Pardon the random analogy, but alcohol is kind of like pizza. After all, pretty much any bottle of alcohol can get the night started and pretty much any slice of pizza can finish it off. Like pizza, a lot of alcohol generally tastes the same, especially in the mid to low range. And yes, sometimes a slice of pizza can be downright disgusting or a spirit can set your palate on fire, yet that rarely stops you from consuming every bite or drop.
On the flip side, every now and then you come across a slice of pizza so delicious that it forces you to reconsider what you knew about cheese, sauce, bread and possibly meat in the first place. It changes your fundamental understanding of pizza and awakens you to the craft of using specific techniques or a few choice ingredients to yield mind-blowing results. Similarly, at some point in your life you might sip on a top shelf spirit and have your world changed, bidding adieu to those youthful days of Jose Cuervo Gold and Jagermeister for good.
For all the drinkers out there ready to graduate to the finer side of alcohol, Teeling Single Grain Whiskey could very well be your game-changing slice of pizza. It’s a delectable dram with an indisputably smooth, borderline decadent flavour profile. It’s our Spirit of the Month for March and there are too many good things to say about it and damn it we shall say those things. Read on for a brief history, tasting notes and an extensive Q&A with company founder, Jack Teeling.
Dublin, Ireland is a city known for many extraordinary cornerstones…oh who are we kidding it’s known primarily as home to a rowdy and boisterous drinking culture. Sure, it might be where Ulysses takes place, but who among you are visiting so you can finally take the James Joyce walking tour? No, you’re going for the fresh pints of authentic Guinness and the shots of Irish whiskey that you can’t find elsewhere (which, to be fair, is probably part of the James Joyce walking tour).
One might think of Dublin as an epicentre where the beer and whiskey never stops flowing, and in regards to the bar scene that’s possibly true, however the whiskey industry has swayed from epic highs to epic lows over the course of centuries. In the late 1700s, for instance, there were over 37 different distilleries in Dublin, but that number went down to almost zero by the 1970s when Irish whiskey fell out of favour with a global audience.
Nowadays, Irish whiskey (and whiskey in general) is majorly on the upswing and that’s great news for brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling. They were slightly ahead of the curve by setting up the Teeling Whiskey Distillery in 2012, a three copper pot still operation that marks Dublin’s first new distillery in 125 years.
The building is located in Newmarket Square, an area once rife with whiskey manufacturing, and therefore Teeling represents Irish history itself roaring back to life. But for Jack and Stephen it’s even more personal than that because yards away from the new building is land where their ancestor, Walter Teeling, once set up his own craft distillery in 1782. Needless to say, Irish whiskey is in Teeling’s blood and that’s not just because Jack and Stephen have been up all night drinking.
Like Scotch or bourbon, Irish whiskey comes with its own set of rules, techniques and climate conditions, and subsequently its own set of characteristics. However, because the regulations for making Irish whiskey are a little less rigid (though still rigid enough to ensure quality) than in other regions, the general taste profile is a little broader and can vary greatly from brand to brand. Personally speaking, most of the Irish whiskey I’ve tried tends to be on the warmer, softer side, with a kind of smooth, toasty essence accompanied by varying degrees of melted sugar.
Teeling Single Grain shared some of those smooth, toasty qualities, but at the same time this spirit is 100% its own beast. That’s in no small part thanks to a base that’s primarily corn, 5 years of maturation in ex-California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, and non-chill filtering. It’s also thanks to being a single grain whisky, which in spite of its name does not mean whiskey distilled from a single type of grain, rather whiskey that’s distilled from one distillery (in this case the nearby Cooley Distillery). For more information on Irish whiskey and single grains be sure to read Jack Teeling’s interview below because he goes into a lot of detail.
Whatever the reasons, Teeling Single Grain is quite simply a triumph. It’s ridiculously smooth and silky. The more sips I took, the more I kept thinking of the words “spiked chocolate milk” because of how creamy the whiskey was in texture and how perfectly sweet it was in taste. It’s rare that a pure, full proof spirit could be so immediately approachable and delectable while retaining quality mainstays like flavour density and complexity. Lovers of spice, smoke or heat might not find much to please their arguably narrow palates, but all others should approach Teeling Single Grain with high expectations.
Here’s a breakdown:
Nose: Warm, luxurious notes of chocolate, sugar, cream and cinnamon with bursts of grape, cherry and pineapple. The nose reminded me of premium dark rum, meaning a really clean, sugary aroma with tropical undertones and essentially no burn.
Taste: At first sip comes a toasty, sweet, mellow river of liquid silk that simply rolls over the tongue. The whiskey hangs in the mouth but loses none of its smoothness. From the buttery body emerge notes of vanilla, chocolate, grape, cherry, melted sugar, and salt. My mind again made an association with rum or possibly sherry.
