16 Dec 2014
For the dozens and dozens of fine bourbons, ryes, and single malt scotches I’ve tried, I could count on my fingers the number Irish whiskeys I’ve sampled. Fact is, variety is tough to find when it comes to Irish whiskey, even at liquor shops that have an excellent selection of other whiskeys. These days you’ll often find more Japanese whiskey on the shelves.
Still, there’s a lot to Irish whiskey beyond Jameson (not that there’s anything wrong with Jameson). And Teeling seems intent on proving that. Which is why I took Teeling’s marketing company up on an offer to try a bottle, which is relatively new to the U.S. market.
While Teeling is a new whiskey, the Teeling name is anything but. Walter Teeling founded a distillery in Dublin in 1782. More recently, John Teeling bought a potato alcohol plant in 1987 and converted it into the acclaimed Cooley Distillery, which he subsequently sold to Jim Beam in 2011. John’s son Jack Teeling got back into the business soon after the sale with plans for a Dublin distillery with former Cooley whiskey man Alex Chasko as master distiller. In the meantime, the whiskey currently being bottled for Teeling is sourced from the Cooley Distillery, which supplies 16,000 barrels that were reportedly added to the $95 million purchase price.
Once the barrels are in their hands, Chasko and Teeling put their own stamp on the product with a rum barrel finish, which is almost certainly a first for Irish whiskey even though rum barrel finishes are commonplace elsewhere. Teeling Small Batch ($40) is then bottled without chill filtration at a 92-proof, a nice bump from the fairly standard 80-proof in Ireland. (Other Teeling offerings are made but currently none are available in the U.S.)
The dark bottle hides a light, straw-colored whiskey. The nose features lemon, honey, and malty sweetness. On the palate, I find dried fruit, malt, and a prominent woodiness, plus tropical citrus and spice likely influenced by the rum casks. The medium-length finish has a tinge of spice along with smooth wood and caramel.
Teeling will probably catch most people off-guard, and it will certainly surprise you if your idea of Irish Whiskey is Jameson shots. It has loads of sweetness, good balance, and plenty of complexity for a blended Irish whiskey.
To pair Teeling with a cigar, turn to a milder smoke. A balanced Connecticut-wrapped cigar like the Cabaiguan Robusto Extra, Davidoff Colorado Claro Short Perfecto, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet hits the spot without overwhelming your drink, which should be enjoyed neat.
Irish whiskey is on the rise. In 2000, there were three Irish distilleries. Now there are nearly a dozen. The whiskey they produce is more varied and more interesting than ever, and the rum cask-finished Teeling Small Batch is no exception to that Irish whiskey renaissance.
photo credit: Stogie Guys