Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jameson Irish Whiskey Review:

"A man who stole my whiskey used the defense that no one could
 resist a bottle of Jameson. I had no choice but to testify on his behalf." 
- Jameson whiskey ad, found on a NYC Subway

By the 1800s Jameson was the most popular spirit beverage in the world next to Rum. Today it is still the most popular Irish whiskey in the world. Produced at Middleton distillery, one of the four distilleries in Ireland, over 14 million liters of this stuff is produced every year.  Yes, I said four distilleries. For the supposed birthplace of whiskey it is a sad story. At the beginning of the 20th century there were over 60, but as the story is for much of the spirits world, prohibition in the US and the temperance movement, along with the war of independence in Ireland, put the “kibosh,” as Ralfy says, on most of the distilleries in Ireland. Fortunately things are turning around in the world of whiskey in general – Killbeggan, the forth distillery in Ireland, only just reopened in 2007.

Ironically Jameson was founded by a Scotsman and the one bar which consumes the largest portion of the stuff is some Irish pub in Minneapolis (over 22 bottles a day in 2008!) – though I think the Buena Vista CafĂ© in San Francisco also comes close. Anyway, I have heard from other seasoned reviewers that 6-8 years ago Jameson was lacking when it came to expressing a true pot still taste. Since then I’ve heard it’s improved. I can’t really judge it on the past, but to give away the punch line, I do agree that this is much better than I would have expected, being that it is generally used for mixing with Coka-Cola. Whether it expresses a true pot still taste is highly debatable.

Today only the museum remains in Dublin where the old Jameson Distillery used to sit on Bow Street. There are no existing documentary records to prove it, but it is generally believed that John Jameson founded it right around 1780. John, being already part of the Haig Whiskey dynasty, was well positioned to start his venture. In fact his son married the daughter of Robert Stein, the man who invented continuous distillation. By 1902 the company became public and due to the family’s desire for a quality product, they began to mature their whiskey earlier than was the usual tradition. At the time whiskey was generally stored for short periods in the cask and drank fairly young (Maybe not quite unlike the practices of many micro-distilleries today?). Also to note, Jameson is known as one of the pioneers of aging products in sherry casks. So coming to the modern day, in 1966 Jameson, along with Powers and Cork Distillery, came together to form IDG (Pernod Ricard), thus moving production to its current home in Middleton in 1975. So enough history: how 'bout the whiskey?  

Jameson Irish Whiskey Review:
Price: Around $24.99 (give or take) for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Hasn’t changed much – mass produced but ascetically it works fine.

Alcoholic Content: 80 Proof, 40% ABV. 

Color: Dark caramel – e150e. 

Nose: Light malt and fruity arrival. Green notes with dried rosemary leaves. Baked bread and oak. The nose is actually nicer/more pleasant than I would have expected but it does not have much going on – and I am not speaking of the fact that it is triple distilled, I take that into consideration.

Tasting: Light malt with much more caramel on the front and mid palette. Turns green with a bit of grainy sweetness. A drop of water does help round things out, yet it doesn’t wow the senses.

Conclusion: This is not bad, as some malt snobs would suggest, but it isn’t something I would consider a great purchase unless you're wanting to drink half the bottle during a wild evening or mixing it with soda – mixing this does work well. Will this ever be a basic staple or would it be what I think of as my heart grows warm and fuzzy while I read Oscar Wilde? No. For a true example of triple-distilled Irish whiskey I will suggest Redbreast 12 or Bushmills Black Bush – you can never go wrong with either.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jack Daniel’s to release range of Master Distillers’ whiskeys:

"Jack Daniel’s is to release a range of premium whiskeys celebrating the master distillers, past and present, of their Tennessee distillery." Just a link to share: Whisky Drinker.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ballantine's Finest Blended Scotch Whisky Review: A Working Man's Whisky

“For her fifth wedding, the bride wore black and carried a scotch and soda.” - Phyllis Battelle

Ballentine’s Finest is no doubt a large name. Not only is it well known in the world of blended scotch, but it is also a foundational staple in the the world of whiskey. This is one of the best selling blends in Europe, while it simultaneously enjoys large fame in eastern countries. Even in places where Jack or Jamison might be scarce you can be sure that Ballentine’s can still be found.  

