If you’ve been reading the blog for a year or so now you’ll know that once in a while I’ll review a whiskey that isn’t bourbon. And if you’ve been paying attention you’ll also know that it’s usually Irish whiskey that I’ll wander off and explore a bit. Of course, if you know me really, really well you’ll know that I really have no experience with Irish whiskey that justifies me writing a review that someone might actually read and use for advice. So by all counts I should probably stay away from writing another Irish whiskey review, but then again, when I first started out writing about bourbon I really didn’t have any formal experience to build upon. In other words, you’ve got to start somewhere. And since the folks at Castle Brands were kind enough to send me a variety of Irish whiskey samples from their portfolio it’s my duty to try them out and report back to all of you on my findings. But beware, I’m no expert on Irish whiskey so be cautious with how much you trust my tasting notes.
I’m going to skip the typical background stuff on each of the Irish whiskeys I tasted so we can get right into what matters most. For those of you wanting to learn more about each one I’ve added in a link to the brand’s website for more information.
Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt
Knappogue Castle 14 Year Single Malt Twin Wood
Proof: 90 Age: 12
Nose: Green apple | Pear | Banana
Taste: Peach | Honey | Dusty Oak
Very light tasting, especially when compared to the bourbons I typically drink. The bursts of fruit flavor were delightful. A nice change of pace from the heavier vanilla, caramel and oak flavors of bourbon. Finish was smooth with a lovely lingering burn that kept coming surging back again and again. Along with the burn there was a lingering peach flavor that was a surprise to me. Adding water killed the dusty oak notes which elevated the fruit notes even further – almost too much. For that reason I’d stick to drinking this one neat so the flavors are more balanced and slightly more complex.
This one was similar to the 12 year in terms of being full of fruit flavors like green apple, pear and peach with some added spice notes on the edge of the finish. Smooth, yet more full-bodied than the 12 year with a slight burn in the back of the throat accompanying those spice notes I mentioned. Malt notes come through stronger in this one as well and the addition of water further amplified them resulting the fruit notes being muted. This resulted in an unbalanced whiskey with out-of-place oaky barrel spice notes. Definitely stick to drinking this one neat. I also noticed a slight nutty aftertaste which was not at all unpleasant.
Knappogue Castle 16 Year Single Malt Sherry Finish
Clontarf 1014 Single Malt
Proof: 80 Age: 16
Nose: Green apple | Pear | Banana
Taste: Peach | Honey | Dusty Oak
The nose on the 16 year also consisted of fruit notes similar to the 12 and 14 year olds. I found the finish to be surprisingly short and lacking in the warm glowing burn that I enjoy so much. While the body of this whiskey can stand up to some added water, I found that it dulled the citrus notes a little too much. However, it did bring the lingering and surging burn that I long for in a good whiskey. Based on that I say add a bit of water and enjoy the burn.
The nose on this one really caught me off guard. Maybe it was because I tried this after all of the Knappogue whiskeys which had strong citrus notes. Regardless the aroma reminded me of rubber or plastic with the addition of nail polish remover. In the background I picked up some malt and honey spice but not enough to make me feel better about taking a sip. Luckily this one tasted nothing like it smelled. I noticed a decent spice on the tongue but little to no finish. I would have liked more complexity in the finish but this one is very young at only 4 years. Adding a splash of water rounded out the flavors and muted the harsher grain notes. I recommend drinking this one with water at all times.
Smooth with a slight spice which was a pleasant surprise. No burn and the finish was very short. But that’s okay as the focus is on the sweetness of the finish. I personally would drink this one neat since adding ice caused it to be overly sweet. Chilling it in the freezer however solved the issue for my wife who wanted to drink it cold but without ice. She really loved this one and actually asked that I purchase a bottle to have on hand at all times. High praise indeed from the Red Head. While I don’t typically go in for sweet drinks like this I have to admit I found it better tasting than bourbon liqueurs like Wild Turkey American Honey.
As I stated at the top of this post I’m no expert on Irish whiskey and that holds true even after making my way through all five of these whiskeys. In fact, I’d say that I’m probably more confused than ever at what constitutes a good Irish whiskey. There are far more skilled taste buds out in the market on this topic should you want a more experienced opinion. But since you’re already here let me wrap things up with a final word on whether or not you should consider trying any of these out for yourself.
I found all three of the Knappogue Irish whiskeys to be enjoyable and enjoyed the change of pace they brought into my singular focused world of bourbon. However, even the cheapest of the three, Knappogue 12 Year at $42.00, seems a bit pricey. As the price goes up for each of the other bottles in the line-up I think it feels even more overpriced. I have a hunch based on my limited Irish whiskey experience that there are much better whiskeys, and values, to be had in the market. As for the Clontarf…I would skip it entirely. While inexpensive at $20.99 it simply didn’t match up to my palette in any way that would justify investing in a bottle. That leaves the Celtic Honey Liqueur for consideration. Liqueurs really aren’t my thing but this one surprised me by not being to overly sweet. At $22.00 I’d have no problem having a bottle around for the Red Head, guests and the rare occurrence when I felt like mixing things up a bit with a sweet after dinner drink.
So there you go. A complete set of Irish whiskey reviews just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks again to the fine folks at Castle Brands for allowing us to explore their Irish to the Core portfolio of products knowing that we’re really bourbon drinkers. As always let us know in the comments what your experience with these whiskeys has been so others can learn from your tasting notes and opinions.
Patrick Garrett, "Pops" as he's known to his friends, is the founder of Bourbon & Banter, LLC and claims the title of Chief Drinking Officer (CDO). A long-time marketing professional and photographer, Pops hopes to use his professional experience and love of Bourbon to spread the Bourbon Gospel and help everyone realize the therapeutic power of having a good drink with friends. Read Patrick's full profile.