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

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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.

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