Teeling Distillery reflects both the difficult past and bright future of Irish whiskey.
Few spirits are hotter than Irish whiskey. But just 40 years back this category was nearly nonexistent. By the 1970s a series of unfortunate historical events had reduced this once world-dominating industry to just three distilleries. The category plummeted to just 1% of the world whiskey market.
Recovery was slow. Among the first bright spots was the founding of Cooley Distillery in 1987 by John Teeling. Profits were hard to come by during the first decade. But like the entire Irish whiskey industry, this distillery gradually achieved great success in the decades following the category’s low point.
In 2011, Jim Beam bought Cooley for $95 million. As part of that deal, Teeling’s sons Jack and Stephen kept a bunch of aging stock. Using those barrels, the Teeling boys continued their father’s legacy by opening Teeling Distillery in Dublin in 2015.
Which is why their whiskeys do not taste like what you might expect from such a young distillery. These are well-refined spirits, representing the spirit of innovation behind Irish Whiskey’s global renaissance.
I sampled four Teeling expressions during a dinner tasting last week in Manhattan:
1) Teeling Single Grain Whiskey
$49.99 per 750-ml. bottle
Irish Whiskey is now among the more creative categories, and this spirit shows why. Teeling Single Grain is 95% maze corn, 5% malted barley: a blend of whiskeys at least five years old, finished in ex-California Cabernet Sauvignon casks.
That’s a head-turner of a finish — and it works.
A tannic quality from the Cab Sauv casks adds an underlying dryness to this creamy, fruity, very sweet, somewhat nutty whiskey. Sweetness truly defines the Single Grain. Dryness from the finishing provides much-needed structure to what otherwise might be an overly sweet spirit.
2) Teeling Small Batch Whiskey
$39.99 per 750-ml. bottle
The mash bill for this blend averages out to 75% grain, 25% malted barley. It’s bottled notably high for Irish whiskey at 46% ABV, and was finished in rum casks — a technique we’re likely to see more of in this category.
The dark, sweet, spicy, tropical fruit notes from the rum compliment the sweet, lighter fruit notes of Irish whiskey. The rum flavors provide a strong, unique backbone to this complex and highly drinkable spirit. As the category continues to expand and innovate, expect to see more rum barrels end up in Ireland. This is a finishing technique that just plain works.
3) Teeling Single Malt Whiskey
$59.99 per 750-ml. bottle
The theme of Irish innovation continues with this rich, spicy, 92-proof single-malt. Teeling ages spirits for this blend in five different wine casks: sherry, port, Madeira, white Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The result of this unprecedented process is a bouquet of various sweets, fruits and spices. It’s richer, maltier and stronger than most Irish single malts, which tend to be light, fruity, and sweet — and are frankly among my least favorite types of whiskey. But this memorable sipper confirms that Ireland has something serious to say about single malts.
4) Teeling 24 Year Old
$499.99 per 750-ml. bottle
A 24-year-old whiskey at that price point alone warrants attention. With consumers paying top dollar for bourbon and Scotch, savvy shoppers should look into the Irish category for fantastic deals.
The Teeling 24 Year Old more than delivers at this price point. Like any fine older expression this one leaps aromatically from the glass. Rich dried fruit flavors define this decadently unctuous spirit, along with a peaty backbone — unusual for Irish whiskey. Teeling brand ambassador Kevin Hurley said that peated barley was added for extra structure.
The finish is as long and intense as you’d expect from a 24YO. I’ve honestly tasted richer, bolder whiskeys that can claim such an age statement, but it’s a minor criticism for a phenomenol bottle that belongs on the same shelf as any decades-old bourbon or Scotch — and will cost you half as much.
These four spirits speak well of Teeling’s future. The distillery is among a growing number that prove Irish whiskey has recovered from its beleaguered past and bloomed anew into an innovative, high-quality, globally popular category.
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece: 7 Trends In Whiskey In 2017.