey enthusiasts view the Irish variety as boring, laughable, and sometimes even a step backwards in whiskey evolution.  But why?  Let’s dig a little deeper into our beloved drink hailing from the Emerald Isle.

Before we get started, you should know that distilling in Ireland has changed dramatically in the past one-hundred years.  Once a land booming with distilleries, it is currently down to three – Bushmills, Cooley, and Midleton.  These three distilleries produce 100% of the whiskey claiming Ireland as its heritage, which to me shows that innovation and taking risks is trumped by tradition and the necessity for staying in business (survival).

The main difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch are the styles produced.  Many blends of Scotch are sent to market (in fact, 90% of Scotch is blended), but the more revered brands are single malt.  On the contrary, many of Ireland’s most popular brands, including Jameson, Powers, Paddy, and Kilbeggan, are blends.  There are some single malts, but they are few and far between.  A unique style of Irish whiskey is pure pot still, found only in the Redbreast and Green Spot brands.

Irish whiskey can also be separated from Scotch in that it is typically triple-distilled.  Although we typically associate multiple distillations with other high-quality spirits (vodka, etc.), to some people this can have a negative effect on whiskey.  This extra distillation or two can purify the whiskey a little too much, removing some of the flavors brought on prior to aging.  Depending on what side of the argument you are on, this can create either “pure” or “impure” whiskey.

So maybe (just maybe) you’re here to get my opinion on the topic.  What do I think of Irish whiskey?  To be honest, I’m with the skeptics for the most part.  In the handful of years that I have been purchasing whiskey, I have only bought two bottles, and those were for St. Patrick’s Day.  I just don’t get the same satisfaction out of Irish that I do out of Scotch or bourbon.  From my experience, Irish whiskey is just too light and one-dimensional, which is fine in small amounts, just not worth my money when there are better choices out there.  I’ll order a Jameson at the bar, but it’s usually when I had a big dinner and I don’t want my drink weighing me down.

What do you think of Irish whiskey?  Do you find it enjoyable or do you stay away from it completely?  Let me know in the comments.



Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon – Review

Knob Creek 9 Year Old Single Barrel BourbonKnob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 9 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

120 Proof

Price Point: $35 – $45 for 750 ML

Distiller: Knob Creek Distillery



It would be much more appropriate to post a review of an Irish whiskey today, as today is St. Patrick’s Day, but alas I do not have an Irish review lined up.  Oh well…

Anyway, a couple months ago, I posted the first link to this blog on my personal Facebook profile.  My Uncle Chris asked me about my thoughts on Knob Creek, and I quickly told him I wasn’t a fan.  Jokingly (at least I hope so!), he dismissed the rest of my authority on reviewing whiskey since I didn’t like his favorite bourbon.

I’ve decided to revisit the Single Barrel 9 Year Old and figure out once and for all where I stand with my uncle . . . I mean, Knob Creek!



The nose is harsh at a remarkable 60% ABV for a non-uncut/unfiltered (AKA cut/filtered) whiskey.  Once past that, it does pretty well with a lot of corn being picked up.  A lot of oak here, too, which is something I really like in the nose of a bourbon.

The taste is surprisingly smooth, and will clear your sinuses right up!  Again, be aware that this is a bourbon bottled at 120 proof.  The oak is still there, and to my tastes, the most dominating taste in Knob Creek.

The finish is long and spicy, leaving your tongue tingling for a bit.


Rating & Recommendations

Okay, so maybe I was a bit off about Knob Creek.  Of course, I don’t have the regular expression (100 proof) to compare this to.  I rate this stuff a solid 81 out of 100.

Drink it neat if you can manage the alcohol content, but a few drops of water can help tame the beast and make this stuff enjoyable.

As with my review of Ardbeg, first impressions aren’t always 100% accurate.  Sometimes you have to give whiskey a couple tries before you make up your mind.



Which Whiskey is Best? (Part 2)

Highland Park 12 Year Old Scotch DetailLast week I asked the question what is the best type of whiskey?  By this I mean, in your opinion, do you prefer American (including bourbon), Canadian, Irish, Scotch, or another international variety of whiskey?

I didn’t get a whole lot of responses, but the ones I did get were very interesting.


