With December coming to a close, it is time to take a look at the accomplishments of this year, and to look forward to the dreams of tomorrow. You can’t believe how difficult it was to keep that first sentence in this article. What I wanted to write was ‘I tasted excellent whiskies this year, and I’m looking forward to next year’. One of the brands that I’m looking forward to explore more extensively in 2020 is Dublin’s very own Teeling, which, after its successful rebirth, is now focusing on spreading its wings and taking off towards distant skies, promising daring expressions and intricate experiments. Yes, that’s a reference to a phoenix. I even managed to sneak in a nod to a Nick Cave song.
As lyrical and corny as the introduction to this in-depth article on Teeling’s past, present, and future might be, the facts are reason enough to feel joyous and merry. These last couple of years, the industry has experienced a proper Irish whiskey revolution, with an abundance of investments being made by big distilleries and experimental distillers alike. On the ramparts: Jack and Stephen Teeling, 2 brothers eager to revitalize Dublin’s distilling tradition, and with it, the good name of Irish whiskey.
And guess what? They are succeeding: “Irish whiskey has experienced dynamic growth for over twenty years yet still only commands 5% of the global market and the industry is expected to double over the next 10 years meaning this new Golden Era is just beginning” (teelingwhiskey.com). I have been a fan of Teeling ever since I sipped one of their expressions, and last year’s experimental Stout Cask and Chocolate Porter had me raving. It is obvious, then, that I was delighted to attend the “Rise of the Phoenix” masterclass at this year’s Spirits in the Sky festival. Here’s an overview of what I tasted.
Teeling Single Pot Still (Commercial Release)
Brand ambassador Darran Lovely introduced his masterclass, which he gave with bravour and a no-nonsense approach, with the Single Pot Still, or to be exact, with its first ‘formal’ release. After having experimented with different batches over the last couple of months, the experimental phase is now over. With its traditional Dublin recipe of 50% malted and 50% unmalted spring barley, triple distillation, and “matured in a combination of virgin oak, ex–wine and ex–bourbon barrels” (teelingwhiskey.com), some might think this is not a ‘traditional irish whiskey’. Well, no, it’s not. But it’s the Spirit of Dublin. And it’s good.
Teeling has a tradition of releasing almost all of their expressions at 46% ABV, and the Single Pot Still is no exception. In the nose, there are only slight hints of alcohol, but plenty of citrus and grape. Refreshing! With its rich flavours of spices and pepper, and peaches (which I identified first as apricot jam), this is a rewarding expression for its age (4 years old!). Having won the gold medal and voted “Best New Irish Whiskey”, I wonder what could be the result of a longer maturation.
A good start to an exciting masterclass!
Teeling Distillery Exclusive (Chinkapin Oak)
Next up, we were able to taste the 2019 distillery exclusive expression, which was matured on ex–bourbon casks for 6 years, and then matured for a full year on Chinkapin Oak casks. Wait? What now? Well, given the rather broad whiskey legislation in Ireland, a large variety of wood types are available for maturation. The Chinkapin Oak, also called the ‘Yellow Oak‘ or ‘Rock Oak‘, is found predominantly in Eastern- and Central North America.
The Chinkapin Oak expression is a premium blend of grain and malt whiskey (3:1 ratio), and from the start it surprises by being ‘different’. There is a woodier note on the nose, with sweeter flavours rounding out the scent. On the palate, liquorice, spice, wood, and hints of gingerbread or shortbread. This would be a good Christmas whisky, if you can get your hands on a bottle. With a limitation of 6,000 bottles at the distillery, it’s up to the generosity of those who already own the bottle to share and show off their ‘Christmas spirit’.
Teeling Renaissance N°1
As we continued the masterclass, I realized that we were venturing into the realm of ‘things to come’ and ‘things to dream of’. After the succes of the “Revival” series, Teeling decided to continue its story of rebirth with the follow-up: the “Renaissance” series, which will be released in yearly phases: 2020, 2021, and 2022.
The first release, known simply as “N°1“, is an 18y old Madeira finish Single Malt (15y ex-American Bourbon, 3y Madeira). At the time of the masterclass, the official bottles and packaging were not available yet, so we were presented a mysterious liquid of 46% ABV (Classic Teeling) in a mysterious bottle. But what a dram it was!
In the nose: dried red fruits, figs, spices, and toffee. A classic combination, you might think. But then came the tasting part. The Renaissance N°1 is a lovely, full–mouthed expression. Rich in flavour and texture, and bringing toffee, spices, and the warm yummy-yumms of apricot jam pastry to the lining of the mouth. If the Chinkapin Oak was a Christmas whisky, this is the ‘New Year’s Eve Countdown Extravaganza’!
I was told there would be 9,000 bottles available, and prices would be balanced around 140 euros. An excellent gift for anyone who loves whisk(e)y! And that includes me!
Teeling’s Limited Editions
After the reveal of the “Renaissance N°1” came the special releases. The things you can dream of, and which you want to own the moment you taste them. The only thorn in the side: the disappointingly low number of bottles available. The expressions we tasted are all part of the “Single Cask” range of Teeling. This explains the limited availablity, of course. But I can only be honest: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More! Now! Please and thank you.
In rapid succession (we were running out of time), we tasted the 2008 Single Malt Sherry Cask, the 1996 Single Malt Rum Cask, and the 1990 Single Malt Rum Cask (The Nectar Edition). Here are some notes, in the form of quick impressions:
- 2008 Single Malt Sherry Cask (298 bottles)
A cask strength (59,4% ABV) expression, matured for 11y on an ex-Oloroso sherry cask. On the nose: dark chocolate, salted caramel. On the palate: brown sugar and caramel, sweet but not overpowering, with a pleasant tingling dry aftertaste.
- Teeling 1996 Single Malt Rum Cask (255 bottles)
A 23y old single malt, finished in an ex-Central American Rum cask. Very light, scent-wise, with a gentle sweet note, exotic fruits, and hints of syrup. On the palate: more exotic fruits (I tasted flambéed pineapple, baked banana, mango), blended with rich syrupy sweetness, and a lovely dry aftertaste.
- Teeling 1990 Single Malt Rum Cask (The Nectar Edition) (116 bottles)
The final expression. The Special bottling by The Nectar for Spirits in the Sky 2019. 29 years old. An ex-Nicaraguan rum barrel. Hand-selected by the people at The Nectar. 53,4% ABV. Distilled in 1990 (my birth year, hint-hint). Dark rum influences. Papaya, Mango, Guava, Syrup, Jam. Heaven. Oh wow.
And that was it. The masterclass ended with a bang. Obviously, they knocked it out of the park with their limited editions. More importantly, however, Teeling showed what it is capable of. With a range of daring experimental releases, a core range that is probably one of the best in its price range, the arrival of the “Renaissance” series, and plenty more to come, I was shown what I already knew. Teeling is a brand which brings back tradition, but its not afraid to reinvent itself over and over again. Yes, like a phoenix rising from its ashes. Heh. There you go.