Taste Test: This Irish Whiskey Experimented With Its Aging and It Really Paid Off

For decades, the Irish whiskey category was basically dominated by two distilleries: Midleton, where bands like Jameson and Redbreast are made, and Bushmills in Northern Ireland. Those days are long gone, and the country now has about 50 distilleries either making or sourcing whiskey. One of those is Teeling, which when it opened in 2015 was the first to operate in the city of Dublin in 125 years. Nearly a decade later, the distillery continues to release some very impressive whiskey, including this new single-pot-still expression aged entirely in virgin Swedish oak barrels.

Teeling, now owned by Bacardi, continues to source some of its whiskey from Great Northern, the distillery run by Teeling founders Jack and Stephen Teeling’s father, John. But the team in Dublin, led by master distiller Alex Chasko (an American), also produces its own whiskey, with a particular focus on single pot still. This intrinsically Irish style is made on a pot still at one distillery from a mashbill of malted and unmalted barley and sometimes another cereal grain, although at Teeling it’s a 50-50 blend of the two types of barley. The whiskey is triple distilled and matured in a combination of casks: virgin American Oak, bourbon, and sherry. The core single pot still whiskey, however, could not be more different from the new Wonders of Wood expression, the third in this series.

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The first Wonders of Wood release was aged in virgin chinkapin oak, the second in virgin Portuguese oak, and this new whiskey in virgin Swedish oak—not a finish, mind you, but full maturation. According to a Teeling rep, the idea to use this type of oak arose after a conversation with an employee at the distillery who was originally from Sweden. Chasko was interested in finding out how it might affect the whiskey’s flavor, which is the whole point of the Wonders of Wood series, and decided to source some barrels. Teeling is not the first distillery to use Swedish oak to mature a spirit, of course, as it has been used by Swedish brands (sparse as they are) for some time. But Swedish oak is certainly not as widely used as American, Japanese mizunara, or (I hesitate to even bring it up), Brazilian amburana wood.

Speaking of which, those of you who have read this column before might recall that I really don’t care for whiskey finished in amburana barrels. That’s being too nice—99 percent of the time, with a very rare exception, I think it’s terrible. But when I tasted this new Teeling whiskey, it kind of made me think of how I wish amburana-finished whiskey would taste, edging up to the brink of being overly spiced but pulling back just in time. Let me explain. There are notes of balsa wood, cinnamon, grape, apple, leather, and sweet tobacco on the palate. There’s a whiff of potpourri, some dry tannic notes, raisin, honey, brown sugar, and just a little barbecue smoke providing a welcome savory hint. All of this comes together to create an intriguing whiskey, with the fruity, spicy character of the pot still at its core utterly transformed but not lost in the mix.

There’s no shortage of Irish whiskey to try these days, especially from the much better known brands I mentioned at the start of this review. Some of these are just fine, while others are truly excellent. But this new expression from Teeling stands out as being uniquely purposeful in its mission to highlight a specific type of wood, and most importantly it’s really tasty. Try this whiskey in an Old Fashioned (I did and it was great), but definitely sip it neat first to find out what it’s all about. And if you get a chance to sample it alongside the other expressions in the Wonders of Wood lineup, you’ll see just how impactful each barrel is on the whiskey’s flavor.

Score: 89

  • 100 Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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