Knappogue Castle 14 y/o: Twin Wood

Maker: Castle Brands, New York, New York, USA (Pernod-Ricard)

Distiller: Cooley, County Louth

Style: Triple distilled Irish single malt, aged in sherry and bourbon casks.

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Wood varnish, sawdust.

Palate: Full-bodied and mildly sweet, then big oak.

Finish: Apricot custard under a mountain of sawdust.

Parting words: I love Irish Whiskey and I especially love Knappogue Castle. I’ve gushed over their whiskeys before so when I saw this 14 y/o version on the shelf I was nearly giddy with excitement.

So imagine my surprise when I tasted my first sip of this sawdust bomb. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in a whiskey, especially an Irish one. There’s a solid custard base here, but it’s nearly completely overwhelmed by the heavy-handed (to say the least) use of oak. It’s reminiscent of the sharp, shop class floor aromas in young micro-distilled bourbons that have been aged in small barrels as a shortcut. There’s no excuse for an Irish whiskey of this age to be this oaky, and there’s no excuse for it to be so poorly integrated either. I could continue to rant about this but in the spirit of mercy I will end my review here. Krappogue Castle 14 Twin Oak is not recommended.

Hell-Cat Maggie

Maker: World Spirits, Princeton, Minnesota, USA (Phillips)


Distiller: Cooley, Louth, Leinster, Ireland (Beam Suntory)

Style: Blended Irish Whiskey

Age: NAS (at least three years old)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $22

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, a little sherry, leather, woodruff, anise.

Palate: Full bodied and soft. Caramel, butterscotch candy with a little bit on the back end.

Finish: Vanilla custard, white pepper, nutmeg, alcohol.

Parting words: Like 2 Gingers, this is another Irish whiskey from Minnesota (?!) but this one comes with a story about someone in a gang in New York or something. I don’t care about NDP marketing bullshit, so I’m not going to get into that.

I’m a big fan of the Cooley Distillery, and Hell-Cat Maggie is in the classic Cooley style, so it has that going for it. It’s not as elegant as Tyrconnell or Knappogue Castle but it’s a little more refined than 2 Gingers (which one would expect at $8 more). It mixes well too. My only criticism is that this Hell-Cat lacks claws and teeth. She would benefit from 2%- 6% higher ABV. Still, I like her. Hell-Cat Maggie is recommended.

2 Gingers

Distiller: Cooley, Co. Louth, Ireland (Beam Suntory)2 Gingers

Style: Blended Irish

Age: NAS (about 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Appearance: Dark gold (possibly colored), with short-lived legs.

Nose: Rich and malty. Sherry, dried flowers, brown butter, vanilla and spice.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-sweet. Cashew brittle, five spice powder, more vanilla.

Finish: Slightly rubbery, with a little spice, caramel and alcohol.

Mixed: There’s a lot of emphasis on mixing in the marketing of 2 Gingers so I gave a few of their signature drinks a try. The Big Ginger (whiskey, ginger ale and a squeeze of lime) was good. The lime juice does a good job of cutting what might otherwise be too sweet. The B53 (whiskey, coffee liqueur, Irish cream, Gran Marnier) is a variation on the B52 shot and even better. The spice and malt notes from 2 Gingers play very well with the orange liqueur and set off the coffee flavors nicely. I also tried it in a traditional Irish coffee in which it performed admirably.

Parting words: This brand was founded in Minnesota, strangely enough, by Irish-born bar and restaurant owner Kieran Folliard. It was named for his ginger mother and aunt whose portraits grace the logo. He sold the brand to Beam in 2012 and it is now distributed over most of the U.S. Although the name Kilbeggan is splashed all over this bottle, I can’t find any evidence that any of it was made at that distillery. Maybe that’s Beam’s plan for the future.

Anyway, it excels as a cheap, easy drinking mixing Irish whiskey. It resembles Powers more than Jameson in that respect, but it’s a little lighter in flavor. If you’ve been curious about having a go at 2 Gingers, I recommend it.

Concannon Irish Whiskey

Maker: Concannon Vineyard, Livermore, California, USA
Concannon Irish Whiskey

Distiller: Cooley, County Louth, Ireland (Beam)

Style: Irish blend finished in Petite Sirah barrels (from Concannon Vineyard of course)

Age: NAS (around 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $23

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Malt, rubber, alcohol, butterscotch, blackberry jam.

On the palate: Full bodied and mildy fruity on entry, mincemeat pie, toffee, burn.

Finish: Malty but still subtly fruity and rich. Drying into a bit more rubber and some burn, but the candied fruit background continues as it fades.

Parting words: Concannon Vineyard is located in Livermore Valley, northeast of Fremont, California. The Livermore Valley AVA is best known as the home of Wente Vineyards, but it also home to a number of other winemakers, obviously. Livermore Valley is a subset of the San Francisco Bay AVA which is itself a subset of the Central Valley AVA. Concannon is notable for bottling the first varietal Petite Sirah in the US (according to their website anyway). Before that, and indeed even after, Petite Sirah was used primarily to beef up red blends.

This whiskey is a tribute to the family’s Irish heritage and its present winemaking ability. It’s a success. It’s clearly young but the wine barrel finishing does a great job of smoothing out the rough edges and giving it added depth. The direct influence of the wine barrel is subtle. There are some vague “dark fruit” tastes on the palate that come through, but little else. If I have complaint about the finishing, it’s that, unlike most finished whiskeys, it’s too subtle. That is refreshing in itself! The rubbery smell isn’t too appealing but it dissipates quickly.

The price is right and the whiskey is too. Concannon Irish Whiskey is recommended.

The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Maker: Cooley, County Louth, Ireland

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Dark straw with long voluptuous legs.

Nose: Papaya, creme brulee, mandarin orange, alcohol

On the palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Hot, but sexy. Lots of fruit. Apricot sherbet, custard, tropical fruit salad, vanilla. Water brings out a new rubber tire. Don’t add water.

Finish: Fairly hot, with a lot of sherry. Faint fruit in the distant background and some oak.

Parting words: This is a whiskey I have gone back and forth on in the several months in which I’ve had it. As I am nearing the end of the bottle, I’m enjoying it more. The fruity dessert notes have won out. Sometimes it just tastes too hot (puzzling for something at 40% ABV), so one is tempted to add water to the whiskey. But bad things happen when water is added. Foul, over-sherried rubber tire scents and flavors dominate and turn a sexy whiskey into a day at the tire store.

If I were to sum it up, it’s like a grown up version of Jameson. Not as floral but just as light and sweet with the added complexity one would expect from a single malt Irish. Recommended.

Review: Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Maker: Cooley, County Louth, Ireland

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Light straw with thin legs

Nose: fresh, buttery peat, sweet malt. As it opened up, I swear I smelled Juicy-Fruit gum.

On the palate: Medium- bodied. A peaty bite greets the tongue upon the first. There is a light sweetness behind the peat, with a classic creamy Irish whiskey profile that makes this whiskey more refreshing than I expected.

Parting Words: I can’t figure out if this whiskey is a promising experiment, a clunky misfire, or simply a poor relation to something like Bowmore, Jura Superstition, or another lightly peated Scotch. Certainly its youth doesn’t help it much. If it had more smoke and even more peat, the lack of age would be less noticeable. Still it’s not bad by any means and certainly has something going that most Irish whiskeys don’t. Maybe Islay and Ireland are even closer than I thought!