The Irish Whiskey Masters 2019 results

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The resurgent Irish whiskey industry has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. In our latest Masters dedicated to the category, judges found there was much to enthuse about in terms of flavour and experimentation.

The energy and excitement surrounding Irish whiskey is growing stronger by the day.

The figures tell you all you need to know – global sales have soared by more than 300% in the past decade, according to the Department for International Trade. Distilleries in Northern Ireland were singled out as being an important factor in boosting the category’s growth earlier this year, which the Irish Whiskey Association forecasts will hit 12 million nine‐litre cases by 2020. However, as with any spirit category that experiences rapid growth, questions regarding quality abound.

To assess the overall health of the Irish whiskey sector, a group of expert tasters headed to Indian Accent in Mayfair, London, to sample a selection of Irish liquid. Kick‐starting the competition was a flight of Blended – Standard whiskeys, which produced the first two Masters of the day. The first Master was awarded to Ha’Penny Original Whiskey from the Pearse Lyons Distillery with its “zesty nose” and “fruity, sharp, tropical” palate. The second Master went to Diageo’s Roe & Co, which was “smooth, with all the complex fruit flavours working in harmony”. The round also produced one Gold and four Silver medals.

Mark Jennings, founder of Drinks Galore, said: “There was an interesting complexity, which meant some that weren’t immediately exceptional developed to become so. Overall, on balance: a consistent round.”

As the competition got under way, it was evident the first round had set the tone for the day as another two Masters were uncovered in the following flight. As judges tasted through the Blended – Premium heat, they discovered a top scorer in the form of “creamy and rich” Ha’Penny Four Cask, which offered flavours of “lemon curd” and “spice”.

Another Master was secured by Walsh Whiskey’s Writers’ Tears Double Oak, which the judges described as having an aroma of “cherry bakewell” and a “rich finish”. The medal tally concluded with four Golds and four Silvers.

Joe Harper, assistant bars manager at The Savoy hotel, said: “The variety of styles was broad. There were a couple of standout, exceptional whiskeys. For this price point, the quality you’re getting is great.”

‘Fresh and unusual’

Jumping up another price bracket to Blended – Super Premium and the Masters kept on coming. Jameson Black Barrel was next to secure the coveted Master title, a whiskey the judges found to be full of “coconut, musty wood and fruit chews”.

Walsh Whiskey picked up another Master for The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Caribbean Cask Finish, which judges described as “really fresh and unusual”. Six Golds and four Silvers also bolstered the round. “There was a really broad spectrum,” said Jamie Matthewson, Waitrose buying manager – wine. “There were some real differences in terms of character and quality.”

At the top end of the blended price bracket, a Master was found in ultra‐premium

Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength (Batch 2). The judges described the whiskey as being “all dried flowers on the nose” leading to “beautiful fruitiness” on the palate. The round also produced a trio of Gold medallists.

A premium flight of single grain whiskeys added to the Master medal haul with Teeling Single Grain and its flavours of “sweet, buttery shortbread” on the nose and “characterful palate” of “vanilla and wood”. “There is a lightness and a delicacy to some of these whiskeys, something different,” noted Derek Millar, retired whisky retailer. The flight also produced three Golds and two Silvers.

A further two Golds were awarded in the Single Malt – Standard flight, one for “bright, but slightly acidic” The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, and a second to “bold, rich, caramel, salty” Writers’ Tears Red Head. “The quality at these price points is absolutely superb,” enthused Harper.

The premium single malts also drew an impressive number of medals, with three Golds handed out by Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business magazine, and her panel. Pearse Founder’s Choice Aged 12 Years was praised for its “sea breeze” and “mineral” notes; Method and Madness Single Malt was enjoyed thanks to its “banana on toast” flavours; and Teeling Whiskey Single Malt was celebrated for its “nutty and apple” palate.

The Single Malt – Super Premium round turned heads thanks to Master medallist The Irishman 17 Year Old Single Malt, which was said to have an “autumnal nose” and “elements of stone fruit”.

In the most expensive single malt flight, ultra premium, Teeling Whiskey 30 Year Old Vintage Reserve Single Malt nabbed a Master medal. Sampled by Whisky Squad co-ordinator Elise Craft’s team, the panel delighted in the expression’s “peach nose”, which led to a “creamy, spicy” palate.

After also awarding three Gold medals, Craft said: “As you’d expect from the ultra-premium category, this was a really strong and consistent flight, with textbook expressions of the classic Irish whiskey profile. It would be exciting to see what a little more experimentation would result in though.”

Burgeoning sub-category

Single pot still whiskey is a burgeoning sub-category in the broader Irish sector, and the following results demonstrated why – because quality abounds. The Single Pot Still – Premium flight saw a Master go to Irish Distillers’ Redbreast 12 Year Old with its “great, fat oily nose” full of “olive oil and linseed”. “Put it in my veins,” quipped

Jennings. Panel chair Billy Abbott, ambassador for The Whisky Exchange, looked just as favourably on the liquid: “It picks out the whole range of flavours you can find in a pot still. Others pulled in one direction or another, but this one covered the whole spectrum.” Irish Distillers also received three Gold medals in this flight – but they were not to be the company’s last.

The Single Pot Still – Super Premium contingent produced a Master in Powers Three Swallow Release – “a perfect example of skilled whiskey making”, according to Craft. A Master medal was also given to Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength, which Tommy Cummins, general manager at Umbrella Group, said “shows something different to the rest of the pack”. Three Golds completed the flight, which Craft described as “gorgeous”.

“This had way more variation than other flights and really started to show the full promise of what Irish whiskey is on its way to becoming,” she said. “The weird experimentation is starting to bear fruit.” Cummins continued to express his adoration for the flight, and added: “Through the five there was a lot of variation. It shows that Irish whiskey can do something different than just be ‘easy drinking’. These whiskeys demand that you sit down and respect them.”

Ending the Irish Whiskey Masters on a high, the final flight of the competition, Single Pot Still – Ultra Premium, delivered two Masters: “perfume, violets, Turkish Delight” Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy and “honeycomb, cocoa butter” Redbreast 21 Year Old. A further two Gold medals completed this heat.

Master of Masters

And so it was on to selecting The Irish Whiskey Taste Master from the day’s top scorers, which was deservedly scooped up by Teeling Whiskey 30 Year Old Vintage Reserve Single Malt. Quality, as shown by the number of Master medals awarded, is certainly not lacking in the Irish whiskey category. And with new distilleries coming into operation at a rapid pace, it’s truly an exciting sector to watch.

Reflecting on this year’s tasting, Waitrose’s Matthewson concluded: “The worst whiskeys today were still incredibly well made. There was nothing I disliked in this competition and some really interesting examples that are worth seeking out.”

Click through to the following page to see the full set of results from The Irish Whiskey Masters 2019. 

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