KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 14

14 12 2017

The name of this whiskey basically encapsulates what I’m feeling right now, just over halfway through Advent, with 26 posts in the books and 2 more on the way tonight, not quite soon enough to feel close to the finish but far enough along to make me wonder what the heck I was doing.  Writers Tears was so named to be evocative, in honour of those 19th century Irish writers who would descend on their favourite pub to soothe their frustrations and as a global boutique brand that did not need overt Irish references to find its niche in the whisk(e)y world.  (That said, the lack of any apostrophe in “Writers” makes it hard to come to any sensible grammatical conclusion about the name choice.  It just looks like two plural words standing awkwardly beside each other at a bus stop.)  Writers(‘) Tears is a refreshingly modern story:  it is the creation of Walsh Whiskey Distillery in southeast Ireland, a company which was only founded in 1999, and then only to make (seriously) Irish Coffee.  Walsh didn’t launch a solo whiskey until 2007 (made via supply agreements with other distillers) and didn’t have a physical distillery space of its own until LAST YEAR.  Writers Tears came into being in 2009, making it a shade younger than my dog (good boy, Eli).


This Writers Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey bottling is 60% Single Pot Still Whiskey and 40% Single Malt Whiskey, though it comes from 100% Irish barley and contains no grain whiskey.  Let me explain.  Single malt whiskey refers to any whiskey made by a single distillery from malted barley (malting is a process where the raw barley is soaked to get it to germinate before being dried, helping the starches in the barley convert to fermentable sugar).  The limited distinction between this and single pot still whiskey (a purely Irish concept) is that single pot still whiskey features both malted AND unmalted barley in the mash (the liquid that ends up being fermented and distilled), which is distilled in a copper pot still.  The raw barley is supposed to lend spiciness and texture to the mix; I got more of the second here than the first.  This blend is a brilliant medium-amber colour and emits toasty honey, celery sticks, carrot cake, wheat field and vanilla cream aromas, any spiciness certainly of the baking variety.  Cream is also THE word to describe the palate, rich and smooth like steamed milk, soaked through with languid burnt sugar/creme brûlée flavours along with mocha frappuccino, star anise and Werthers’ Originals, all overlaid by a light maltiness.  Yeah, it’s as delicious as it sounds.  An absurd value for $52 — Irish whiskey now fully has my attention.


KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 6

6 12 2017

No. 6 for Day #6 — I will give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt and assume that was cleverly intentional.  I was ultra-pumped to pull the extended-name Hyde 1938 No. 6 Sherry Cask Finish Black Label Special Reserve Irish Whiskey (phew) out of the calendar tonight, for two reasons:  (1) after I have (politely) campaigned for years to get more global representation in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, 2017 has seen FOUR different countries come out of cardboard box doors in six days; and (2) I absolutely adored the Hyde whiskey from the 2016 calendar, which almost made my top 3 overall from that year.


Like that bottle (and all of Hyde’s lineup), this one sees time in two different kinds of barrels, starting out in bourbon casks before finishing in my nemesis, Oloroso sherry barrels, which lend salty kernel-y complexity to whiskies but also drive me to the point of near-insanity in their ubiquity.  Hyde’s mantra is “It’s all about the wood!” (actual promoted hashtag:  #itsallaboutthewood), which I would readily make fun of were it not for the fact that their website contains the best discussion of the details and effects of wooden barrel maturation I’ve ever seen.  When you walk the talk, I will grant you your double entendre slogan.


Photo credit:  They take wood seriously.

Hyde Irish Whiskey is named after Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, and this “1938” bottling is a tribute to his inauguration year, despite having nothing else at all to do with that calendar year.  It’s a special small release (only 5,000 bottles made, as well as at least 384 mini-Advent bottles) that intriguingly combines an 8 year-old grain whiskey with an 18 YEAR single malt whiskey to make a punching-above-its-weight power blend.  The result smells equally sweet and herbal, part honey and vanilla, part lemongrass and fresh leaves, part nutmeg and eucalyptus and creme caramel.  Fruit shows up in spades as soon as the whiskey hits your tongue, buoyant cantaloupe, kiwi and honeydew, backed by seaweed, Dixie Cup spoons and that same lingering trace of minty greenness.  This is really, really impressive, much more layered than your standard expectation of Irish whiskey and a steal at an $80ish retail price.  Keep the Irish coming!!

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.


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!

