husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

average Joes on a whisky journey...all views are our own

Monday, March 10, 2014

Knappogue Castle & Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey

You’ve got to love March in New Jersey.

These are the weeks where nature is doing a lot of pushing and shoving.  Snow piles are still clinging tooth and nail to whatever they can to survive…while the tulips are forcing their way up through frost lines.  It is quite a spectacle.

Nestled amongst all of this is St. Patrick’s Day! 

This is the time of year when even the faithful beer & cocktail lovers tend to knock back a tipple or two of the Irish Version of whiskey.

I was thrilled to receive some samples of Irish Whiskey from Castle Brands for review, and am happy to report (as I have before) that there are other options out there besides Bushmills and Jameson.  (Many already know of my affections for Tullamore Dew)

I’m going to touch upon four options here.  Three are Knappogue Irish Single Malt Whiskies, and the 4th called Clontarf 1014 is more of an affordable blend.  When most people think of Irish whisky, it is usually the industry standard blends, or Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey which can be amazing. (cough…Redbreast…cough) 

But here with Knappogue Castle they have a few Single Malts to offer.  While this is generally associated with Scotch, Irish single malts have their place too.  Triple distilled like most Irish Whiskeys, these are notably lighter and can emphasize different characteristics of the malt.  Generally, Single Malt Scotches are double distilled, but this is an Irish month, so let’s keep this write up triple distilled.
Thank you Irish Whisky Fairy

The Knappogue website has some solid background information, so feel free to check that out here.
To set the mood I was craving the sound of some folk-meets-angelic-female-vocals.  Who would be more fitting than Ireland's own Lisa Hannigan
Somehow still under the radar? Yes.    Talented? Yes.
Clontarf 1014

This Irish blended whiskey is about 10% Single Malt and 90% Grain Whiskey.  It is aged in bourbon casks, and was better than I expected.

I was anticipating that harsh grain note that I tend to get, but there is actually some respectable flavor balance here.  Unlike many Irish blends, the nose was not invisible.  A few whiffs of malt and some floral hues, quite pleasant.  The palate has a few things going for it with some almost tropical fruits and vagaries that are hard to pin down commingled with the grains.  Despite coming in a bit hot for 40% ABV I think this has bang for the buck written all over it.  For around $20 USD it could be a real surprise winner for those looking to stray from the old standbys at parties this year.

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old

This is a Single Malt aged in ex-bourbon casks.  It has no coloring added, although it is technically ‘lightly chill filtered’.
The nose is full of fruit, through and through.  Lots of lemons and peaches and a very delicate hint of heather.  The palate stays straight in line with the nose, and doesn’t really expand too much.  Overall, while I found this a bit one dimensional, it was endearing in a way.

I have always been of the mindset that there is a time and a place for every whisky.  I can certainly find time for Irish Single Malts & the KC12, likely here in the springtime with its gentle tone.

Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood

For their 14YR old Single Malt, aging was done in both ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks.  Again it has no added color, and this one is not chill filtered.

A distinct citrus note on the nose, to me it is lemons.  A bit forward, almost like an aggressive female perfume.  The palate is a bit confused and light, but the malt shines through.  Some vanilla & oak, but very little sherry to speak of.  It is there, but it is sitting in the cheap seats.

This one is drier than the 12YR, probably one of the few side-effects of the sherry.  Once again, the highlight was the nose for me, although the lemon zest and peppery note across the whole experience was notable, and some water did open it up a bit.  The sherry played hide and seek though, barely poking its head out with water.

Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood

This 16YR old clearly shares DNA with the other two.  Again the nose is exploding with orange & lemon citrus!  Very nice and welcoming.  The sherry does have a tiny bit more of an impact here, but again is far in the shadows. 

Oak and Vanilla are more prevalent on the palate.  The fruit on the tongue is that of cherries.  The whole experience is a bit reminiscent of the good old fashioned types of Italian ices that used to have that treasure of lemon sweetness at the bottom of them.  That thick, almost syrupy ice that is pungent with citrus. 

