Cheaper blended whisky, in general, tends to get scoffed at when it comes to seasoned whisky drinkers. Too busy chasing their unicorns, single casks and cask strength bottles, a fair number of that cohort tend to pass by blended bottles on the lower shelves. If they grab anything at all, it’s likely to have a Jamieson’s or Johnnie Walker label slapped on it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some fairly bad blends out there. A “Lost in Dramslation” podcast episode was entirely dedicated to some of these bottles that made you say, “WTF?”. That being said, if you ask around, do your research or even just take a chance on some of the blends you see on the shelves, you may just find your new favorite daily drinker. Plus it won’t break the bank, allowing you to save up for your next fancy bottle.
Like Irish whiskey in general, blended Irish whiskey is going through a bit of a renaissance as well. Even on the upper end, bottles like J.J. Corry’s The Gael offer phenomenal value. For just over $100 CAD, you get a blend that has up to 28 year whiskey in it. Try picking up a Compass Box blended scotch like that for less than double the price. No chance. On the cheaper side of things, there’s more to Jamieson’s than their standard green label bottling. On top of that, there’s West Cork, Flaming Pig, Dublin Liberties (Dubliner) and so much more. What makes Irish blends intriguing is that they are a blend of grain and single pot still, which is itself a mixture of malted and unmalted barley. This helps to separate their profiles from blended scotch, sometimes dramatically.
With the help of Park Whiskey Society’s own resident Irish expert, Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid), I was directed towards the distillery whose bottle I’m reviewing today. Kilbeggan holds the bragging rights as the oldest continually-licensed distillery in Ireland. Established in 1757, Kilbeggan has had a pretty storied history. At the heart of the distillery is the town of Kilbeggan itself. Through thick and thin, openings and closings, the residents of Kilbeggan have played a major role in keeping their distillery alive, or at least licensed for hundreds of years. Now owned by Beam Suntory, Kilbeggan is riding high on the latest Irish whiskey revival.
Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey is their entry level offering. Unlike most Irish whiskies, it is only double distilled. It’s non-age stated, probably colored and chill filtered and is bottled at 40% abv.
Nose: The one major issue I have with this whiskey is that as soon as you pour this into your glass, you get a moderate paint thinner note that can be a bit off-putting to some. If you let it sit for at least 15 minutes, it does go away. Replacing that is a very strong green apple note. It’s worst feature turns into it’s best so do be patient with it. Underneath all of that green apple is some youthful grain and malt notes. A little barley sugar and light caramel for sure. The vanilla and mild cinnamon I get off of this is probably thanks to the ex-Bourbon barrels this was matured in. Over time, some pineapple shines through. The vanilla is more of a vanilla wafer now.
Palate: The entry is light and sweet. Green apple, vanilla custard and caramel. The transition into the development is slow and gradual. On the front end, the tropical notes start to creep back. As I keep swishing this around my mouth I get a tiny bit of oak, some clove and black pepper as well as some rich milk chocolate. That milk chocolate note continually builds into the finish. It’s a nice balance between oak, spice and sweetness.
Finish: On the shorter side of medium, but not surprising for the abv. The spice is gone immediately, but the chocolate and oak stick around for a while with a little bit of citrus thrown in for good measure.
With water added…
That green apple note has faded away considerably. The tropical notes are now bubbling to the top. I’m getting a little bit of ginger now as well. The caramel is more of a toffee sweetness and there’s a splash of oak. The entry is substantially creamier and mouth coating now. The black pepper is a little stronger, but so is the oak making, this a little spicier and more bitter than when sipped neat. There’s also a very faint, youthful metallic note towards the backend of the finish. I’m note getting quite as much chocolate as I did without water. The finish has a bit more oak and some toffee. It’s not quite as balanced as it was before.
When I first poured this whiskey, the paint thinner note kind of turned me off. However, I gave it a second chance recently and after I waited for that note to fade away in the glass, I really started to enjoy this one. For me, it’s turned into the perfect “after work” starter dram. Something I can sip while making dinner or nagging my kids to do their homework.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I will buy this bottle again. Instead, I would pay $10 more and get my hands on another bottle of their single grain (corn) expression. That’s another one that wasn’t a favourite of mine to start, but turned into a delightful summer dram once I gave it a chance to shine.
We’ll be reviewing all four of their available expressions including their unique take on rye and their fantastic single grain.