Finish: The creamy sweetness lingers long. Hints of spice trail the finish, as do notes of tropical fruit. The lasting impression is almost one of liquid pudding, chocolate milk, or even the milk leftover when you finish a sugary cereal.
Overall, Teeling Single Grain is the kind of whiskey you can sip and savour with your eyes closed. Given the noticeable absence of burn, this is a dram you almost feel guilty sipping because it reminds you of dessert, and that’s an amazing accomplishment considering the spirit’s remarkable taste is the product of distillation and maturation, not additives. May this wonderful, affordable expression be the proverbial slice of pizza that turns you onto the good stuff for life.
Teeling Whiskey Company founder Jack Teeling is a walking intersection where history and passion collide. It’s with an obvious and hard-earned sense of pride that Jack carries the family name into the 21st century, a name that’s been associated with whiskey going back over 200 years. I imagine Jack is the kind of guy who keeps the bar after hours regaling others with his intensive knowledge. Since we don’t know which bar he frequents, we’ll settle for an interview instead. Read on for his take on all things Irish whiskey.
Does the current master distiller still use methods and recipes dating back to the company’s origins, or have those techniques changed over time?
The basis for nearly all distilling is rooted in the past with very little disruptive changes since the creation of the Coffey Still back in the 19th century. The biggest technological advances are more about automation rather than everything being done manually thus allowing for much more consistency in the quality of the spirit that can be produced. However, the craft of making good whiskeys has not changed. My definition of craft is based on the level of human interaction that goes into creating a spirit or whiskey.
Distillation is a scientific process that is done in a systematic way. Once you decide on your cuts and how you run your stills there is more than likely some elements of technology helping control the process to ensure you produce a consistent distillate. However the part of the process that to me is often overlooked, which requires a significant and for us a higher element of human interaction, is choosing when and how to bottle your product. If distilling is the science this is the art and this has not changed (barring changes in personal taste) over time.
In all the whiskeys we produce we do not have a formulaic approach in terms of age statements, but an overarching taste profile so it is not as easy as saying choose a bunch of 5 or 6 Year Old casks for our Single Grain. When you do everything in smaller batches with many cask types, a few casks can radically alter the overall taste profile so we have to taste and sample as many as we can to ensure we produce the character we want. This element of the process involves a lot of tasting and using our low tech noses and palates. This takes more time and involves more human interaction but this is our craft and why we put each bottling date on the bottle so while each batch might be slightly different (as they are if you taste them side by side) the overall taste profile is hopefully the same.
Is there a unique or significant Teeling family story you’d like to share?
Teeling Whiskey began over 230 years ago and was reborn in 2012 when I set up the Teeling Whiskey Company with a vision of reviving our old family Irish whiskey trademark and returning to our roots with the opening of the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years. Our family origins in the industry began back in 1782 when Walter Teeling had a craft distillery in the Liberties area of Dublin and as part of our goal to revive our old family whiskey brand it made perfect sense (to me anyway!) to go right back to where it first began to build our new distillery. In 1976 the last Dublin distillery stills went cold and so began the decline of an industry long associated with my hometown. It makes me very proud to be able to bring something uniquely Dublin back to the cultural and social fabric of the city. Building the new Teeling distillery is not the destination – we are still only at the start of a long journey in building Teeling Whiskey into a world class brand. This industry is definitely not a sprint but more like a marathon so we will continue to do what we believe to be the right things and hopefully help with the evolution of Irish whiskey.
How would you describe Irish whiskey to those who have only tried bourbon or Scotch?
Irish whiskey has a more approachable and accessible taste profile than many other types of whiskey. This is down to a number of factors such as Irish whiskey being traditionally triple distilled which produces a cleaner and lighter style of spirit as well as the in recent days the Irish turning their back on using turf/peat to dry malting barley. However the main reason all Irish whiskeys are softer in nature, no matter how they are produced or from what distillery they come, is the temperate climate we mature our whiskeys in.
It is a little known fact that the way whiskey is matured in terms of casks and climate delivers up to 60-70% of the flavour we associate with whiskey. As such while we endure the damn not too hot or not too cold temperate weather in Ireland, this is in fact the ideal environment to produce the very drinkable style Irish whiskey is famed for. The softer Irish climate results in the oak barrels used to mature Irish whiskey gently caressing the whiskey thus in turn creating a softer style of whiskey compared to the hotter climates of Kentucky or colder climates of Northern Scotland.
The recent growth of Irish whiskey has been driven by the big names of the category, which have focused on the smooth and approachable taste profile of Irish whiskey. To ensure we keep people interested in Irish whiskey we need, as a category, to have a full range of taste and expressions that allow people to discover new and interesting Irish whiskeys as their taste evolves.
