Tastings 6 and 7 (of my New Year's Resolution to drink 33 new whiskies) were enjoyed at a Whiskey Wednesday gathering. I mention that only to note that no, I am not always sitting at a bar drinking whiskey by myself. Not that anything is wrong with that. Also to bring in the opinions of my fellow tasters who have their own creative ideas of taste. The flavor of a whiskey can depend a lot on the experience, and that depends a lot on the company.
This week’s offerings were Hirsch Small Batch Reserve bourbon and Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey. Small batch just means smaller than a typical batch – could be from eight different barrels, could be from hundreds – but it makes the bottle sound more special.
Our friend just returned from Dublin, and she brought back the Teeling whiskey and the story of her visit to its urban distillery. The Teeling family owned the Cooley independent distillery in Ireland up until John Teeling sold it to Beam (now owned by Suntory) in 2011. As part of the sale, John’s sons negotiated buying some of the barrels of the aging whiskey while they got their new distillery off the ground. Irish whiskey has to age at least three years, and is often aged longer, so they needed something to put out there in the meantime. This was from that stash.
Irish whiskey – like all whiskies it seems – is experiencing a resurgence, but this was the first new distillery to settle into Dublin, which once had 37 distilleries in town. They even had to close the streets to get the copper stills (made in Italy) to the distillery. That would make for a great parade, especially if they passed out little whiskey shots to all the spectators. I tend to forget how much I like Irish whiskey until I taste a good one and think, that’s right, this stuff can be fantastic.
What we knew: Irish whiskey, blended from casks that are 4 to 7 years old, finished 6 months in rum casks, 92 proof
What we discovered: Irish whiskies can sometimes be a little too subtle for my Scotch-and bourbon-loving nose. This one had a lot of flavor, though. It was very citrusy and kind of creamy. Despite the finish in the rum cask, it wasn’t too sugary or syrupy. My fellow tasters called it “buttery with a little tingle,” “delicate and sweet,” and “subtle and pleasant.” If I had to describe the taste, I would probably just say it tasted happy. It made me feel like being handed a cheerful bouquet of daisies, sunflowers, marigolds, and buttercups.
The origin story of the Hirsch Small Batch Reserve is a little murkier. Says “proudly” bottled in Ohio on the front, but says distilled in Indiana on the back. I don’t think a parade was involved, unless you count the trucks taking the whiskey from Indiana to be bottled in Ohio. I also get a little suspicious when they throw too many catch phrases on the bottle - "small batch," "reserve," "selected." Put too much bling on the bottle and it makes me feel you are trying to distract me from something.
What we knew: Straight Bourbon; 92 proof; no age on the bottle, but the back says they “present” the whiskey to be at least 7 years old
What we discovered: This one was sweet from the first sip and was strong in a good way. A friendly punch. It relaxed onto the tongue and seemed to belong there. It had a slight vanilla, slight oak, slight citrus – put together, it made for a nice whiskey medley. We’ve had a lot of bourbons at Whiskey Wednesday and despite the sketchy backstory, people really enjoyed this one. They found it a “tangy treat,” "distinguished and refined,” and “lovely.”
This is not THE Hirsh, of course – the famed 16-year-old A.H. Hirsch, which I’ve never seen, but which goes for thousands of dollars if you can get your hands on it since the supply is running out. This actually has a little badge on front – more bling! – that says “Inspired by the quality of A.H. Hirsh” like a movie might say “Inspired by true events.” But this was an easy-drinking, affordable whiskey to have with friends when you want to focus on the good company in addition to the good whiskey.