Monday, March 3, 2014
March Madness: Knappogue Castle and Kin
It's March, which means one thing in most of the whiskey world: Irish Whiskey. Yes, you're allowed to drink Irish all year 'round, but let's face it, March is the one time in the year when non-whiskey people wake up and pay attention to it.
I've always been a fan of Knappogue Castle's Irish single malts, but haven't sampled any of their whiskey since they switched from vintage years to age statements, so I was quite pleased when Castle Brands sent me samples of their entire lineup.
Castle Brands is an independent bottler which also owns the Jefferson's line of bourbons. Their Irish line includes Clontarf, a blend, as well as the Knappogue Castle single malts. While they have not disclosed where these whiskeys are distilled, given that the Knappogue Castles are all triple distilled single malts, they are likely from Bushmills. The only thing they say about Clontarf is that it comes from Dublin, which means it could be a Midleton product (while Midleton Distillery is in Cork, they have a presence in Dublin as well).
Clontarf 1014, 4 years old, 40% abv ($20)
Not part of the Knappogue line, Clontarf is Castle's budget brand. Clontarf is a blended whiskey aged in bourbon casks. It is 10% single malt and 90% grain whiskey (both pot and column distilled).
The nose is light with honey and malt, a very typical blended Irish Whiskey nose. The palate is malty, a tad soapy, then later in the palate develops a nice mustiness and some briny coastal notes that dominate the finish. I really wasn't expecting much from this, but it's a very nice Irish blend with some complexity, and for $20, a real deal.
Knappogue Castle 12 year old, 40% abv ($42)
This is a single malt aged in bourbon casks. It is "lightly chill filtered" at a higher than usual tempreature and has no coloring added.
The nose is malty and fruity. Palate is soapy with a bit of pepper. The finish is mostly peppery with some malt on the nose. This is not at all bad but a bit on the bland side.
Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 14 year old, 46% abv ($60)
The 14 year old single malt was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2012. It includes malt aged in both bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. The 14 year old is not chill filtered and had no added color.
The nose on this one has some malt but is dominated by chemical notes. The palate is again a bit soapy with some floral notes. The finish is floral and perfumy. Despite the "twin wood" designation, there is very little sherry character on this whiskey.
I wasn't a big fan of this one. It just didn't come together that well.
Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 16 year old, 40% abv ($100)
This single malt was distilled in 1995 and bottled in 2012. It spent 14 years in bourbon casks and 21 months in sherry casks. It is "lightly chill filtered" without added color.
The nose on this one is very nice with fruity malt. The palate is malty and straight forward with some of that nice pepper going out and into the finish, which also has some salty notes. Again, there is very little sherry character here. This is decent enough but not particularly exciting.
Celtic Honey, 30% abv ($22)
Everyone has a flavored whiskey these days, and apparently, Castle Brands is no different. Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd give their Celtic Honey a try. The nose has marshmallows in honey. The palate is pure honey. I mean, it's like drinking a watery honey. I keep wanting there to be some spice, but I don't get any. The finish is a bit bitter, like artificial sweetener. Obviously, this isn't my thing, but I didn't feel this one was particularly good even for a flavored whiskey.
Overall, I wasn't particularly impressed by the new Knappogue Castle lineup, particularly given that they have put out some really great whiskeys in the past. The 16 year old was my favorite over the 12, though not by much, and $100 is a bit steep for it.
For a good Irish Whiskey at a very good price, I would recommend the Clontarf. It's a straightforward blend, but it has some more complex notes, and it's a real bargain.