Monday, December 12, 2011

Whiskey: In a different Glass.

As an additional supplemental review to buying Whiskey for Christmas I think it is also worth paying attention to glassware. Why spend hard earned cash on an expensive whiskey and drink it out of an old boot. If your afraid to buy your loved one whiskey you may consider buying some glasses.

Whiskey, like wine, comes in many different guises and has a debt of character all of it's own seldom seen in other spirits. It could even be argued that due to the myriad of whiskey out there that it is in fact the most diverse of all spirits. From colour to aroma to taste there is a never ending array of combinations out there in the world of whiskey (flavour spectrum here). So if you want to get the most from your whiskey you should also pay a small bit of attention to the glass you drink it from. Choosing the right glass for the right occasion can be half the battle. However like your whiskey a glass can just as easily be a very personal choice. So it could well be a matter of trial and error and you may find that one glass will heighten and intensify your experience greatly over another.  However there are a few basic rules that should be regarded before you choose.

As I have already said a glass can be a very personal choice and we all have very different likes and dislikes. So there will be people who like a certain size, shape and weight in their glass. However getting the aroma is one of the biggest pleasures of a top quality whiskey and if you can properly engage with the aroma it will enhance the the taste immeasurably.

What many may not know is that there is a basic industry standard for nosing whiskey. Left is a style of glass that you will find in the sample rooms of the majority of Distillery's. This is where the magic happens and master blenders use their finely honed noses to select the best whiskeys for the job at hand. Their weapon of choice is the blenders nosing glass.

About the size of a stemmed sherry glass these miniature sized wine glasses with their tulip shape are perfect to allow the aromas to collect in the empty space while the sides contain much of the aromas for your nasal pleasure. And why a stem? Well it is the perfect extension to swirl, agitate and release even more aromas. You can also cup the glass in your palm with stem through your fingers to gently warm the whiskey to release even more aroma profiles. Clear and un-embellished these are perfect for a clear view of the contents as a whiskey can be anything from a pale yellow straw to a deep mahogany colour.

These glasses may not evoke the stereotypical vision of a whiskey glass and possibly not one you would use to have a relaxing whiskey by the fire but if your looking to dissect a whiskey you can't do much better. However as a gifting option maybe not an easy sell but this is basically to explain the importance of shape.

With this in mind there are 2 glasses that possibly get the most attention in this regard. Both manufacturers have spent an amazing amount of R&D on developing their creations and both claim that theirs is the ultimate whiskey nosing glass. One from Scottish crystal company called Glencairn and another from Austrian premium glass maker Riedel. Rieldel, the epitome of glass perfection, create wonderful creations of an amazingly delicate nature and did similar for their whiskey glass. They both have made nosing glasses that tick many of the boxes. Specifically shaped for nosing and can be cupped in a hand to gently warm the whiskey. Just like Cognac/Brandy it is no harm to ward you whiskey gently as in doing so can release more of those wonderful aromas. The Reidel actually lips out but according to Reidel this and it's Petit size do the job perfectly. Also a desired fill level like that illustrated is another requirement as leaving enough space for the whiskey to "aromatise" the empty space is key.

The Riedel unfortunately comes at a cost, circa €40-50 a pair, but many swear by them. Glencairn on the other hand decided to develop a glass that was an excellent nosing glass, cheap (ish) and durable. So at circa €5-8 a glass is a much cheaper alternative and for me a better shape and significantly more robust. Even though both should be hand washed the Glencairn can easily withstand dish-washing but not the Riedel and unfortunately towel drying a Rielel can result in a costly disaster just as equally as they are quite delicate. On the other hand the Glencairn will withstand daily usage therefore for me the call is an easy one.

However many people do like a good lump of crystal in their hand. There is still the perception that a whiskey should be drunk from a heavy bottomed tumbler. In a way it is a comforting pleasure to be drinking your expensive whiskey out of an expensive piece of crystal. However some of these tumblers are like wide open buckets that let the aroma of a whiskey just fade off into the ether.

