Friday, September 25, 2009

My whiskey tasting - part 2 of 3

After trying three different U.S. whiskeys, my whiskey tasting group turned our attention to blended varieties from Canada, Ireland and Scotland:

Selection #4
Crown Royal Special Reserve Blended Canadian Whisky
Crown Royal Distillery, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada
40% vol. / 80 proof
  • Back story: Canadian whisky blends rye and other whiskeys with relatively neutral base spirits, producing a crisp, easy to drink blend. The standard Crown Royal blend is the most popular Canadian whiskey sold in the U.S. This “Special Reserve” bottling is an older blend with remarkable depth.
  • Nose: very light rye, backed with buttery toffee.
  • Taste: the rye spiciness is there, but it is much lighter and comes with a caramel sweetness and faint fruit and oak overtones. This is by far the mellowest whiskey we tried.
  • Finish: crisp and very short - the strong bitter finish of the American rye is missing, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. I miss the complexity of that long, interesting finish.

  • Food pairing: I did a Google search and came up with Camembert cheese as a possible match for this whiskey. It turned out to be far too mild and was completely overpowered by the whiskey taste. Considering this was itself a mild whiskey, I believe Camembert lovers should stick with wine.
  • Final verdict: This would be a perfect whiskey for mixing (the Canadian tradition is “rye and ginger” - mixing this kind of whiskey with Canada Dry ginger ale). By itself, it is still pretty good and much deeper than most Canadian whiskeys I've tried, but it still disappoints on the finish. Three stars *** (worth trying).
Selection #5
Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey, A Blend
Irish Distillers Group, Middleton, County Cork, Ireland
40% vol. / 80 proof

  • Back story: Powers is the most popular whiskey in its native Ireland. The distinct, “pot still” character of Irish whiskey comes from combining malted and unmalted barley together before fermentation, and then triple-distilling the resulting spirit in a traditional, labor-intensive pot still. Like most modern Irish whiskeys, Powers is a blend (pure pot still whiskey is blended with column-distilled grain whiskey for a lighter, crisper taste), but it retains a strong pot still character.

  • Nose: the distinct smell of Irish pot still whiskey: nutty, leathery and buttery.

  • Taste: well-rounded and robust, balancing honey, spices and flax. It is very, very tasty.
  • Finish: a wonderful sweet-and-sour finish; long but mellow.

  • Food pairing: Being an Irish whiskey, I decided to pair this with Dubliner cheese. The cheese turned out to be far too strong for the whiskey; they were both delicious, so I would not call it a bad pairing, but the cheese eradicated the whiskey flavor on contact. (Delicious cheese, by the way: if you haven't tried it, do so!)

  • Final verdict: I still prefer pure pot still Irish whiskey (like Redbreast) to blends, but this blend is closer to that than any other I've tried. It is a winner. Four stars **** (recommended).
Selection #6
William Grant’s Family Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky

William Grant & Sons Limited, Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland
40% vol. / 80 proof

  • Back story: the practice of blending traditional malt whiskey with column-distilled grain whiskey began in the mid-1800s. The result not only increased capacity, but created a lighter, more consistent spirit that appealed to a broader spectrum of drinkers. Today 90% of all Scotch sales are blends. While blends are often looked down upon as inferior, in fact the best blends are every bit as complex and rewarding as single malts. Grant’s is a fine example.

  • Nose: familiar Scotch aromas of malt and peat, but faint and buoyed by floral, fruity scents (apples and apricots).

  • Taste: a wonderful mix of sweet honey, crisp fruit and smoky peat.

  • Finish: mild but long, and well-balanced between the crisp snap of grain and the multi-layered complexity of malt.

  • Food pairing: we tried this with a five-year old Boerenkaas cheese from Morgan & York. It was an inspired choice: the Dutch cheeses seem tailor-made for whiskey!

  • Final verdict: this is a wonderful blend, one of the best I’ve tasted. It has a clear Scotch character, and yet is smooth enough to be appreciated by those not partial to single malts. If you like Johnnie Walker Black, give this a try some time. Four stars **** (recommended).

To be continued... (next time: single malts)


  1. I received a very nice email this morning from Molly O’Loughlin, the Brand Communications Manager at Irish Dairy Board, Inc. According to her, the company "recently launched 2 new cheeses made with traditional Irish drinks":

    Kerrygold Dubliner with Irish Stout

    Kerrygold takes Dubliner, one of Ireland’s most popular specialty cheeses, and combines it with its natural companion, Irish stout, creating a unique new cheese that marries the two compatible flavors harmoniously. The malty, caramel, bitter flavor of the stout brings out the characteristic sweetness and nutty richness of Dubliner in perfect balance. [Not good for Celiacs like me, but I bet it would be delicious for the rest of y'all.]

    Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey

    Kerrygold’s Aged Cheddar is notable for its rich, rounded flavor; distinctive, creamy taste; and firm, smooth body. An infusion of pure, robust Irish whiskey adds characteristic whiskey undertones – smooth, woody and nutty flavor elements – to the cheese, bringing together two of Ireland’s most famous specialty products into one spirited new cheese.

    OK, that's a lot of marketing speak (I should know!), but I have to admit my mouth is watering - whish is why I reprinted the descriptions verbatim.

    And now I know: I'll try aged cheddar next time with my Irish whiskey! :)

  2. I like Powers myself but I believe it has dropped to the number 2 spot in Ireland behind Jameson in the last few years. Jameson gets all the marketing money.

    Cheddar with Irish whiskey... I'm going to have to hunt that down.