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Most of my reviews are concerned with the spirit produced in my homeland but I enjoy whisk(e)y in all its forms and from time to time I like to see what else is out there. With that in mind I thought it was about time to turn my attentions back toward the whiskey of Ireland. Last November I was sent samples so that I might take part in a Walsh Whiskey tweet tasting but due to a sick daughter I was unable to join in the fun that evening. The samples have been stored away ever since, patiently waiting for their moment.
Walsh Whiskey was established in 1999 by husband and wife Bernard and Rosemary Walsh. The inspiration for the company came when Rosemary was running a Ski chalet in France. Making between 20 and 30 Irish coffees every evening led her to believe their had to be an easier way of doing things. Thus The Hot Irishman was born, an Irish coffee mix that contained Colombian coffee, brown sugar and Irish whiskey.
In 2005 they expanded production to include a cream liqueur but it was the following year that things really started to snowball. Identifying an opportunity to get amongst the early movers in the revival of the Irish Whiskey sector they signed long-term supply agreements that would allow them to bottle their own whiskey for many years to come.
The Irishman launched in 2007, a unique blend of both single malt and single pot still Irish Whiskey. Building on its success they introduced a cask strength version before diversifying with a new brand in 2009. Writers’ Tears was a blend inspired by a 19th century recipe, popular during the time of Irish novelists, poets and playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and a personal favourite of mine, Bram Stoker. Since many such writers sought either solace or inspiration in a bottle it was said that when they wept, their tears were pure whiskey…
The Irishman 12 Year Old Single Malt
Matured for 12 years in first fill bourbon barrels, this triple distilled single malt whiskey is bottled at 43% and retails around £55.
Smell: Grain and cereal notes. Vanilla. Honey. Caramel. Lemon drizzle cake. Apple juice. Cinnamon. Milk chocolate.
Taste: Gentle arrival but builds in flavour with nice cereal notes and vanilla, honey and caramel before some gentle spice and oak. A few summer-fruit top notes add complexity.
Thoughts: My first visit to the Walsh Whiskey website set a few alarm bells ringing. I must have counted at least a dozen instances of the dreaded “premium” word and even a few “super-premium” mentions which in my experience translates to “our whiskey is more expensive because we say it should be”. £55 for a 12 year old bottled at 43% certainly seems steep, especially compared with Scotch stalwarts like the Springbank or Bunnahabhain. Having said that, this is still a very enjoyable dram, it’s just hard to see past the £10 to £15 of extra asking price.
A dram of full flavour and harmonious balance. Could have done with a little more body perhaps, but that is my own personal preferences talking. Delicious but the price sours the taste a little.
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Marsala Cask Finish Single Malt
This travel retail exclusive is made from 70% Single Malt and 30% Single Pot Still and finished for 12 months in Marsala hogsheads from the Florio winery in Sicily. Bottled at 46% it retails around £70.
Smell: Nose a little closed at first but time helps it to open up. The Marsala makes its presence felt immediately with walnut, apple and cinnamon. Tobacco leaf. Heather honey. Cherry and raspberries. Touch of barley flour too. Smells bloody great actually.
Taste: Glorious texture! Sticky honey. Hazelnut. Caramel and chocolate. Baking spices. Apple turnovers. That little touch of tobacco again. Vanilla and digestive biscuits. Touch of oak on the finish
Thoughts: At £70 this is another one that certainly isn’t cheap but I can’t deny that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps a slight feeling that the balance between spirit character and cask finish is overly weighted towards the latter but the overall experience remains very pleasing.
The Marsala finish dominates but the character of the grain is just about able to poke its head out from under that big blanket of a finish. Combines weight, bold flavour and gently warming spice to create a very comforting dram. Maybe lacks a little in complexity but makes up for it with sheer flavour.
Writers’ Tears Double Oak
Another blend of both Single Malt and Single Pot Still, this time matured in a combination of American Oak from Kentucky and French Oak Cognac casks from the French Allary Cooperage. Bottled at 46% and retails for £45.
Smell: Lots of stewed fruits and cinnamon. Apple crumble. Woody spice. Vanilla. Heather honey. Lemon. Grain. Sawdust.
Taste: Honey and lemon. Apple juice. Caramel. Lemon curd. White grapes. Digestive biscuits. Juicy oak before a dry, wood-spice finish.
Thoughts: This one is a little more reasonably priced and has the added bonus of a 46% bottling strength. Like the two previous drams I can find little to complain about where the taste of the thing is concerned.
You certainly couldn’t accuse the Walsh portfolio of lacking in flavour. This is another tasty mouthful of whiskey that leaves the palate yearning for another coating. Somehow manages to be both mouthwatering and dry at the same time. Reminds me a little of Compass Box’ Oak Cross blended malt, which I intend as a great compliment.
Writers’ Tears Cask Strength
This annually released cask strength version is triple distilled and matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being bottled un-chill filtered at 53%. Retails around £105.
Smell: At 53% there is a wee bit of spirit nip to navigate. Then the lightness you would expect from a triple distilled whiskey appears in the form of fresh orchard fruits. Bourbony vanilla and caramel follow with cinnamon and clove. Custard creams!
Taste: Surprisingly gentle on the palate after the heat of the nose. Vanilla again. Caramel. High cocoa-content dark chocolate. Woody.. then very woody. The oak seems to grow in intensity the longer it sits on the palate, eventually becoming dominant on the finish. There’s also a sprinkling of aromatic spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. A touch of ginger even.
Thoughts: God knows this topic has been done to death but the problem with no age statement whisk(e)y like this, is it’s very difficult for a consumer to assess its price. Age gave such a convenient structure to pricing that we are rather lost without it and a whisk(e)y industry chasing a profit isn’t all that keen on letting their customers know what they’re buying. So what do we know? We know that bottling at cask strength can increase the price. We know small batch releases usually cost more (although how “small batch” is 3780 bottles, really?) but beyond that we’re rather in the dark. Make no mistake, this is a lovely dram but the honest truth is that I wouldn’t wish to pay £105 for the privilege of drinking it. Not without further explanation of its contents anyway.
The quality across all the drams I’ve reviewed here has been quite impressive but one or two of the prices are a little off-putting, a trend I am sadly noticing with a few of the new wave of Irish brands that have crossed my path of late. Several Scotch brands too, for that matter. It just seems like no-one is content with producing good quality whisk(e)y at a reasonable price anymore, everything must be premium or super-premium and so outstandingly exceptional that only the wealthiest among us can realistically afford to drink it. There will naturally always be certain brands or distilleries that command a higher price and that’s fine so long as they’ve earned that reputation over a lengthy period of satisfying their customers. What I object to is a new kid on the block declaring themselves magnificent and expecting the consumer to take their word for it.
Walsh are certainly not the only offenders here, nor are they by any means the worst. Their Double Oak Writer’s Tears doesn’t take the piss at £45 a bottle. The 12 year old Irishman is pricey but doesn’t push it too much and even the Marsala Cask at £70 could be seen as doable if one enjoys it enough. The other I doubt I’d look twice at and that’s a shame because the liquid is good, its just that sometimes a dram needs to do more than taste nice in order to justify a three figure sum.
I’ve really enjoyed these drams and will watch how Walsh Whiskey develops with keen interest, I just hope we don’t see prices getting any sillier than they already are.
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Visit Walsh Whiskey at their website here.