Whether right or wrong the tumbler is still is a very popular choice. So if your intent to sticking with a tumbler maybe it can still be achieved all the while retaining the principle of the nosing glass. The above are a selection of traditional glasses, with a Waterford Crystal at either end. However the issue with these is that they don't do much to maximize the aroma of a whiskey. Even a slight lip will help which the Waterford on the far right nearly achieves but not quite. So possibly a compromise would be something like below.

So again we have a Waterford at either end (John Rocca left and Lismore Right) then a Peugeot in the center with 2 stemless style glasses either side but both specifically listed as whiskey tumblers. These all have a lip with the Peugeot with the most pronounced lip.

So a purchase of a nice pair of glasses and possibly a small water jug may also be worth bearing in mind.

Riedel & Glencairn are available at The Celtic Whiskey shop but don't appear to be on line so please contact them for availability. Also Amazon would be another source for some of the more uncommon makes like Peugeot. Enjoy the full experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Shopping, but it's not just for Christmas.

Well it is that time of year again ... racking the head to find that unusual gift for so and so!?!?! Well, whiskey has been a standard buy for gifting to business associates over the years but it has always been just a standard Jameson, Paddy or Powers. However whiskey can be so much more than that and you can make it an exciting and unusual gift. What's more is that a premium bottle of whiskey should last long after the Christmas holidays as these whiskeys should be savoured over time. So if you are looking for a few ideas read on.

My personal favourite for this year is the brand new Powers 12yo bottling released by Irish Distillers early this year. This is a whiskey that harks back to the old days when Powers was a heavier whiskey than it is today. Not necessarily for the novice due to it's complexity and full flavours but undoubtedly one of the best Irish Whiskeys on the market today and marks highly from world whiskey experts. An added bonus is a large pull out picture sized image of the Power's Distillery and a recount of the distillery on the reverse from 1885 inside. An engrossing insight into whiskey distilling of the 19th Century.

NOSE:    An abundance of earthy aromas, leather, tobacco with layers of charred wood, dark chocolate and treacle toffee.
  Full bodied spice front followed by vanilla, honey and dried apricot.
FINISH:  Lingering honey sweetness on toasted oak.

Circa €55 at The Celtic Whiskey Shop and other specialist Off Licenses. If your you a bit afraid of this  whiskey plumb for the regular 12yo which is lighter but still a good choice for any Powers fan. 

If you know someone that prefers Jameson why not take a step up in quality and expand their experience with a more refined and flavourful whiskey. In the Jameson tradition there are a few to chose from.

 The Jameson 12yo is a lovely step up and is a much fuller and richer whiskey compared to the regular Jameson. And at under €40, and cheaper if found on special, is widely available is an easy find.

NOSE: Warm, spicy, assertively complex.

TASTE: Sherry richness, nutty flavour, mild woody undertones.

FINISH: Rich and lasting.

 However there are other whiskeys which have their roots in the Jameson line up which on the face of it is not apparent and are a bit more unusual but should still keep the Jameson drinker happy.

The highly regarded Greenspot has been beautifully updated and modernised. This has gained cult status amongst Irish Whiskey drinkers in the know. It would grace any drinks Cabinet and maybe even cause a talking point due to it's more exotic label, for an Irish whiskey.
Circa €45 @ The  Celtic Whiskey Shop

NOSE: Fresh aromatic oils and spices with orchard fruits and barley on a background of toasted wood.

TASTE: Full spicy body. A hint of cloves along with the fruity sweetness of green apples, rounded off with toasted oak.

FINISH: Lingering flavours of spices and barley.

 Redbreast 12yo is another cracking whiskey at a reasonable price. Possibly my favorite of the 3 but not greatly as all 3 are very good whiskeys for the price.

Nose: A complex spicy and fruity aroma with toasted wood notes evident.

TASTE: Full flavoured and complex; a harmonious balance of spicy, creamy, fruity, sherry and toasted notes.

FINISH: Satisfyingly long, the complex flavours linger on the palate.

Widely available circa €45. However if you want something even more special feel free to go for the 15yo at circa €75 per bottle and certainly worth the extra investment.

However maybe he's into scotch  ... well with the economic times that we are in why not keep it Irish anyway. So for something totally different with a bit of a kick and plenty peat why not go for a Connemara. 

