Time flies. Take for instance our original Teeling Single Malt Whiskey review back in 2015. Back then, Mark looked to the future and his excitement around the announced Waterford project. Jump forward to 2020 and Teeling is thoroughly established in the marketplace, Waterford has released its first whiskies and Mark has managed to persuade the other, much posher Mark, to employ him at the distillery.
All in all, since 2015, a great deal has changed, including if we look closer towards home and this website. But what of this core expression from Teeling? I know from my correspondence with several readers of the supermarket whiskies, that batch variations do exist and many out there expect a review from say 2015, will represent what they can purchase in 2020.
Thanks to the use of bar codes and dates etched into bottles, we’re more aware of batches now than ever before. We’re also more empowered to judge and track these changes, aided by the power of the internet and online discussions. Apart from replying to the aforementioned comments on articles, I’m reminded of this time and time again through my own experiences. Variations in the Ardbeg 10 and more recently the Mortlach 16 year old spring to mind. A nagging sense of doubt when returning to an old whisky, much like an old friend, that doesn’t quite meet your prior experiences.
A recent offer of a sample from Teeling prompted this article and there were no strings attached. No expectations of actually writing anything beyond Instagram, or taking a passable photograph. Just an opportunity to reacquaint myself with a whiskey that I’ve not had in several years. As always, I like to defy expectations, so when I asked Mark at Teeling [is it me or is it becoming a prerequisite to be called Mark to get a job in the whisky industry?] when this sample was bottled (the answer being 2017) this prompted the opportunity to consider batch variations. Of course, the key thing would be to return with a more recent vintage and make that comparison once again. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves as we’ll go back to the future and consider this Teeling offering.
This release is a double gold winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2015. This is like red to a bull for many Malt writers and readers. We know such awards exist to sell bottles and elevate their status. This particular event has also awarded, for instance, Hyde whiskey, various awards including a double gold, which may set off alarm bells to some.
Rather than seeking out whiskies to judge and highlight, the majority only accept what is sent to them, as long as the fee per bottle is paid. For the 2020 San Francisco edition, this was $550 per bottle with circa 2600 being judged – you can do the maths, but clearly this is big business and favours the bigger brands and bottlers, or at least those with deeper pockets. The only other condition is that multiples of bottles are received in their warehouse prior to the judgement. If the whisk(e)y isn’t deemed good enough to be worthy of a medal, then it doesn’t receive such an award. However, I’m always left to question between the gold, silver and bronze handouts, how many actually don’t receive anything? I couldn’t actually find anything on this. The literature online suggested nearly 3000 verdicts and with 2615 medals given out, that might be a clue, or just marketing speak. I do wonder how many receive the bronze medal as a thanks but no thanks gesture. The wooden spoon of the award circuit to ensure you might come back again next year. After all, there is a vested interest in ensuring that business (submissions) are repetitive and widespread. For our information, bronze is categorised as being:
‘A Bronze medal is awarded to a product that is commercially sound—modestly attractive without appreciable flaws. A Bronze medal is awarded to a product that deserves to be recognized as among the better examples of its category.’
It all sounds very comfortable. And to be fair the San Francisco edition is one of the better-respected events on the award circuit. This is why at the end of each year, we don’t talk about our top-10 or come together for a Malt award article. Instead, we prefer the team to round up their thoughts on the prior 12 months, good or bad, and leave it at that. Plus you should be reading us on a regular basis! Awards exist for Press Releases and such things sadly contain little relevant information nowadays. I’m not bashing Teeling here or any bottler for using such medals, after all, they’ve paid good money to enter and expect something back for their investment. And if you’re in doubt what to do, then the folks at the SF awards have a handy toolkit so you can make the most of their medal.
At least the Teeling inserts talks about more tangible qualities such as the cask make-up. This release is finished in 5 different casks featuring Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite an assortment and an orchestra of flavours to manage. This release is also bottled at 46% and will set you back £49.95 via Master of Malt, at Amazon it’ll cost £48.96 and The Whisky Exchange will charge £49.95.
Teeling Single Malt Irish Whiskey (2017) – review
Colour: a very light gold.
On the nose: apple peelings, lots of fruit sugars and a well used 2 pence coin. A light and inoffensive presentation. Some white pepper, cardboard elements, almond paste, peanuts and a rubbed mint leaf. A leafy aspect actually, a gentle vanilla vibe and the sense of grain whiskey. Adding water brought out some green wine gums and golden syrup.
In the mouth: on the sweet side and airy and vapid. We’ll have to knuckle down here as despite the casks there’s a lack of definition. Fennel, black olives, white grapes and more vanilla. A sugary coating with caramel and barley sweets followed by a sprinkling of green peppercorns. Water showcases cooking apples, icing sugar and more pepper.
This is as middle of the road and inoffensive as Irish whiskey can be. In a way, that’s an achievement given the abundance of casks utilised, but there’s also a sense that some have cancelled one another out. What should have been a symphony of flavour and aromas has become a street busker on your local high street – and there are some talented musicians out there trying to earn a few coins. Oh, and this feels like an overpriced grain blend, regardless of the type of currency we’re using.
To me, using the San Franscisco crtieria, this is an absolute stick on for a bronze medal award. Yet, looking at their results archive for 2017 (page 62), this particular release won gold again. The flaw being it doesn’t actually state the exact batch. And I suppose that raises a more general issue around batches and variations?
Possibly, the 2017 batch was judged in 2018? Sadly, Teeling didn’t submit anything that year, but returned in 2019 with this release (batch not stated) and won gold (page 82) again. So, I’d expect some consistency from Teeling and the pattern indicates the 2017 batch in any year would win gold. Now, I appreciate all the views and all the experts. The dedication, the craft. But there is also a factory-like procession to get through so many whiskies in a limited timeframe. I only sit down with 1 whisk(e)y most evenings: they all get a fair opportunity. In the case of this Teeling, I went back over 2 nights thanks to the 5cl sample. I’m not saying this way is better than another, but there must come a point when your palate is shot at a judging competition or starts to tire out?
Putting aside my own personal views on awards, this whole exercise does highlight the importance of information and considering the year of the award, whether that is specific to the bottle in your hand, a later or earlier edition. Yet I presume much of the whisk(e)y buying public out there don’t consider such aspects. Instead, they see a medal and work on the basis that a gold must mean it’s pretty good, right?
My thanks to Teeling for the sample. And we have commission links within this review if you feel inclined to explore yourself and give an award.