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.

Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Maker: Old Bushmills Distillery, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland (Diageo)

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Burnt Orange, with a thick, clingy pearl necklace around the glass.

Nose: Tropical fruit salad. Papaya, pear, vanilla.

On the palate: Full-bodied, but light in flavor. Well-balanced between malty, floral flavors and heavy caramel ones.

Finish: Light and slightly sweet with a hint of vanilla. A little burn gives the finish some backbone.

Parting words: There’s an urban legend that only Irish Catholics drink Jameson and only Irish Protestants drink Bushmills. Any true Irish whiskey lover of any religion drinks whatever whiskey they like. So yes, it’s ok to drink Bushmills on St. Patrick’s day.

Compared to its peers, Bushmills strikes a balance between the floral tastes and aromas of Jameson and the relatively heavy caramel, grain whiskey flavors of Powers. Bushmills has a nice balance to it and avoids being dull like Tullamore. Bushmills won’t get mistaken for an upper shelf whiskey, but on the whole, it’s better than its peers. Bushmills is 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!

Review: Redbreast Pure Pot Still, 12 y/o

Maker: Irish Distillers, Cork, Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)

Age: 12 y/o

ABV:40%

Appearance: Dark gold with a persistent “pearl necklace” in the Glencairn.

Nose: Big bourbon barrel nose. Caramel, oak, cotton candy, brown sugar, a bit of creamy toffee

On the palate: Full-bodied. At first sip, I find myself checking the bottle to make sure I didn’t pick up a bourbon instead. On further sips, though, the malty, pot-still character comes through, especially as it fades into the finish. This Irish whiskey speaks with a heavy Kentucky accent, which may explain why it is every bourbon-lover’s favorite Irish.

Finish: sweet and creamy, more candy notes, with some oak poking through. Then a long low burn.

Parting words: This is one of the world’s greatest whiskeys. The best Irish available. Redbreast also comes in a 15 y/o version. Oh, and the 12 y/o was Malt Advocate Magazine’s Irish whiskey of the year. ‘Nuff said.

Head to Head, The Eternal Struggle: Jameson vs. Powers

ABVs: 80%

Ages: NAS

Maker: Irish Distillers, Cork, Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)

1) Jameson

2) Powers

Appearance

1) Straw with thin but persistent legs

2) Light Copper with thicker legs

Nose

1) Apple, sweet, slightly tart and malty, some floral notes as well.

2) Richer, good butterscotch candy, caramel apple

On the palate

1) Sweet, medium bodied, a bit of maltyness

2) Thick, heavy body (for an Irish blend anyway). A bit of heat, butterscotch, brown sugar, and do I detect a wee bit of bourbon barrel influence?

Finish

1) Light and sweet, some burn, butterscotch and a lingering sweetness

2) Burn, cotton candy (more bourbon barrel notes or are they grain whiskey notes?), maybe even some oak.

Parting Words

So what is the outcome of this classic battle? Both are classics, both are made at the same distillery and owned by the same company. Jameson is much more popular, at least in the U.S., while Powers claims to be the best-selling whiskey in Ireland. Jameson claims to be all pot-still and all barley (a combination of malted and unmalted) while Powers is a combination of grain whiskey and pot-still malt.

Jameson not without its charm. It has a light, crisp flavor that reminds me of Glenfiddich, but without the citrus notes. It is refreshing but it doesn’t have a lot of depth. Why anyone would feel the need to consume Jameson in shot form is one of life’s eternal mysteries and makes me
contemplate the composition of an essay tentatively entitled “The Wussification of American Drinking Culture”.

At any rate, Powers isn’t particularly earth-shattering either, but it has more going on than Jameson. It has richer, darker flavors than its sibling and one can actually tell that it has been aged in a barrel, particularly a bourbon barrel. The candy notes in the nose and finish, the fullness of its body and its relative complexity make Powers a more interesting choice when ordering from the bar. Not to mention the bottle is one of the best designed and most beautiful in all of whiskeydom. For an Irish at its price point, Powers is highly recommended.

Now Drinking

Powers 12 yo/o Irish Whiskey

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 80

Maker: Midleton Distillery, Midleton (Cork), Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)

I drink very little Scotch, but I drink even less Irish whiskey.  This is because most of the Irish I’ve tasted has been really, really boring.  But, encouraged by positive reviews of a few Irish whiskeys in my first issue of Malt Advocate a few months ago, I’ve decided to branch out.

I picked up a bottle of this a few weeks ago, as the beginning of a spot in my rotation for finer Irish Whiskeys.  I’ve had the standard Powers Gold Label before and while it does have some character, it was still very dull and had a nasty grain whiskey aftertaste.  Powers is made a the same distillery as Jameson, Midleton, Redbreast and Paddy’s. 

The extra years in the barrel have greatly improved this Powers.  I drank it with one ice cube, and now I’m doing it again.  There is a LOT of bourbon in the nose, but of course I think this is a very good thing.  Behind the bourbon is a nice fruitiness, lots of mango and buttery papaya.  It’s complemented by a bit of toffee.

On the palate the toffee jumps out at first, then it’s followed by more mango and some mandarin orange and a nice bit of burn (shocking in an Irish).  The finish is surprisingly dry, with a parting glance from the mango.  Another light, but flavorful, summer sipper.

Powers 12 only became available in the U.S. this year.  I hope it sticks around, because it’s not doing a very good job sticking around my house.