Irish Single Malt Whiskey (unpeated Cooley), 18 Years Old, 2002, 48.6% ABV, The Swan Song (of 88 Bottles)
FRUITY AND SPICY
Note: We assign every bottle we review to one of five Flavour Camps, based on the most dominant flavours found. The Flavour Camps are : (1) Fragrant and Floral, (2) Fruity and Spicy, (3) Malty and Dry, (4) Rich and Round and (5) Smokey and Peaty. To learn more about each Flavour Camp, please click here.
Friendly people at the Swan Song bar in Singapore are known to have a nose for some great whiskies. This is another expression bottled by the Swan.
It has a very Irish label, probably intended to be bottled for St. Patrick’s day. The label is embellished with iconic Irish symbols and colours such as cute clover leaves (the unofficial national plant for Ireland), leprechaun hats, horseshoes (considered good luck charms in Ireland) and mugs of dark beer (think Guinness stout).
Here’s a closer photo of it I took in the bar:
While the distillery is undisclosed, I’ve been told that this is an unpeated Irish single malt distilled in Cooley Distillery.
Cooley Distillery does a few things differently from the rest of the Irish whiskey industry.
First: “malt whiskey” (100% malted barley) are certainly a thing in Ireland, but the Irish whiskey industry is traditionally associated with “pot still whiskey” which has to include some unmalted barley in the mash bill. Cooley makes “single malts” instead of “single pot still” whiskey.
Second: the Irish are also famous for using the triple-distillation process which results in very light and estery Irish whiskey. Cooley’s process is a little closer to typical Scotch- they conduct double-distillation which results in a whiskey that has a little more weight and flavour.
(Note: To learn more about Irish’s history of whiskey-making, look no further than to read our distillery spotlight on Ireland’s largest whiskey producer- Midleton Distillery.)
Suffice to say, since 1966 till the late 1980s, the only whiskey producer in Ireland had been Irish Distillers Limited which had agglomerated over 15 brands and the sprawling distillery at Midleton. With IDL cornering the market, their style of whiskey essentially defined what “Irish whiskey” was. Everyone thought Irish whiskey was supposed to be triple-distilled, unpeated, and made using a mix of malted and unmalted barley (i.e. “single pot still” whiskey”).
Cooley Distillery was opened in 1987 by John Teeling to offer consumers a real alternative. Among other styles, it offers double-distilled whiskey, malt whiskey, and some peated whiskey. Cooley Distillery has 3 core ranges: (1) the Kilbeggan blended whiskey, (2) the Connemara, a peated single malt, and (3) the Tyrconnell, an unpeated single malt.
So it appears that our present bottle would most closely resemble the Tyrconnell unpeated single malt from the original bottlers. Let’s get to tasting it!
Colour: Yellow gold with fairly thin legs.
Nose: Fresh, bright, fruity and very inviting. The moment this is brought to my nose I get a huge aroma of ripe orchard fruits. Big aromas of fresh pressed apple juice, pears and rock melon.
This is really gentle on the nose. All I could get is a clear freshness and lightly-sweet fruitiness. There isn’t so much as a prick on the nose.
The aromas continue to unfold along the same path. Through the apple-y notes comes more honeyed sweetness and a melange of ripe pineapples and lychees.
On the back of the fruitiness is a slight peppermint aroma and subtle smell of wet cut grass.
Palate: Refreshing, luscious, semi-sweet and filled with soft fruits. The palate is exactly as anticipated from the nose with an added refreshing sensation- sweet and crisp. Very compelling notes of apple juice, green apple gummy rings and green rock melon.
There are absolutely no tannins here. The crispness and refreshing-ness does make me feel like drinking I’m just drinking apple cider. Eventually, the fruitiness starts to give way to light vanilla cream notes that linger for a bit.
Finish: The finish is short with a fading vanilla note with a cooling mentholic sensation on the back of the throat- some what like eating really cool herbal jelly (known to Mandarin-speakers as guilinggao).
This is a refreshingly dangerous dram! It’s as effortless to drink as an entire bottle of chilled sauvignon blanc. I wish there were more than just 88 bottles available!
Once again, it’s great to see bottlers like The Swan Song introducing whisky-drinkers to styles that are easily overlooked. I have long been a big fan of Irish whiskey, particularly because of their estery brightness and velvety texture (see all my reviews of Irish whiskey here), but I am less familiar with Irish single malts.
Compared to the typical Irish, this Cooley single malt is similar in some ways and different in others. Unlike the typically light triple-distilled whiskey, I loved that there’s quite a bit more weight in this, and more conviction in its flavour profile. There also isn’t the familiar estery brightness seen in other Irish whiskey here- instead there is more depth in the friendly apple-y notes. The texture of the Cooley is also a lot closer to Scotch than Irish pot still whiskey which usually has a distinctive somewhat oily texture caused by the use of unmalted barley.
But just like many other Irish whiskey (think Jameson), this is friendly, accessible and effortless to drink. This could actually be the whiskey to bridge the gap between unadventurous Scotch-only drinkers and the category of Irish whiskey.
Irish pot still whiskey are pancakes, while this unpeated Cooley malt is a Belgian waffle. They’re similar and different in ways that matter. This should be a bridge for Scotch-only drinkers to be introduced to the category of Irish whiskey.