I know what you are thinking. The world is in enough of a crisis with Covid-19, social distancing and lockdowns and the last thing you need right now is a visit from the Mayor of Grumpton! Well I’m here to politely and respectfully disagree with you. You are entitled to your opinion, but you are wrong!
You see I’ve noticed in recent weeks that there has been a divergence on Malt. The good ship SS Malt needs a little redirection and a course plotted for more familiar waters. Frankly, it’s time that Adam stopped frolicking in orchards and churning out reviews of apple presse and Cidona (other carbonated apple abominations are available). Taylor has a nasty habit of reviewing oddities like Mezcal and Sotol when he leaves Vanillatown and John had better stop trying to explain the nuances between Sake and Rice Wine Vinegar – no one cares, least of all I. Even the most belligerent of our editors, Jason, has succumbed to this non-whisky phenomenon and reviewed vodka…..I mean, really? Vodka?
The way things are going, it’s only a matter of time before Newton has a champagne section on Malt. Lord help us then. Wells and Newton (which actually sounds like a publishing house for ‘Terroir Lovers’) will be insufferable if that happens. Terroir this, earthworms that. They even have their own society now…the Fans of the Arts, Railways and Terroir Society, or F.A.R.T.S. to you and me.
Essentially then, I have appointed myself to make Malt great again. I’ll begin my mission by doing what you all expect when you look to Malt for our honest, intelligent and impartial opines – a whiskey review. Of course being a whiskey review, means I’m transporting you back to whiskey’s spiritual home… Ireland.
I gave a very brief overview of the Kilbeggan Distillery here back in 2017. At another time I’ll maybe do a bit more of an in depth look at it’s history, but instead to day I want to look at two of it’s most recent offerings – the Single Pot Still and the Small Batch Rye.
The Single Pot Still is made of a mashbill of malted barley, unmalted barley and 2.5% oats which has been double distilled, matured in ex-bourbon casks and is roughly 8 years old. It’s bottled at 43% and is the second whiskey to be distilled and matured at Kilbeggan since the renovations of the distillery were completed in 2010.
The Small Batch Rye is a slightly more unusual proposition with a mashbill made up of malted barley, unmalted barley and 30% rye. Again double distilled, matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 43% this is roughly 7 years old and was the first new whiskey to be distilled and matured onsite since 2010.
Interestingly in times gone by, the Rye would also have been classified as a pot still, indeed it is a heritage recipe mashbill dating back to the 1890’s. As it happens, the Irish Whiskey Technical File is a bit stricter on the mashbill characteristics for Pot Still whiskey stating that it must be at least 30% malted barley, 30% unmalted barley but no more than 5% other grains such as oats or rye.
There is much debate going on at present as to whether this needs to be addressed going forward to allow more of these heritage mashbills to be utilised under the Pot Still banner. As is, many feel that the current definition essentially protects IDL and its Pot Still brands such as Redbreast, Green Spot and Powers and doesn’t allow for enough variety. To be fair to IDL though, they have to a certain extent been responsible for the resurrection of the popularity of Pot Still as an expression, when they relaunched Redbreast and made it a core expression during a time when all Irish whiskey was renowned for was being smooth and frankly tediously boring.
The other line of reasoning is that if we give to much leeway with mashbills for Pot Still, then it risks becoming a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster with no clear character. I’m sure the debate will rage on for a good while yet.
Both expressions are exclusive to the Celtic Whiskey Shop for a reasonable €55 each.
Kilbeggan Pot Still – review
Colour: Pale Gold.
On the nose: Sweet vanilla, baked apples and cinnamon, lemon peel. Caramelised sugar, garden mint and lots of cereal with a touch of draff. Stone fruits and biscuit. There is a definite earthiness here from the oats with some petrichor thrown in for good measure and a flinty minerality.
In the mouth: Like the nose this has a sweet arrival – toffee apples and malt forward. Vanilla, white grape, apricot, orange oil, clove. Stem ginger with a light pepperiness and a green herbal quality. The finish is of medium length and has a dry hoppy character with peppery spice.
Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye – review
Colour: Light Gold.
On the nose: Menthol and Eucalyptus straight off the bat. Warm bread, sweet green apple and pear. A cherry note too along with some strawberry lace. Some herbal tincture with ginger, allspice and toasted oak. Time brings baked pineapples too.
In the mouth: Very soft and fruity. Peach cobbler, apple crumble and some stewed red berries. Vanilla cream – a really creamy mouthfeel to this with some nutmeg and cinnamon. Certainly not an aggressive rye – the rye spice and clove come mid to back palate. The finish is quite short with lingering spiciness and sweet vanilla.
Two interesting and tasty taoscans from Kilbeggan here and for the money both are impressive. The Rye is quite unlike any other Irish whiskey I’ve had. Not quite pot still as we know it and not quite a full blooded rye but a really nice compromise between the two. The finish is a bit too short for my liking, meaning it struggles to be truly memorable, but it is pretty well balanced between nose and palate.
The Pot Still is very engaging though and I have to say it is the most successful of all the new pot stills to be released outside of Midleton. I think the benefit of a few years extra maturation and just keeping things simple with a bourbon cask maturation really come to the fore here. It’s a very moreish whiskey that is good value for money and I recommend you search a bottle out. Definitely.
Lead image from Beam Suntory, with the 2nd image kindly provided by Bevy.co as Phil was being too grumpy to take photographs.