We got to Heuston Station as the last train pulled out. It was only going as far as Portlaoise, so even if we had made it, we would still have had quite a walk back to Cork.
My daughter and I were in Dublin for a hospital appointment, one that only got cancelled at 10pm the night before, when we were already in the city. This meant we were trapped in the big smoke, with the worst storm in four decades bearing down on us. So we decided to go shopping.
Back in Dublin city centre it soon became clear that this was not going to be an option – almost everywhere was pulling down the shutters as we walked around, first across O’Connell Street and then up to Grafton Street. Despite the warnings that Ireland was about to get hit with a bone fide hurricane (bear in mind that the last tropical occurrence here were those really racist Lilt ads in the early Nineties), the weather was pleasantly mild, if a little breezy. But hell or high water wouldn’t keep me from the one place I always visit when in Dublin – the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I had assumed they wouldn’t be open, but, as their owner is a canny Scot who is used to actual storms, he opened. This was a godsend, as whiskey does technically fall under the remit of ‘provisions’ in any major Irish emergency.
So despite the weary groans from my teenage daughter, we ambled in to soak up the ambiance, and by ambience I naturally mean booze.
I tend to complain about the price of Irish whiskey. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income, so the prices of Irish whiskey sometimes make me despair. As a result, I usually shop online and mostly buy Scotch. This is partly because of the value you get, and also the sheer variety. But what you don’t get is the enjoyment of talking to a salesperson, especially ones as expert as the staff in the Celtic Whiskey Shop. It’s little wonder that many of their staff go on to work as brand ambassadors, as they know their stuff, they know how to treat customers well, and they are a genial bunch.
As soon as we started chatting, a sample was offered, to warm the blood after braving the unseasonably mild weather outside. But this wasn’t going to be a drop of whatever was on special – they went straight for a Midleton single cask. After that – and an hour long conversation about Irish whiskey, Jim Murray, transparency, online vs offline shopping, and beef – I basically had to buy something. I asked for something interesting, so they gave me a drop of the new Teeling Brabazon port cask.
The Teeling story is a remarkable one. John Teeling was a teetotaller and serial entrepreneur who had the barmy idea of buying an old, state-owned industrial distillery and using it to make whiskey for third party sales. Looking back now, more than two decades on, it seems visionary, but I would imagine that at the time it seemed quite batshit. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, he played it hard and fast, ending up at loggerheads with Irish Distillers on at least one occasion, but in the end he created an empire, one that he sold to Beam Suntory for €71m in 2011.
John Teeling’s boundless energy meant he was never going to stay still – he bought the old Harp brewery in Dundalk and turned it into a distilling powerhouse, again using the third party model that had brought him so much success in Cooley. But his sons went for a riskier, bolder model.
Jack and Stephen Teeling may be the dauphins of Irish whiskey, but they also came burdened with their father’s impressive legacy. However, there are few people in Ireland today with their insight or expertise in building a successful whiskey business. A sign of this confidence was where they opted to site their new distillery – in Dublin city’s Newmarket Square.
After this brave move, there was the pressure to source quality stock – and this is where I am going to engage in some wild speculation. I would suggest that, contrary to popular belief, they didn’t hang on to a load of Cooley stock. Beam Suntory didn’t pay seventy million clams just for Cooley, Ireland’s ugliest distillery (they also got one of Ireland’s prettiest distilleries, Kilbeggan) and zero stock. When you pay that much for a distillery, you are not just looking for infrastructure, you are looking for booze – and lots of it.
Similarly, if you are selling a distillery and tons of stock, you are selling it at a good price, so you are not going to get some sort of budget buy-back deal. So while there is a theory out there that all three Teelings walked away from that deal with a cartload of premium casks, it is highly unlikely. As one pundit put it to me, that would be like selling someone a car with no engine.
While the grain the Teelings use may be from Cooley (as with all things supply related, a lot of this is guesswork) it would appear their other source is Bushmills, a distillery that seems to be able to supply vast quantities of excellent whiskey to just about anyone but themselves. The Teelings’ Vintage Reserve releases would certainly suggest Bushmills, as some of those bottlings are older than Cooley Distillery itself.
But back to their sourced releases, which rarely disappoint – their first being a blend that was, and still is, one of the great bang-for-your-buck whiskeys out there. My first bottle of it came with a ringing endorsement from the Celtic Whiskey Shop a few years ago, and it is still one I would rank up there with Writers Tears as a great introduction to the ever expanding world of Irish whiskey.
So the Teelings have it all – the supply, the distillery, the know-how, a partnership with Bacardi that opens new channels across the globe; and they even had their own TV show, which I think makes them the Kardashians of Irish whiskey.
Their sourced releases were varying degrees of excellent – here are some of the mainstream releases, not including the single casks and obscure releases:
Core Trinity Range:
Vintage Reserve Collection:
Vol V (pending released 2018)
Airport Exclusives x c.10
Poitín (from their own distillery in Dublin):
Teeling Spirit of Dublin
The Teeling brothers are looking at an Autumn 2018 date for their own stock, which will be the first new whiskey out of Dublin in quite some time, so the furore then will possibly be even more annoying than when the Dubs win the All-Ireland.
But back to Brabazon II: I asked Gabriel Corcoran from Teeling to shed a little light on the components: “There is a significant portion of white port, of a similar profile to the Carcavelos single cask release, but balanced out with a ruby port backbone and some added depth from a tawny port-finished element.”
The complete breakdown is as follows:
So on to some confusing and wildly inaccurate tasting notes:
Nose: Going to set a high bar for pretentiousness early on by saying ‘a forest in winter’ – vegetal notes, pine, an outdoorsy freshness, although that may just be the alcohol vapors freezing my face. Red liquorice, slight acetone, camphor. Less of the heavy fruit notes I expected to get from so much port cask, but then I haven’t a clue what port tastes like as I am not a feudal lord.
Palate: Fucking hell that 49.5% hits you in the goddam throat – in a good way. Lots of aniseed, ouzo, real heavy warming sensations, Benylin, the stewed fruits coming through. Hierbas, the Mallorcan liqueur,
Finish: Dark chocolate, coffee, going to say tannic dryness even though I’m not entirely certain what that means. Cornflakes, for some bizarre reason. Hints of peppermint in the aftermath, pink peppercorns, metallic notes, and those juicy, sweet notes of the fruit.
Overall, a solid release. Could it be a little better priced? Yes, it could. At close to €80, this is more expensive than the Tyrconnell 12 Madeira cask, which they used to make in Cooley, and which is one of the greats of Irish whiskey. But as with anything, this is completely subjective – bear in mind that after tax, I get paid about €80 a day, and as I work hard, it needs to be a pretty decent whiskey to justify that spend. Still, as a memento of an odd day wandering a deserted Dublin waiting for the hurricane, it was a worthwhile buy. My thanks to the guys in the Celtic Whiskey Shop for just being open, but especially to Dave Cummins, who was fantastic company, even managing to get my daughter chatting about whiskey, a topic she hates as it is ‘boring’. I mean yeah, it is totally boring, until you’re old enough to drink the stuff. But for her, that day is a long way off…he said hopefully.