Created by George Ballantine in 1827, this blend began in much the same way many blended scotch whiskies did, being blended in the back of grocery store. As was common in those times, whiskey was not always as consistent as some would like – hence blenders were in somewhat high demand. Also well known and still touted with pride on the label, Ballentine’s Finest made its way to Glasgow and eventually would become the premier variety for the Royal Family, etching out its place for centuries to come.

Ballentine’s Finest Blended Scotch Whisky Review:
Price: Around $14.97 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Classic. To ask for it any other way would take away from its aesthetic.

Alcoholic Content: 80 Proof, 40% ABV. 

Color: Medium well - with caramel definitely added. 

Nose: Sweet and sour apple, caramel, cherries. Floral notes with chocolate. Has a young character to it.

Tasting: Grainy, however this is mildly enjoyable. Cream lemons, light apple, sweet caramel, and a young herbal finish.

Conclusion: Blended with more than 50 single malts and 4 single grain whiskies, Ballantine’s provides stability for those types of scotch drinkers who choose one blend when they're young and stick with it till they're old. Easy to enjoy, Ballantine’s will not knock your socks off, but neither will it break your bank. Leans more on the side of a scotch and soda sipper, yet this is something you can drink straight after coming home from a long day of work.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotch Whisky:

"The light music of whiskey falling into a glass - an agreeable interlude." - James Joyce

For my birthday last year my wife gave me the Spencerfield Spirit Company’s Pig's Nose. A blend of young grain and single malt scotches. And for this Christmas I happily received Spencerfield’s step up brand, Sheep Dip. Crafted by Richard Paterson, Scotland’s only third generation master blender, this particular blend is of single malts only. Sourced from all four major regions of Scotland, the blend uses 16 single malts – all between the age of 8 and 12 years.

The name, just like Pig’s Nose, is less serious than more aged brands out there. Yet, in no way is it inferior. Sheep Dip gets its name from a solution, invented by George Wilson in 1830, which farmers could “dip” there sheep in before shearing them. This arsenic powdered concoction would in turn get rid of lice, ticks and other pesky invertebrates. Though we can’t, or wouldn't want to, stop there because no one would want to purchase a blend which received its name from an arsenic solution.  As stated on the bottle, the specific title comes from a time when farmers would hide their home-distilled products from the infamous excise officers in barrels labeled sheep dip. A title thus telling us that this is stuff you want to hide and savor for yourself. Though Sheep Dip is still a fairly unknown product, it has been gaining quite a lot of attention lately, and now can generally be found in many of your local liquor stores.

Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotch Whisky:
Price: Around $35.00 for a 750ml bottle. I find the prices on this one tend to fluctuate more than some.

Packaging/Labeling: Standard bottle with a clean modern finish. I wouldn’t say the cover alludes to what is on the inside. However, it assumes a more refined character when presented with the box.

Alcoholic Content: 80 Proof, 40% ABV.

Color: Medium to medium well.

Nose: The nose on this one is a pleasant surprise. A clean, creamy freshness and assertive front without being overbearing. Milk chocolate with currants. A pleasant and light maltiness. Fig and bread pudding. As Ralfy says, "there is a nose on this that many single malts would be pleased to have."

Tasting: The front is just as assertive as the finish. As with the nose, it is never over baring. You have some of the traditional smoke and peat notes along with lemon creams and floral notes, sided by honeysuckle. And there is a wonderful earthiness – reminds me when I walk outside after a rain. The finish is very nice and long lingering. There is a part of this blend which brings Bushmills Black Bush to mind (only a small part).

Conclusion: In all actuality Sheep Dip isn't much of a step-up brand to Pig's Nose. It stands on quite a different level. And this is actually one of the better blends I’ve had within the price point. Very enjoyable and unique in its own right. It will satisfy any malt head who needs a break or just want to sip this while they watch a movie. This is what a blend should be. It also makes a fun and unique gift from the general Johnnie Walker.