On Facebook, Dan Williams stated “Eagle Rare 10YO Single Barrel bourbon for this guy“, which we can assume casts his vote for American whiskey.


Ryan from Value Whisky Reviews had this to say:

I can’t give you a positive answer but I can give you a negative one: which are NOT best:

Canadian is NOT the best: up to around 9% “other” ingredients are allowed. And, well, it’s just not very good either.

Irish is NOT the best: they triple-distill and blend away to get as far away from the character of the whisky as possible. Thus, they do not embrace the whisky and so they are not the best.

Among the other contenders, I think whoever is embracing their whisky and not trying to cover it up or pump out mass-volume crap is the best. There are some in each category doing it the right way, and some in each category doing it the wrong way. (yes, I know, some of the Canadians and Irish do it the right way to… credit where credit is due).

So I guess that’s my answer: whoever is doing whisky the right way, embracing their local “terrior” is the best whisky.


Josh Feldman from The Coopered Tot had this to say:

Scotch is better if you’re looking for “terroir” – the taste of a place; how it smells and feels. No other category has such a tremendous range of mood, feeling, flavor, and regional style. Also, at its many various peaks malt whiskeys from Scotland achieve tremendous deliciousness in a tremendous range of flavors from honeyed to fruity to floral to sherried to smoky and/or earthy peaty.

That being said cheap scotch is atrocious and cheap bourbon tends to range from acceptable to amazing. The same $22 that would barely buy a swill like J&B that I would simply flush buys bourbon gold like Elijah Craig 12 which gives the finest spirits in any category a run for it’s money.

In this respect bourbon is like Italian food in Italy and scotch is like French food in France. French food scales the highest heights, but unless you’re on the heights is pretty lousy. Italian food is always good and often even humble meals are amazing and memorable.


This was all very interesting feedback, and of course, no definite conclusion can be made as the original question was entirely subjective.  I have to say, I agree with Josh that, at least in the United States, bourbon remains the best value but Scotch boasts a larger range of flavor and quality.

If you can’t agree with me on this, at least we can agree that whiskey in general is awesome!  Special thanks to Dan, Ryan, and Josh for participating!



Rebel Reserve Bourbon – Review

Rebel Reserve BourbonRebel Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

90.6 Proof

Price Point: $20 – $30 for 750 ML

Distiller: Rebel Yell Distillery



All whiskey reviewers (or reviewers in general) have their own personal preferences.  Some prefer peated Scotches, other prefer ryes, and some settle for the light taste of a Canadian.  I can say in all sincerity that my tastes run across the board, but there is something about a wheated bourbon that really speaks to me.

For those of you that missed my brief introduction, bourbon is whiskey produced from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn.  The other 49 percent is often a mix of rye, malted barley, etc.  But sometimes a higher percentage of wheat is used to produce a different flavor profile.  Rebel Reserve is one of those whiskeys, using a recipe (and an accompanying label) to highlight its wheated properties.



Unfortunately, Rebel Reserve misses the mark when it comes to its nose.  It’s a little too intense on the alcohol side, most likely from its youthful age.  This makes it difficult to pinpoint its unique aromas and describe them to you here.

Fortunately, the flavor comes through on the first sip.  You can absolutely taste the wheat, which is exactly what I was hoping for.  But that’s about it.  Nothing too complex about this stuff, which I guess could be a welcomed change if you’re looking to relax rather than study the whiskey.

The finish is just about as underwhelming as the nose and taste.


Rating & Recommendations

Rebel Reserve is an okay wheated bourbon, earning itself a rating of 74 out of 100.

Go ahead and drink this one on the rocks while watching a movie or out on the porch.  No need to analyze this one.

Do yourself a favor and invest that same money (or maybe even less) into a bottle of Maker’s MarkMaker’s is another wheated bourbon with much more character and complexity, and should satisfy others like me who like their bourbons wheated.



Which Whiskey is Best? (Part 1)

Bruichladdich Rocks Scotch DetailBefore we begin, let me just say that I am completely aware that I am jumping into a hornet’s nest.  Whiskey is something that people (including myself) are very, very passionate about, and the geographical segments that we identify the world’s greatest drink by have even more biased fans.

That being said, what is the best type of whiskey; American (including bourbon), Canadian, Irish, Scotch, or other international varieties?