This is where we come in!! We aim to help with the segmentation of Irish whiskey and provide unique differentiated Irish whiskeys that do not compete with existing brands but provide a wider range of expressions to allow people to discover something new and interesting within Irish whiskey without having to move out of the category.
As such there are full flavoured, unique and interesting Irish whiskeys that will surprise people, such as our Single Grain, so I would encourage people to seek out and try the new generation of Irish whiskeys coming into the US.
What’s the connection between the Teeling and Cooley distilleries and more specifically Teeling Single Grain and Greenore Single Grain?
It’s a little known fact that the majority of Irish whiskey sold is actually grain whiskey so we have always felt it is interesting to have expressions of single grain Irish whiskey in their own right. Normally grain whiskey is matured in older third or fourth filled ex-bourbon barrels and we found out by accident during our Cooley days that if you fill new make grain spirit into good casks you can actually produce a very unique and interesting whiskey. Greenore Single Grain is fully matured in first fill ex-bourbon barrels so takes on a lot of vanilla and extra sweetness.
What we wanted to do was try to do something different again and we experimented with various other good quality casks to see which would work well and the one that stood out to us was the Cabernet Sauvignon, which really took the whiskey in a very different direction flavour wise.
Teeling Single Grain as such is fully matured in ex-Californian Cab Sav barrels made out of French oak, and it produces a very different taste profile compared to Greenore. We also bottle at 46% with no chill filtration, which again is quite unique in the world of single grains and more associated with single malts. We have been delighted with the response and we have been honoured as the World’s Best Grain whiskey in both 2014 and 2016 at the World Whiskeys Awards.
As far as taste and quality are concerned, what are the most important distinctions between single grain whiskey and other whiskeys?
Single grain whiskeys are very rare and due to a smooth taste profile they’re normally blended with heavier styles of whiskeys to create most of the well-known brands of Irish and Scottish whiskeys on the market today. Grain whiskey is made through the combination of unique ingredients, predominately maize/corn, and the modern technique of column distillation, producing an exceptionally clean smooth and sweet Irish whiskey. The smooth sweet nature of grain whiskey provided a natural canvas to allow us to create a very unique style of Irish whiskey.
What characteristics are achieved by maturing the spirit in ex-wine casks?
To add depth of character, Teeling Single Grain is exclusively fully matured in Californian Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels, creating a very distinctive rich amber colour while imparting strong spicy notes and lush red berries and grape flavours. This proprietary maturation technique produces a very unique Irish whiskey of distinctive character while still being easy to drink. The balance between the sweetness of the corn, red berries of the wine influence and the spice of the French oak casks produces a truly unique whiskey, which is probably more similar to bourbon than what people expect from a traditional Irish whiskey. Like all the Teeling whiskeys it is bottled at 46% with no chill filtration allowing for all the natural flavours of the whiskey to be retained.
Any advice for emerging distilleries?
In order to have a healthy vibrant category of whiskey you need a range of strong independent producers to compliment the larger multinational players who currently dominate the category. The big guys can be very good at attracting people into a category through consumer marketing, but you need the smaller guys to bring the breadth and choice modern whiskey drinkers demand so that they stay excited by what you are doing.
What I always say to anyone looking to open up their own distillery is to ensure firstly they produce a good quality whiskey, but also make sure it is differentiated and unique so that you can create your own niche and help with the expansion of the category rather than directly competing with existing offerings. This way there is room for us all as the category evolves and expands.
What’s your favourite spirit to sip on (ideally from a different brand) when not sipping on Teeling?
I am a fan of any well-crafted spirit with a particular palate for single malt whiskey. I would consider myself not just a fan of good Irish whiskeys, but also a fan of any good whiskey. At present I am trying to taste as many new emerging single malts as I can get my hands and have a particular interest in Asian producers like Kavalan and Japanese malts along with some emerging American producers such as Westland in Washington.
What’s the best cocktail using Teeling Single Grain?
That is a very subjective question. I have had our Single Grain in many a well-crafted Old Fashioned in particular, one with walnut bitters that stands out. But one memorably cocktail I tasted recently is a classic re-interpreted and what we now serve in our distillery visitor centre bar. We call it the New York Sour.
New York does things bigger and bolder and this drink is no exception. Originally known as the Continental Sour, this riff on the classic sour adds a touch of class to an old standard. We’ve used our single grain whiskey to bring this one full circle.
New York Sour
- 2oz Teeling Single Grain
- 1oz Lemon Juice
- ½oz Simple Syrup
- ¾oz Egg White
- ¼oz Californian Cabernet Sauvignon Red Wine
- Suggested Glassware: Sour Glass
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously over ice and strain back into another shaker. Dry shake and strain into a glass. Float the red wine over the surface to serve.