The Irish Whiskey Masters 2016 results

4th August, 2016 by Kristiane Sherry

New Irish distilleries continue to pop up in their droves – but does the current array of liquid available reflect a high level of innovation? Yes, and then some, our most recent Irish Whiskey Masters results revealed.


Irish whiskey is experiencing a period of rapid expansion

It might be a category in its infancy but Irish whiskey is pulling in the headlines thanks to rapid growth and a penchant for distillery building. Indeed, the producing ranks have swollen from a historic four, with another 32 either new or proposed, and growth of super-premium Irish whiskey in the US ran at 54.4% in 2015, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. From the numbers at least, the hype is well justified.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that the 2016 Irish Whiskey Masters attracted more entries than ever before, a plethora of liquid from the Emerald Isle spanning not only traditional pot still releases and blends but also single malts bursting with creativity and invention.

Tasked with assessing the whiskeys were Athila Roos, private client director for Louis XIII, Sam McDonald, venue manager at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and Ciaran Duffy, general manager at the Sun Tavern, with proceedings chaired by Amy Hopkins, deputy editor of The Spirits Business.

The first flight of the day was Single Grain – Premium and it attracted a Gold medal for Teeling Single Grain. “It ticks all of the boxes for me,” said Roos, with McDonald adding: “It’s got a great nose for a grain and there’s no horrible acrylic note on the palate. For a grain it’s awesome.”

Moving on to Blended – Standard, judges found a pair of medal-worthy expressions and unearthed both a Silver and Gold medal. The worthy recipient of the Gold award was Tullamore Dew, which offered a “lovely nose of barley husks” and a “really full-bodied” palate, said McDonald. “I could definitely sit and sip this.”


The first flight of the day was Single Grain

Pressing up the price bracket it was time for a more substantial offering of Blended – Premium, which pulled in three Golds and a Silver. First in line in the Gold rush was the “creamy, spicy, mouth-filling” Teeling Small Batch, followed by the “aromatic” Jameson Caskmates and the “buttery” Jameson Original. “It’s a straightforward and very well-balanced whisky,” mused Hopkins. “The complexity carried through to the palate. You get a lot for the money you spend.”

Moving on up to the Blended – Super Premium bracket saw the flight grow in volume as well as price point, with no tail-off in quality. The segment attracted eight medals, including the first Master of the day, plus four Golds.

“Jameson Signature was a really excellent all-rounder with a lovely bit of burnt caramel on the palate,” said Duffy of the Master winner. “There’s something for everyone here; it would appeal to a whiskey veteran and a newbie.” Golds were duly awarded to the “fierce yet sexy” Jameson Round, the “lovely, soft” Jameson Bold, the “very drinkable” Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old, and finally the “very different, in a good way” Writers Tears Copper Pot.

“This was quite a diverse flight,” summarised Duffy. “A couple of bottles are quite standalone in what they offer. It shows that there’s something for everyone in the category.”

The final price-defined Blended flight of the day was a selection of Ultra Premium releases. While they were all deemed good whiskeys, judges were disappointed by the value for money offered by the liquid. That said, five did stand out and the flight duly attracted three Gold and two Silver medals.

“Delicate and aromatic” Jameson 18 Year Old scooped the first Gold medal, swiftly followed by the “lovely” Jameson Cooper’s Croze and its strawberry jam-led palate, and the “delicious”, “very interesting” Jameson Blender’s Dog, recognised for its “lemongrass nose” and “bold and leathery” palate.

Judges then stepped back from blended and walked into the single malt arena with a flight of Premium expressions. A duo of Gold medals followed, one to the “fresh, vibrant, elegant” Teeling Single Malt, and another for the “sour, sherbet”, “minty and herbaceous” Tullamore Dew 14 Year Old.


All manner of Irish whiskeys were scrutinised

The Single Malt – Super Premium selection was next to be sampled, an “awesome” trio which produced one medal of each variety. The “sweetshop nose” and “soft, creamy” qualities of Teeling Revival Single Malt Volume 2 saw it pick up a Gold, while Tullamore Dew 18 Year Old was rewarded with a Master.

“I thought this had delicious notes of prunes, oats and wood,” commented Roos. “I got really excited about it – everything you’d expect at this price point was there.”

Looking back over the whole flight, McDonald was similarly enthused. “The super-premium whiskeys were just that. They were awesome and they had something special about them. They are real fireside drams.”

It was time to explore the Single Pot Still – Premium expressions, perhaps the style of whiskey most synonymous with Ireland. And the three medal winners did not fail to delight, their quality confirmed with the awarding of two Golds and a Master medal.

The highest accolade went to Powers John’s Lane Release which “had a lovely lightness to it” and was “quite accessible with a nice mellowness for pot still”, reckoned Hopkins. Meanwhile, Green Spot, a “great example of a pot still whiskey”, and Redbreast 12, a “refreshing” “barley cordial”, both won Golds.

The Single Pot Still – Super Premium category followed exactly in the footsteps of its neighbouring price bracket, again pulling in two Golds and a Master. This time Redbreast 15 was the top scorer. “Very clean and straightforward,” said Roos, with Hopkins noting the “lovely aroma of wood chips and spice. It has an interesting profile – soft caramel with a hint of lemon”.

The duo of Golds included the “spicy and quite bold” Redbreast 12 Cask Strength, and the “orange oil”-like Yellow Spot.


All-in-all it was a successful day for Irish whiskey entries

Climbing up the price ladder even further, judges moved on to explore Single Pot Still – Ultra Premium, a collection of three whiskeys which this time resulted in two Golds and a silver.

Redbreast 21 was deemed “dangerously quaffable”, while Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy was described as “more savoury than the others, while still offering a fruity element”.

“The pot still rounds in the competition had a real array of characterful, distinct and high- quality drams,” concluded Hopkins. “Across the price points there was a real sense that this is where the greatest complexity and sophistication lies in Irish whiskey.”

Proceedings concluded on a high, with a tiny Poitín flight. What it lacked in substance it more than made up for in style, with the solitary Teeling Spirit of Dublin Poitín scooping a Master medal.

“The quality of the spirit was much better than some of the other whiskeys we’ve tasted. It reminded me of a really good Tequila,” enthused Roos.

All-in-all it was a successful day for the Irish whiskey contingent. “I was impressed, especially with the pot stills,” said McDonald. “It’s a great example of how Ireland as a whiskey-producing nation is developing.”

Duffy agreed: “It shows that consumers can get good quality across different price points,” he said. And with that, the initial question was answered: Irish whiskey may be experiencing a period of sharp expansion, but there are no growing pains to be found here.

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Irish Whiskey Masters 2016. 

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