I pose this question because, well, I don’t know.  Clearly this is just as subjective as asking somebody whether Coke or Pepsi are better, but everyone seems to have an opinion anyway.  So why not see what you, the readers, think is best.  I’m also going to post the question on Facebook and Twitter, and I will follow-up next week with the general consensus.




Forty Creek Canadian Whisky – Review

Forty Creek Canadian WhiskyForty Creek Premium Barrel Select Canadian Whisky

80 Proof

Price Point: $20 – $30 for 750 ML

Distiller: Kittling Ridge Distillery



My first experience with Forty Creek was in November of last year at Whiskey Fest.  I chanced upon their booth, which was one of the more modest at the show.  A quiet man stood behind the booth and politely asked me if I would like to sample his whisky.  I obliged, of course, as I had not tried Forty Creek or even heard of it up until then.

When you’re used to the spiciness of a bourbon or the peaty taste of an Islay Scotch, most Canadian whiskies seem to get dull.  I used to enjoy Canadian whisky several years ago, but I think I just appreciated how easy it is to drink.

Forty Creek is not your typical Canadian whisky.  After my first sip, I glanced back at the man behind the booth in admiration of his whisky.  He introduced himself as John Hall, the master distiller for Forty Creek.



The nose on this one is Canadian, without a doubt.  But it’s not quite as flat as some of its countrymen.  There’s a little more to it, but you won’t be able to tell from the nose alone.

Forty Creek surprises on the first sip.  There’s a distinct nuttiness to it, unlike anything I have ever tasted in a whiskey.  There’s also a lot of honey in this, both in the mouthfeel and the flavor.

The finish is just great.  It’s relatively brief due to its low proof, but the oak really shines here.


Rating & Recommendations

I was pleasantly surprised by Forty Creek.  I give this whiskey a rating of 84 out of 100.

Because it’s pretty cheap relative to other whiskeys on the market, feel free to experiment with some mixtures.  It’s just as good neat, though.

Forty Creek really stands out as something unique in the Canadian section of your liquor store.  If you haven’t tried it, I definitely recommend it.



The Whiskey Brotherhood

Ardbeg Uigeadail DetailThere are certain things in life that you either “get” or “don’t get”.  If you get it, everyone else who gets it gets you.  But if you don’t get it, you don’t get the people who do get it.  Get it?

What I’m alluding to here is the brotherhood between whiskey drinkers.  Although this seems like a silly concept, it does in fact exist.  Assuming you are a whiskey drinker (and that you do “get it”), consider your experiences at the bar, at the liquor store, or at a party.  Oftentimes, the beer and vodka imbibers, or the dreaded bottled water drinkers, outnumber the rest of us.  When you’re not keen on the aforementioned options, you can feel a bit alone.  But alas – once in a while you’ll find a like-minded individual who prefers the old aqua vitae over everything else.

Over the weekend, I was on a business trip to San Antonio.  After a long day of meetings, my boss and I ended up at the hotel bar with a bunch of other people in town for the same conference.  I hear people shouting to the bartender “Coors Light!”, “Gin & Tonic!”, “Chardonnay!”  I feel a little out of place, but I order the Macallan 12 Year Old.  About twenty minutes pass, and a man walks up next to me to get another drink.  The bartender asks, “Another Macallan?”  The man nods, and receives his drink a minute later.  I tell him that I too am drinking the Macallan, and there is an immediate connection established between us.  We say “Cheers!”, clink our glasses together, and talk for a few minutes.  I’m not saying I made a lifelong friend, but we had a momentary bond that nobody else in that bar could claim.

Have you ever experienced a whiskey brotherhood?



(rī)¹ Rye Whiskey – Review

(rī)¹ Rye Whiskey(rī)¹ Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

92 Proof

Price Point: $45 – $55 for 750 ML

Distiller: Jim Beam



I’ll tell you what – few whiskey brands are as elusive as (rī)¹.  Yep, you read that name right, I didn’t just lean on the keyboard.  That is a parenthesis, a lower-case “r”, an “i” with a line above it, another parenthesis, and a superscript “1”.  They’ve got some “creative” marketing guys, huh?  Needless to say, (rī)¹ considers itself an ultra-premium rye whiskey.  It even says it on the bottle!  Oh brother…

All kidding aside, the ridiculous name and the unique bottle shape is what originally drew my wife and I to this whiskey.  The price repelled me a bit, but I ended up receiving my bottle as a gift from her.  So in all fairness, the marketing worked and got us to take the first step and make the purchase.  But will we buy again?



