KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 11

11 12 2016

Kensington Wine Market obviously wants us to have a very Irish weekend this weekend.  After 8 straight days of scotch, Friday night’s Day 9 dram was the highly impressive Hyde 10 Year from southwest Ireland’s Cork, and now Sunday night we’re back to Ireland for what has become the KWM calendar’s Irish whiskey mascot:  Dublin’s Teeling distillery.  A mini-bottle of Teeling amidst an ocean of single malt scotch is now an official annual Advent tradition, after 2014’s Small Batch Whiskey on Day 10 and 2015’s Single Malt Whiskey on Day 14.  2016 rounds out Teeling’s entry-level trio of whiskies with its highly interesting Single Grain bottling, complete with instant-classic phoenix-rising-out-of-a-whiskey-still label art that gets me every time.  This is the first purely grain whiskey of the 2016 calendar, and its terminology requires a bit of explaining.  “Single Grain” does not mean that the spirit was made out of a single type of grain, even though that would make intuitive sense; instead, the “single” refers to the fact that the whiskey was a product of a single distillery (like with single malts), while the “grain” refers to the fact that it was not made from single malt whiskey’s ingredient of choice, malted barley, but instead came from other grains, most often wheat or corn or a mix of both.  Grain whiskey is often seen as the ugly stepsister of single malt whisky, but while it may not always match the complexity of single malt whisky, good examples can be exceptionally tasty.

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This is one such example.  One way to add some jazz and personality to an otherwise potentially straightforward spirit is to mature it in something fun, and Teeling has done just that here, foregoing the monstrously overdone sherry casks and aging its Single Grain whiskey in 100% California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.  I am emphatically in favour of this.  People all over the world put enough different booze in barrels that there’s a whole world of new whiskey flavour just waiting for the adventurous to find it.  The move pays off here in the shimmering deep golden colour of the whiskey and intriguing aromas of Amaretto, tangerine, copper pennies and crushed flowers, a fun and alluring start that carries forward on a big, smooth and emphatically tropical palate.  Coconut, banana and suntan lotion lead into less island-y notes of Werther’s Original, burnt almond, tapioca and toasted rice, a slightly strange yet utterly enjoyable array of flavours, easily worth the bottle’s $65 price tag.  Up with Ireland, grain whiskey and new aging vessels, and up with underdogs that represent all three!

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