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 9

9 12 2016

Woooo!!  Bring on the internationals!  One of my favourite Whisky Advent Calendar days is the first day a non-Scottish whisky (or in this case, whiskey) shows up; not that I have anything against scotch, of course, but I do enjoy the variety and fresh perspective that some of the interloper whisky nations bring to the table.  This particular nation didn’t have to interlope far — it’s an hour’s flight from Scotland to Ireland — but Irish whiskey still has its own distinct personality above and beyond its divergent spelling of what’s in the bottle.  There are fewer regulations surrounding whiskey in Ireland, but one thing that is generally required is triple distillation of the spirit, which results in a purer, cleaner, smoother whiskey, albeit perhaps at the expense of the character or flavour of the underlying grain that remains in the impurities.  Tonight’s Irish whiskey standard-bearer is a KWM calendar newcomer, Hyde distillery, whose website features the most fantastic graphic of the overall distillation process:

Wow.  It may be a traditional process, but it’s far from a simple one.  This 10 Year Presidents Cask Single Malt is not fooling around in the price department for a product of Ireland ($110) but sees its contents subject to two separate maturations after its triple-distillation, first a decade in small (200L), flame-charred, first-fill Bourbon casks from Kentucky selected for maximum flavour extraction, and then an additional 10 months of finishing in Oloroso sherry casks…which it turns out cost TEN TIMES MORE than Bourbon casks do!  An Oloroso cask is around 800 Euros, while a Bourbon cask is only around 80 Euros.  I know which way I would go if I was a distillery, particularly given my general antipathy towards sherried flavours, but whisky isn’t always an economically savvy pursuit.


The Hyde 10 Year obviously made the most of its dual maturation, as it was one of the most eye-catching of all calendar whiskies to date, a gorgeous amber gold.  It is confectionary and delectable on the nose, warm vanilla and maple aromas mixed with black licorice and Coffee Crisp, Bourbon casks doing their thing.  Simultaneously lush yet sleek, the Hyde has an attractive roundness to its angel food cake, toasted pecan, bananas foster and burnt orange flavours without any corresponding heaviness, finishing feathery and bright and never weighing the palate down.  It is deft and almost delicate but without losing any power because of it.  A great effort from an unheralded whisky country.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 14

14 12 2015

Ireland!!  The Whisky Advent Calendar visits its 4th country in 14 days today, and the first to spell “whiskey” with an “E” (standard rule of thumb: if the country has an E in its name, it usually spells whiskey with one too, like IrEland and the UnitEd StatEs).  Irish whiskey is represented by another familiar face from last year’s calendar, but this time we’ve been upgraded, from the Teeling Whiskey Small Batch blend from 2014 to tonight’s Teeling Whiskey Single Malt.  Irish whiskey is generally similar to Scottish whisky except that it is almost always triple-distilled (as was last night’s scotch, the Hazelburn 12 Year, which is anomalous in that regard for Scottish whisky, usually only double-distilled) and unpeated.  The same rules apply in both countries to the single malt designation, so this Teeling is made from 100% malted barley that was distilled by Teeling itself.  The component Teeling whiskies that make up this bottle date back to 1991 and have been matured in a borderline crazy FIVE different types of barrel:  sherry, Port, madeira, white Burgundy (??) and Cabernet Sauvignon casks.  Contrast that to the base Teeling blended whiskey, which was aged only in rum casks and tasted like it.  At $70, this is on the cheaper end of the single malt world.


The nose on this whiskey is the epitome of “pleasant”:  vanilla, banana cream, white flowers, black jellybean and Fig Newtons, all sweet-tinged and ready to enjoy.  This core of sweetness is paired with a luscious textural softness on the tongue, which makes the whiskey feel like it’s just floating in your mouth, weightless.  Wine Gums, chamomile, anise, hot chocolate and marshmallows use the pleasantly simmering 46% abv to warm you up on a cold winter’s night like tonight.  This is like the golden retriever of whiskies, friendly and unthreatening and dependable.  It isn’t as complex or challenging as some of the Scottish malts, but it is immediately gratifying, without any flavours that take some getting used to, making it a great intro whiskey for newbies to the spirit world.  And what a rock star bottle and label to boot!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 10

10 12 2014

Here come the internationals!  After 9 consecutive days of scotch whisky, the KWM finally departed Scotland’s shores and ventured all the way to…well, Ireland for Day 10.  But a short hop is better than no hop at all!  I’m delighted to start checking out the other whiskies of the free world, and almost as delighted to finally get to spell it as I’m naturally inclined to:  “whiskey”.  The bottle told me I could.  I read recently that a handy guide for how you should spell the word “whisky” with respect to a given bottle is to look at where it’s from:  if it’s from a country without an “E” in its name (like Scotland, or Japan), don’t put an E in “whisky”, but if there is an “E” in its name (like Ireland, or the United States), put an E in “whiskey”.  Not sure if that holds up across the board, but it works here.

Stellar looking bottle plus an E in "whiskey" to boot. I'm happy.

Stellar looking bottle plus an E in “whiskey” to boot. I’m happy.

Tonight’s whiskEy is a small batch Irish Whiskey from Teeling distillery, which is a high-malt blend finished for 6 months in ex-rum barrels (take that, Oloroso sherry casks!) and bottled at 46%.  There’s not much that legally differentiates Irish whiskey from scotch whisky apart from their country of origin, although Irish whiskies are almost never peated, are usually distilled three times in a pot still and tend to be less regulated in terms of contents.

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