Rye is clearly the focus of this whiskey on the nose, as it should be.  I’ll admit it right here – I’m not a big fan of rye whiskey.  I struggle to find all of the intricacies of a Scotch or bourbon in a whiskey made predominantly with rye.  Likewise, I struggle to pick up much more than rye on the nose of this particular whiskey.

The taste of (rī)¹ is actually really good.  Lots of spice and a good amount of oak involved.  Much more pleasant to me than other rye whiskeys.

There’s a good length on the finish, carrying over a lot of the spice from the initial taste.


Rating & Recommendations

(rī)¹ is a decent rye whiskey, one that I would suggest trying at least once.  I give this brand a rating of 80 out of 100.

The bottle suggests enjoying on the rocks or with a cocktail, but I’d rather have something like this neat.

(rī)¹ is an interesting whiskey; one that I wasn’t sure about until I tried it.  I’m not sure it’s worth the price, but at the very least, it ‘s a conversation piece for your whiskey collection.



The Truth About Proof

Abraham Bowman Bourbon DetailAll whiskey novices step aside – this post is about the potency of the world’s greatest drink.

To the inexperienced, a high proof whiskey doesn’t taste like much more than alcohol.  But, to the well-trained drinker, a high proof can mean exponentially more flavor than the standard 40 or 46 ABV.

When I talk about high proof whiskeys, I mean barrel proof (or cask strength) expressions such as George T. Stagg, Glenlivet Nàdurra, and Abraham Bowman.  These whiskeys are taken straight out of the barrel keeping its natural alcohol content intact.

So what’s the difference between these whiskeys and something like Benchmark or Jack Daniel’s?  Well, whiskeys like that are taken out of the barrel, and after several other processes, cut with water to reach the desired proof.  This is totally fine and an accepted method – in fact most whiskeys follow this process.  The issue with it is that water . . . well, waters down the whiskey and eliminates some of the flavor.  So what may taste like pure rubbing alcohol in cask strength expressions actually has more whiskey flavor than the average drink.

I admit that I don’t always find myself drinking barrel proof whiskeys.  First of all, they are often much more expensive largely because the distillers get less yield out of each barrel that way (do the math) but also because they typically bottle the higher quality barrels this way.  It’s also not always easy to drink something that’s over sixty percent alcohol – if you’re responsible it can cut down your quantity of drinks in a night dramatically.

What’s your favorite cask-strength whiskey?  Do you find that you get more flavor out of it, or does it burn the whole way down?



Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Scotch – Review

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 Year Old ScotchGlenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

92 Proof

Price Point: $45 – $55 for 750 ML

Distiller: Glenmorangie Distillery



Last week, I reviewed Glenmorangie Lasanta, a Scotch matured for ten years in ex-bourbon casks and an additional two years in Oloroso sherry casks.  Quinta Ruban, however, spends 10 years aging in American white oak casks, before being transferred into ruby port pipes from the Quintas, or wine estates, of Portugal.

During a trip to the liquor store with my dad, he picked out Quinta Ruban based on my recommendation of Lasanta and his preference for port wine.



The nose on Quinta Ruban isn’t nearly as forthright as Lasanta.  The special aging in port casks does not show up in a dominant way by nose alone.  What you’ll get more is a kind of Glenlivet nose.

Well, if you were to base the quality of a whisky simply by the nose, then you would walk right past Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban!  The tastes from the port aging come through in a big way here, with a lot of raisin flavor coming out.

The finish is really nice.  Not as red wine-heavy as Lasanta, but still reminiscent of the finish of a port wine.


Rating & Recommendations

Quinta Ruban is an excellent Scotch, but I happen to like Lasanta slightly better, which is why I rate this an 86 out of 100.

Just like with Lasanta, enjoy this whisky neat to get all of the flavors out of it..

Glenmorangie does a great job maturing its whiskies in creative ways, and Quinta Ruban is another example of its expertise.