Friday, November 25, 2011

The Presidents Selection

Thursday 24th of November saw the 2011 Presidents Selection tasting for the Irish Whiskey Society. As the last formal tasting of the year for the society this is where the president of the society can take a few liberties with an increased budget and totally dictate what line up is to be.

The night was entitled "The President's Selection 2011: A Journey Through Time with Irish Pot Still Whiskeys"  which gave us a small but inconclusive hint of the tantalising whiskeys that were to come.

First up was a 1995 Midleton Single Cask Pot Still exclusively bottled for The Celtic Whiskey Shop. This first fill bourbon cask was typical of this style on the nose ... big vanilla, cotton candy, honey and a nice touch of oak. The taste did not disappoint either as with the nose plenty of vanilla and honey but lovely ginger and some wood spice. For me the finish was quite dry after all that sweetness which was a nice balance. An excellent pot still to whet the taste buds. This originally retailed at €200 but is long sold out.

Next up was the Jameson 15yo Pot Still Millennium edition which is firmly in the iconic class but possibly slightly over shadowed by the cult status that the 2005 Redbreast 15yo has claimed. I have been lucky enough to own a few of these with one currently open so I was well aware of what this stellar whiskey had in store. The nose is wonderful and full with rich sherry notes of mix dried fruit and raisins there is also a musty note to this which seems to have been a hall mark note of pot still whiskeys of old. The taste is just as rich and explodes in the mouth with big fruit flavours and well integrated spice notes. A lovely long and mellow finish completes this rewarding whiskey.

With Whiskey number 3 we were stepping up into the super premium price category. A 30yo 1964 Dungourney was unveiled and was received with great expectation. This however was a totally different style from the previous offering. Delicate is a good word to describe this whiskey and certainly one to spend plenty of time over. This seems much lighter than the years would suggest and their is an airyness to the sweet maltiness of the nose. Going by nose one would think bourbon cask but because of age it could well be a well reused sherry cask. The taste is on a similar par with the sweet sugar and sweet malt to the fore. The shortest finish of the lot so far for me but maybe in different quieter conditions one could get more.

Following on from that we were greeted with an odd curiosity of the 15yo Old Irish Gold Pure Pot Still Irish whiskey. This unattributed Irish whiskey is a sad indication of what happened to the remaining struggling distilleries in Ireland during the 50's. The 1950's saw the closure of several distilleries and the dispersal of stocks to all and sundry that had the means to purchase whiskey whole sale. This particular whiskey found it's way to a bonded warehouse in Scotland and eventually to a buyer in Germany. Between all the various pit stops it somehow lost it's distillery of origin. Bottled in 1972 and stated to be over 15years old would indicate that this would have been distilled at the latest in the year 1957. So what about the whiskey ... would this be a hidden gem waiting to be rediscovered? Well the rear label proclaiming a recipe for Irish coffee was probably a hint of what was a head. In no way was this offensive but it certainly did not stand up in the same class of the previous 3 whiskeys for the majority. Sweet and citrusy was the name of the game here and a strange astringency to the finish. This intriguing whiskey of unknown origins was still an experience that people should savour as it is part of the history of by gone Irish Whiskey.

1953 was the year of our next distillate ... Old Comber 30yo. This long closed distillery was renowned for it's sherried whiskeys but imbibers of this whiskey 60 years ago would have been used to a more modest age statement of 7years old as standard. The nose is wonderfully sherried and full of those rich fruit cake aromas that we associate with sherry cask. However for Irish pot still fans there is always an extra dimension to the fruit in the nose. The taste delivered on the nose equally and this could well have been a stellar whiskey worthy of the high kings of Ireland but for the finish. There is plenty of positives in the finish but there is an elephant in the room also and that is the big slap of wood in there also. This is where we can see what over aging can do to a whiskey. Even though it is only at the very end of the finish that is totally dominated by wood this alone proves its down fall. This was a wonderful experience and rewarding experience but at €600 a bottle it is hard to justify the price for it's faults. However if you could get this for a fraction of the price it would be well worth it and an amazing experience faults and all.

Lastly we jaunt back close to a century to the distillation date of circa 1914. Another Jameson but from a totally different distillery altogether from that of famous John Jameson. Many may never have heard of a whiskey called William Jameson but yes another Jameson distillery existed many moons ago and they were just as well known as JJ&S at the turn of the 20th century. However this bottle was not even an official bottling by this distillery. Once again we have a distillery in distress and serious amounts stocks which were sold en-mass to the US. This was because the US was always it's main market and mainly due to Prohibition in the US it was the start of the end for the William Jameson distillery in Marrowbone Lane in Dublin. As the William Jameson name was highly regarded in US already a new company bearing the same name was established US and 20yo William Jameson whiskey was blended with young Kentucky whiskey for the newly reopened US market. It seems to have been a success however what is it like today. Well this piece of Irish and American history was amazing to behold. However it has very little light to shed on Irish style whiskey. The young American whiskey totally dominates and is very much a bourbon/rye style whiskey however the 20year old Irish whiskey does express itself on the nose. A wonderful experience but not Irish Pot still whiskey as we knew or know it.

The hands down winner on the night was the Jameson 15yo Pure Pot Still taking nearly half the votes but all whiskeys were received appreciatively and all were enjoyed for their respective qualities.

An amazing line up of whiskeys from a historical point of view and a wonderful night spent with an appreciate audience. Many thanks to Leo Phelan the 2011/2012 Irish Whiskey Society president for a wonderfully informative night following pot still back in time. A once in a life time opportunity to taste all these whiskeys every one of which are now being slowly but surely cast into the annals of history.