Friday, November 06, 2009
Irish Whiskey Review: The Tyrconnell
So, I never really intended for this blog to become a beverage review blog. But if it is going to be a beverage review blog, it doesn't have to be only about Scotch whisky, even though Scots might consider me a turncoat! One of my Twitter peeps and fellow Jonathan Coulton fan Colleenky has been reading my reviews and recommended Knappogue Castle and The Tyrconnell; she claims she is "more of an Irish whisky girl" and leans towards the lighter and sweeter drinks. The only Irish whisky I've tasted to date has been Jameson, which is a blend and which I found unimpressive. But Ireland makes more than Jameson, and The Tyrconnell is inexpensive, so I thought it would be reasonable to buy a bottle. Besides, I'm getting sick of dealing with those little sample bottles.
The Tyrconnell has no age statement, but it is a single malt, and bottled at 40%. That's a bit light on the alcohol when compared to many scotch whiskies. "Single malt" means that it is made from only malt (that is, barley) from one distillery. It doesn't mean "single cask" or "single batch." According to the distiller's information they use copper pot still with large necks. I'm not a sophisticated enough connoisseur of whisky to know exactly what that does for the flavor, but there it is. It is aged in oak for "many years" -- presumably they taste it to determine when a cask is done and blend casks of different ages to try to achieve consistency.
In the glass, The Tyrconnell is a light straw-gold, quite pale and pretty. On the nose there is a little pungent alcohol burn, and a definite malty aroma -- it has a biscuity, cake-like scent. There's some aromatic citrus like lime and a touch of honey. It's a very appealing, gentle nose. Grace claims she noses fennel or licorice in it, but I don't really smell that. She also says there is something that reminds her of "vaseline, but not in a bad way."
On the tongue, there's an immediate sweetness and roundness that is very pleasant. Shortbread or biscuits are definitely up front, but there is more to it than that -- the finish is light on burn but long on pleasant citrus notes, like lemon taffy. There's something like tart green apples; there's yeasty breadiness, like ripping open a fresh baguette. There are apricots (sulfured, but the sulfur is not pronounced or unpleasant). And that mouth feel is really exceptional -- it's not oily exactly, but syrupy. This has one of the best mouth feels of any whisky I've tasted.
With water, the nose opens up and that malt and yeast become more pronounced, and I get an Irish oats flavor, as if I were chewing on some rolled oats. That vaseline feel on the tongue is even more pronounced and it reminds me of... wait for it... processed American cheese singles! (That's the slight petroleum-like flavor combined with something umami, like pickled plums or a faint whiff of soy sauce or fermented black beans). Now that's strange, but not unpleasant. Grace says "grassy, and nougat candy." It sounds like quite a confusing set of flavors, but it all harmonizes quite well, and in fact the reason it is possible to explore so many flavors in this whisky is because none of them are overwhelming. I actually prefer it with water, so try it both ways.
I was prepared for this Irish whisky to seem very unimpressive after the scotch whiskies I've been sampling, but in fact I think it is a very fine drink indeed, definitely "moreish" and I will happily taste it again and share it with my friends. It is notably different than any of the scotch bottlings I've tasted; if I had to pick one that it came closest to, it would be Glenfiddich 12, which has a lot of sweet and nutty flavors, or the Scapa, which is very honey-tasting, or even the Bunnahabhain 12, but it isn't really that close to any of them.
Once again, it never ceases to amaze me that barley and water and yeast can turn into such a wild and fascinating range of aromas and tastes. I give this one an 8.5 because of its clean and intriguing flavors. Grace rates it the same.