I detected the slightest little sulfur note on the finish, but nothing too off putting.  I’ve encountered much worse sulfur experiences with other sherry laden drams, and this was nothing like that, it was so faint it was barely worth mentioning, but I had it my notes, so I write it here. 

This was my favorite of the bunch, but still fairly tame and not overly complex.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Laphroaig Tasting At The Turtle Club (Hoboken, NJ)

Ever meet someone that is passionate about what they do?

It seems harder to find these days.  Sometimes this is a dark world where I feel apathetic attention and halfhearted salesmanship is ubiquitous. 

It can make you feel detached…like the universe is even colder than it already is.

I say hi to the gas attendant and smile when I fill up my tank…no response.

I say thank you & have a great day when I buy something at the grocery store…they barely glance up from their cell phone. (Cell while working?…ugh)
Pregame posing with Simon

Shining like a beacon through this bitter fog is Simon Brooking.

Gregarious by nature.

Boisterous by choice.

He cares about what he is doing, and is unapologetic & passionate in his approach.

When I heard he was conducting a Laphroaig tasting at the wonderful Turtle Club in Hoboken, I knew it would be quick to sell out.  Besides, the deal was outstanding…food, Scotch & A BOTTLE TO BRING HOME for $85…I was likely one of the first to buy a ticket.

Considering residential permit parking surrounds the Turtle Club, I felt lucky to have found a spot on the street about half a mile away.  Happy to hoof it in the bitter New Jersey cold, it was a small price to pay for what I knew would be a great experience.

I met my buddy there, and we were having a great time catching up while Simon and the Beam team staged the event.  The Turtle Club is split in two; the classy bar area where we were crammed and waiting, and the warm & inviting dining/bar type area that was being prepped.

By the time we were all seated, the place was packed.  It was clear that in addition to the standard seating, there was another small crowd standing by the entrance, just peeking in to see what all the fuss was about.
The Beautiful Turtle Club + Four Expressions (plus one bonus later)

Simon is a leader.

He led us through the tasting (Laphroaig 10, Quarter Cask, Triple Wood, 18 Year Old).
60+ Sing Along

He led us through educational slides & tales of yore.

Heck, by the time the night was through, he even led us in song. 

His voice is better than he gives himself credit for too. 

Even when he hilariously & briefly drifted off into a Katy Perry inspired “I Kissed A Bog” when we were discussing Peat, he was right on key.

Rather than the depressingly detached attitude that we all get on a daily basis, Simon was connected to everyone in that room.  He made sure that any questions were answered.  He made sure if you wanted a bottle signed that it was addressed.  He even shared a bottle of the 2009 Cairdeas out of his boot to cap the night.  (Those of you that have been around Simon or been to tastings with Simon before know that he usually keeps a little something up his sleeve…er…boot)

Ever the Pollyanna, I was hard pressed to find a flaw in the night.  (aside from the parking)

Later, when my buddy pushed me for something to be critical of     (I was gushing as I reviewed my tasting notes) there was only one thing I could come up with.  The food, while delicious, was quite limited for full grown adults drinking a solid amount of whisky.

Although, even more that the serving size, my larger issue with the food is that I felt there was little attempt to pair them with the whiskies.  The delicate (if that is possible for Laphroaig) Triple Wood was served with super spicy BBQ ribs.  (spicy rather than smoky which would have worked better)  The spiciness just crushed all of our palates.  Multiple people at the table noted that after the ribs it was tough to get our palates straight.   Which leads me to note that there were no palate cleansers to be found...not even a simple roll or bread of some sort.
Laphroaig about to be served

Please note the food was DELICIOUS.  I have eaten at the Turtle Club before, and would eat there again in a heartbeat.  It was not the quality of the food, but rather the quantity and pairings that frustrated a few folks.

Nevertheless, this is truly a minor detail in the scope of things.  I left the Turtle Club a happy customer, thankful for the experience, and excited about whisky. (what else is new)
I don’t know if it was the fine quality spirits, the haunting lighting of the Turtle Club, or the hearty burning block of peat that was smoldering the whole time, but this was the opposite of detached…we were all part of something that night.