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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

(Irish) Whiskey Wednesday #8: RIP Merle Haggard

I just found out that country music icon Merle Haggard died. I still intend to continue with my backed-up Irish whiskey reviews, because hell, they're whiskey, after all; they even spell it right (though Merle was a Dickel fan, and they don't). But I am going to listen to some Merle, including his classic Okie from Muskogee.

Mad March Hare, 40%
"They still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse, and white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all."
I'm not going to reach for Merle references in these reviews, but I'll be damned if I ignore one that's looking me right in the eye. This is poitín, Ireland's fabled "mountain dew," the white lightning of the Auld Sod. (See what I had to say about it in the sidebar at the bottom of the page here.) Mad March Hare got off to a rough start, being set for production at the Rathmooney distillery in Dublin; when that collapsed, they found digs in western Cork, an all-malt, pot stilled spirit, according to founder John Ralph. And that's about all I can tell you about it...for sure. Except how it tastes.

Well, it smells like it just came off the worm. Fruity and a bit feinty, grain, fat, and wet copper on the nose. A rare visual note: it rolls slowly in the glass, like chilled vodka. Ominous. Poitín, of course, has a reputation as a wicked strong and weird liquor, but this is at 80 proof only. Time to put that aside and taste it. It is thicker and a bit oily on the tongue, with a grainy sweetness. Not that hot, and there's an appealing mineral touch, almost like graphite from pencil leads. The sweetness is a bit much, but it's not gross. I'd want to mix this, probably with a bit of tea or light fruit juice, like apple. For all the Mad March Hare look, this is fairly tame, especially at 80 proof.

Verdict: Okay

Egan's Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 47%
Through a bus window; sorry.
Whup! 10 years old and un-chill filtered, and bottled at 47%. How 'bout that! Where's it from? Could be Cooley (not likely), could be Bushmills (could be, could be), and that's about it; nowhere else has been open that long in Ireland making single malt. Beautiful long tall bottle with a nicely embossed and detailed label. It's a grand old name, too: P&H Egan's were maltsters and bonders (buying whiskey and aging and blending it, much like was done with Green Spot) in Tullamore from 1852. I caught sight of their building when I was in Tullamore last month and snapped the picture you see here. But that's, again, about all I know about the stuff, so I have to fall back on the crutch of tasting it...

Spiced fruit and malt in the nose, with some heat and bright bark/pine hints. Quite nice on the tongue, and not clearly identifiable as one or the other...maybe Cooley, but I thought that was cut off by Beam Suntory. Okay, so it's a relatively dry and warm single malt, intensely focused in a tight spot of malt, like a Munich helles, not really wandering into the fruitiness thing. There's a fast flash of heat, then that unrelenting dry, almost dusty malt.

I'm liking that; it's not a whiskey that lets you relax, more like a sergeant of a whiskey. Come on, lad, there's drink to be had here, pay attention! None of this sweet fruit languor for us, hey? The finish is firm, without being overly oaky, but there's a touch of sweet alcohol in the middle that's not quite as happy-making as the rest of this, though it passes quickly. It's a different chapter in the Irish whiskey book, for sure, and that's a plus.

Verdict: Good

The Palace Bar Single Malt 14 year old, 46%
Now THIS little beauty is something I picked up last month in Dublin at the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I'd had it two days before at the Dingle Whiskey Bar in Dublin, and really wanted more of this. I'm glad I swallowed my usual reluctance to lay out long green on a bottle (90 Euro), because it's real good,'s gone. I got bottle 910 of 1000. It was blended and bottled by the folks at Teeling Whiskey Co. from casks selected by W. Aherne (owner of the Palace Bar) and Palace bar patrons. That's pretty cool.

Now, when you have a whiskey in a bar, with new friends and old, and the craic is great, and the hour is late...well, you have to wonder the next day just how good the whiskey really was. So I was a bit nervous the first time I opened it up. worries.

Doughy sweet malt, orange marmalade, and light baking spices, well-balanced and oh so pleasant. On the tongue, this blows away all the sophistry about "what is Irish whiskey?" Anyone familiar with whiskeys and whiskies would pick this out as Irish right away. The fresh and lively malt so high in the mouth and nose, the happy fruitiness of it, and the light hand of the oak, all come together and make merry, warming and yet cooling at the same time. Whiskey is a mystery. Whoosh, that's good stuff. I am going to draw up just short of that "Stellar" rating, though, if only because it's just a bit on the simple side. I want more depth, and a bit more rounded in the middle, where it gets a little hot. But that's very much on the high side of Good!

Verdict: Good

Well, Merle, you went out on your birthday. Kind of the way to do it. Hope I hear a lot of you this coming week. You didn't live forever, but you had your share. Cheers, fella.


Bill said...

I don't know if Mr. Haggard was a fan of the Dickel sour mash whisky or the rye whisky (never noticed they spelled it that way until you mentioned it...) -- I have a tiny bit of the Dickel rye at home and will drink to his memory tonight, probably while listening to his and Willie's version of Pancho and Lefty.

Sam Komlenic said...

Had the privilege of seeing Haggard three times over the years, the first, around 1978, is still one of the best concerts I've ever seen. He was a big influence on my musical taste and he never stopped moving until the end. A restless man if there ever was, now finally at rest.

I saw the Old 97s last night and they did two of Merle's songs as tribute. It was touching to hear his songs, live, on the day he died. God bless you, you crazy bastard, and thanks!

tanstaafl2 said...

Do you know where Midleton gets it is single malt whiskey from if they aren't making any? In trade with Bushmills for grain whiskey perhaps (which Bushmills doesn't make)? Since Midleton has brands, to include the flagship Jameson, which include single malt whiskey they must be getting it from somewhere! Bushmills would seem the most likely.

Lew Bryson said...

Pretty sure that's exactly what's happening. Remember, until relatively recently, they were both owned by Pernod Ricard.