Today heralds a rare event with three of the team offering their thoughts on this Cooley exclusive to the Whisky Barrel. Rather than letting Phil who is well versed in all things Irish, especially Tayto crisps, or Mark who as Mr Smooth can handle any wordsmith duties, you’ve got me instead. The final option, the default, the last chance saloon or commonly referred to as the grumpy Scotsman in recent reviews by colleagues.
Except I’m not grumpy in the flesh believe it, or not. You won’t meet a more upbeat, positive and inspiring person. Yeah, ok, armed with a punk mean streak. However, even I struggle to find the levels of positivity that many exhibit when it comes to the realm of Irish whiskey. A booming sector by all accounts. Apparently, the fastest growing spirit market in the world currently with a biblical rise of 131% during the past 10 years. I suppose when you hit rock bottom there are only two ways to go and thankfully extinction wasn’t selected. Ireland without whiskey would be like Dalmore without artificial colouring or Monkey Shoulder minus overly positive reviews.
Irish whiskey is back, alive and kicking, which is great because if you don’t know me personally, my father’s side is from Bushmills country and are big fans of the distillery in more ways than one. Imagine being Irish born and bred, or visiting your traditional pub abroad for a wee dram only to be told we’ve just got Scotch. That’s almost as bad as offering up bourbon, but thankfully not quite. Now, the Irish sector is galloping and to an onlooker such as myself, arguably trying to run before it can walk.
At MALT we’ve commented previously on the quagmire that is the Irish rulebook around whiskey. At times it seems liberating to have more freedom than the distilling heartland of Scotland. Then on the flipside, there are worrying practices. As with most situations in life, it is all about balance and communication.
The brand situation we’ve touched upon previously in reviews such as the Silkie Irish Whiskey and our good friends at Hyde whiskey. Namely the fledgeling situation where incoming distilleries are bottling under a name and arguably to some giving the impression that the contents are their own. Except that’s not the case. Then going so far as to create the illusion of warehousing, distilling and many of the practices an average consumer might expect to see. Again, I’ll refer you to the Hyde No.6 President’s Reserve or the Hyde 10 year old review. A little murky and inconsiderate in my opinion as a whiskey consumer, but I may possess a minority view. Funny thing is that such issues tend to distort the view especially when there’s good stuff being released such as JJ Corry The Gael.
Thankfully what we have today comes from online retailer the Whisky Barrel who bottled a rather lovely 13 year old Cooley last year that went down rather well with us. So much so in fact, I used it during a London tasting that highlighted the influence of casks on the final product with a similar effect. Many missed out on this release but thankfully here’s another opportunity to grab a similar concept – assisted by the Creative Whisky Company once again – before it has vanished into the realm of online auctions and investment portfolios.
This Cooley was distilled back in 2003, bottled in June 2018 and comes from a refill sherry hogshead #200503 meaning this is a sister case of the 2017 release. Bottled at 50.5%%, it’ll set you back a reasonable £57.14 with an outturn of 264 being unleashed. Let us see if lightning can strike twice…
Cooley 2003 14 year old Exclusive Malts – Jason’s review
Colour: copper pot.
On the nose: sherry forward, but not overpowering. Aromas of orange peel, worn leather and cherry pie. Sweet cinnamon, a touch of rubber to appreciate alongside freshly chopped basil. Returning again, beeswax, red liquorice and rolled tobacco. Traditional elements from the cask with walnuts, cola cubes and a burst of cherry sweetness.
In the mouth: punchy and more sherried now. A significant leathery arrival followed by chocolate and rum fudge. A drying quality on the finish with more rubber. Leathery almost applies to the texture as well. It has a certain density and engulfing presence.
I’d put this a notch below the previous Cooley release. The balance is more towards the sherry cask now, whereas previously I felt there was more of a fun interplay dynamic evident. What remains is a tasty experience, especially if you do like a sherried dram. Nowadays, I seem to be stepping away from this style. I’ve drifted back towards ex-bourbon casks although I still can appreciate other varieties given my duties here. I’m left with the impression that this is more cask than Cooley.
Cooley 2003 14 year old Exclusive Malts – Mark’s review
On the nose: a little restrained as if the spirit can’t quite hit full potential. Plummy. Redcurrants. Raisins. Dried apricots. Candied orange. Heather honey. A touch of olive oil. It’s pleasant indeed.
In the mouth: far better than the nose promised. The maltiness kicks in, and brings with it stacks of dried fruits: apricots, dried oranges. Malted milk biscuits. Black tea. Honey. Milk chocolate. A little dry and prickly black pepper on the finish.
It’s fine. But it’s hard to keep getting excited about this kind of thing; it’s indiscernible to a lot that’s out there. Is that a bad thing? For me, I do like a unique character…
Cooley 2003 14 year old Exclusive Malts – Phil’s review
Colour: medium amber
On the nose: a strong whiff of brown sugar and butter melting into caramel, sweet malt, almond and hazelnut brittle. It then veers off into herbal territory – basil, pine trees, fir cones before coming round to orange zest. There are also notes of milk chocolate, cinnamon, cedarwood and dried tea leaves. Water brings out more spice – ginger, nutmeg and more herbal, woody notes.
In the mouth: a medium mouthfeel, not super oily but mouth coating all the same. There are pronounced sherry notes with raisins, brittle and hazelnuts but it isn’t really sweet. Also fennel, ginger and a little peppercorn. I get some cherry swirling in the background. 70% dark chocolate with orange. Water enhances the sweetness, honey notes now with mixed peel and added apices of clove and cinnamon with a touch of oloroso nuttiness. A fairly long finish that is warming with lingering spice and a little black tea.
The difference a year makes! Whereas the 2017 release was sweet and all about ripe red apples and berries this 2018 release is a much more herbal and earthy affair. It would seem the refill sherry butt has exerted a good degree of influence here. There is a fair amount going on and can take a bit of time to pick apart. For me, this drop benefits greatly from a little water to open up but the nose and palate. Another great cask choice from the Whisky Barrel, very interesting but I feel last years just shaded it!