With the recent off-the-chart sales of Irish whiskey, two brothers from a long heritage in distillation have decided it's time to return the craft to the country's capital—Dublin—where it's been on a hiatus of three-and-a-half decades.
Jack and Stephen Teeling, eighth-generation inheritors of a 232-year-long family tradition in Irish whiskey, have established a small batch expression under their own name, following a long involvement with Cooley Distillery (sold in 2012 to Jim Beam). They began importing to 17 states in the United States earlier this month and will introduce further examples when the rollout is completed.
By St. Patrick's Day of next year, they plan to have opened a distillery on Marrowbone Lane, in the center of Dublin, once a bustling neighborhood for whiskey- and beer-makers. It will be the first distilling operation in Dublin since consolidation of the industry moved most of the island's whiskey making to the Midleton Distillery, in County Cork, where Jameson's and other venerable brands arise.
The founder, Jack Teeling, says that the company's main thrust is to return flavor and complexity to a category of whiskey that has lately been known for its smoothness and approachability, but lacks challenge. Teeling Small Batch, a blend that combines whiskeys of between four and eight years old, also enjoys a finish in former Flor de Caña rum barrels for about six months. That marrying stage produces interesting notes of spice and raisins not usually associated with Irish whiskey.
Thus far, Teeling has operated as a bottler and not a producer of whiskeys. When the family (Jack, Stephen and their father, John) sold its interest in Cooley, they retained access to a supply of whiskey, which has been used to develop the existing Teeling expressions. (The company also has a 25-year-old and a clear whiskey, neither of which are yet available in the U.S.) The bottling operation, however, is infused with Teeling's commitment to innovation even as the company awaits its own distillation and maturation of whiskey. "I think people underestimate what a blender can do," says Jack Teeling.
The whiskey is also bottled without chill filtration and at a relatively lofty 92 proof (most of the category hovers at the minimum 80 proof level).
The distillery is slated to house three copper-pot stills to make single-malt whiskeys. For blending purposes, Teeling plans to turn to his father for grain whiskeys. John Teeling has subsequently established his own distillery in Dundalk, converting a shuttered Harp brewery with column stills.
While Irish whiskey is generally three-times distilled, the decision to follow that process is interesting as much of the whiskey from Cooley, maker of Connemara, the Tyrconnell and Kilbeggan, is twice distilled. Jack Teeling says that that is because triple distillation is a distinctively Dublin tradition, which he wants to follow.
He describes his approach as a mixture of reviving old traditions (such as mashbills from the past) and innovation. In that sense Teeling feels a kinship with the American craft-distilling movement. He also admits to a certain jealousy of that development. "It's so much looser in the U.S. They don't over-regulate and stanch ideas. I feel like, ‘If those guys can do it, why can't we?'"
(Cigar pairings on next page)
Teeling Small Batch (92 proof, or 46 percent alcohol by volume; $39.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Very light, straw colored. Legs come down in big, slow globs.
NOSE: The aroma has quite the floral-perfumed character at the starts, but then turns into dried fruits—peaches and pears—and honey.
PALATE: That lilting, floral side—so typical of Irish whiskey—quickly gains structure, and the fruits take over with a firm hand. Soon raisins, vanilla and a lacing of molasses are pacing back and forth. Next comes a dose of spice with a hint of saffron.
FINISH: The finish is long, reflecting the notes of the palate, and also introducing a fascinating nuttiness.
CIGAR PAIRING: La Palina Classic Lancero (7 inches by 38 ring gauge, $8.00, 92 points, Cigar Aficionado December 2013)
A toasty lancero that intensifies with each puff. Woody flavors become bold and strong with spicy licorice, coffee bean and caramel flavors. The finish is toasty with a touch of dried orange peel. The cigar elicits the hearty profile of the whiskey, which picks up on fairly every one of the La Palina's tasting notes—licorice, caramel, toast, orange peel—save coffee. As payback, the Teeling contributes a healthy dose of sweetness to the smoke. A robust give-and-take.
Diamond Crown Maximus Double Corona No. 1 (8 inches by 50 ring gauge, $18.30, 90 Points, Cigar Aficionado June 2014)
Large and dark with a fine burn and full draw. The smoke is rich and sweet, leaving impressions of coffee nougat and leather on the palate. The whiskey plants its molasses charms in this pairing, and the cigar takes off, getting sweeter and sweeter with each sip. Out come bits of chocolate and cherry. While the Teeling is the majority donor, it doesn't receive a lot in return, with the exception of some understated leather and saffron notes.