Nose: Smokey peatiness balanced by hints of honey and dried fruits

Taste: Silky smooth with a honey sweet start, followed by malt and fruit flavours giving way to full bodied peat.

Finish: Long and glorious with golden honey notes and a deep peaty finish.

A good substitute for the likes of Ardbeg, Lagavulin or Laphroig, try this. Available in most good independent off licences for circa €35 or if you want to go a bit further the Cask Strength version is circa €55 and much better in my opinion.

If your worried about the Connemara being too peaty try something a bit subtler like Locke's 8yo which is an excellent substitute as a lightly peated whiskey. 

A smooth medium bodied single malt that ticks all the boxes and easy to drink.

Nose: Light & smooth sweet malt, Pear Drops, Orange squash

Taste: Boiled Sweets, pear drops again, Apricot. And a quick spice burst.

Finish: Dusty and dry spice, White pepper, slight anesthetic Smoke(light).

Circa €35 at well stocked independent off licenses.

For those wishing to spend a bit more on something special there is plenty to choose from also. Impress your loved one with some top class whiskey and excellent packing to boot. Not pictured but worth a mention is the Writers Tears Cask strength gift pack including 2 nosing glasses. All available at The Celtic Whiskey Shop on Nassau St Dublin 2 between €95 and €165. They also can courier to anywhere in Ireland for a reasonable fee.Pick of the bunch here is the Midleton Bary Crockett Legacy and the dearest of the bunch too. However this Midleton is a master class in refinement and an exceedingly drinkable whiskey with plenty of character. 

Irish Man's Cask Strength - Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy - Bushmills 21yo - Kilbegggan 18yo

Then we have the Super Premium Category where Money is no object. These are the heavy weight whiskeys that only a few ever have the opportunity to try so all very very special. 

The Jameson RVR is possibly one of the best whiskeys released by Irish Distillers in Decades. However at a premium of €370 a bottled to be savoured. Then we have 2 whiskeys from long closed distillery's. Because of this they command a premium immediately. The Coleraine 34yo is a rare single from the now defunct Coleraine Distillery. Distilled in 1959 and bottled in 1993 this has been long sough after by aficionado's of whiskey and commands a constant high price at auction, price an eye watering €1600. The Knappogue Castle 1951 is a whiskey originally from the Tullamore Distillery in Co Offaly. This has the most wondrous nose of Toffee and Bananas but it very light on taste so needs to be savoured on a clear palate, €600. Lastly a collectors bottle from Cooley a limited edition from Connemara Range, this heavily peated whiskey has been matured in a cask which has used thousands of year old oak reclaimed from an Irish bog. A truly unique maturation technique and the Connemara Bog Oak will cost you circa €250. Again all available at The Celtic Whiskey Shop in shop or via special delivery.

Jameson Rare Vintage Reserve - Coleraine 34yo - Knappogue Castle 1951 - Connemara Bog Oak

If all that is enough to make you cry in these times of cut backs and fiscal rectitude you may want to be a bit more cash conscious. However at the same time it would be nice to give your recipient a bit of a choice so why not get one of the many gift packs available. These are generally a selection of 5cl mini bottles.

 From left to right Clontarf Trinity (Classic Blend, Clontarf Reserve & Clontarf Single Malt), The Irish Man duo with shot Glass (A Single Malt & Irish Man 70 which is a unique blend 30% Pot Still and 70% malt whiskeys), Tyrconnel Single Malts with Glencairn nosing glass (Regular Tyrconnel, Sherry Finish & Port Finish) Connemara Range with Glencairn nosing glass (Connemara regular, Cask Strength & 12yo single malts) & the Jameson Selection (Crested Ten, Regular Jameson & 12yo). There is also a cooley collection not pictured which contains a Connemara, Greenore, Kilbeggan & Tyrconnell (I think). All in the €10-15 euro range. Tyrconnell & Connemara packs are the best value as you get 3 mini's and a glencairn tasting glass which is usually over the €5 mark on it's own.

These are just some of the wonderful Irish whiskeys that are on the market today and only reflect a limited view of what's available. Feel free to pop into you local Specialist whiskey store and ask for their recommendations.  I'm sure they will be delighted to talk to you about the multitude of choice out there.

Keep the spirit Irish this Christmas and happy shopping.