Sunday, March 1, 2015

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey Comes To The USA

The rising trend of drinkable grain whisky now sees a new Irish entry, joining Cooley's Greenore expressions (6, 8, 15, and 18 year old).  It's Teeling Single Grain Irish whiskey, just under 6 years old, but boasting solid complexity and drinkability for such a young grain whiskey.  The explanation involves a flavored barrel maturation story - which is quite a common trend these days, but the Devil is in the details.  The payoff here is that this is worth drinking.  (Grain whiskey, a traditional part of blended Scotch and Irish whiskies, is distilled from un-malted grains, typically corn, wheat, barley.  Distillation typically happens on column stills, often in an industrial setting, with distillation taken to very high proofs - usually in the mid 90% abv.  The resulting spirit is very light and sweet.  Grain whiskey suffered a stigma until recently when luxury expressions such as Compass Box Hedonism, Nikka Coffey Grain, Greenore, and recently Haig Club appeared).

There's deep kinship between Teeling Single Grain and Cooley's Greenore single grain whiskey.  It starts with the mash bill:  95% corn and the rest malted barley.  There's also the distillery: Cooley.  Cooley is the distillery that John Teeling converted to whiskey from potato schnapps from 1985 to 1987 by adding column stills.  Teeling's Cooley was the first Irish whiskey distillery in Irish hands in generations and marked the resurgence of Irish whiskey's innovation and local pride.  Fascinating expressions include double distilled (as opposed to the usual triple distilled) and richly peated Irish expressions.  Cooley was breaking the mold and pushing the envelope.  Beam International ended up buying Cooley in 2012 for $95 million.  (Beam has since been purchased by Suntory International.)

But the Teelings didn't take the money and get out of the game.  John Teeling's sons Jack and Stephen have started a new distillery project in Dublin (the first in a century).  They have just distilled their first run.  But while the distillery part gets up to speed and the whiskey ages, they are selling stocks secured under contract from Beam's Cooley as part of the Cooley sale.  Teeling sells a small batch blended Irish whiskey, a single malt, and a 21 year old single malt, as well as this new single grain - which will launch in the USA this week for msrp $49.95 a bottle.  So this is the same distillate as Greenore - but the similarities end there.  The barrel maturation story is different from inception, with Greenore maturing in ex-Bourbon barrels and Teeling Single Grain maturing entirely in ex-California Cabernet wine barrels for just a bit under 6 years.

In Oliver Klimek's landmark Malt Maniacs epistle of 2012 called "Complexity in Whisky - Lost and Found" he describes how production method changes in the past quarter century have robbed modern whiskies of complexity compared to whiskies from decades in the 70s and prior.  Whisky makers have compensated with wood management, strong flavors, vattings, and using wine and other spirit barrels:

"And of course there also are the ever-popular cask finishes. If done right, they really can enhance a whisky, like adding a few bells and whistles to a chamber concerto. But when things go wrong they are like the roaring saxophone playing in the string quartet."

Klimek's hypothesis explains the wide spread of flavored barrel finishes and maturation.  Examples include Bill Lumsden's Glenmorangie and Ardbeg expressions, Jim McEwan's effusively creative Bruichladdichs, Lincoln Henderson's Angel's Envy, Rachel Barrie's Bowmores etc...  Teeling Single Grain isn't a wine finished whiskey.  It's matured in ex-wine barrels all the way.  It's a prime example of introducing other flavors into a simple spirit through the use of flavored barrels.  Teeling's Blended Irish Whiskey was finished in ex-rum casks.  The interesting wrinkle here is that this is a single grain whiskey getting the flavored barrel maturation treatment.  That's a fairly new thing - as single grain bottlings are still a pretty fresh segment.   But creative maturation schemes like this can be hit or miss.  Particularly with wine barrels.  The proof is in the glass.  So I took a wee sample and here are my notes...

Stephen Teeling presents

WhiskyCast's Mark Gillespie noses Teeling Single Grain

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey - 46% abv

Color dark gold with coppery glints.

Nose: vanilla custard, burnt sugar, grapefruit citrus and a hint of dark chocolate with candied orange peel (my friend Temma Ehrenfeld's note).   Linseed oil.

Palate:   Sweet opening with vanilla frosting and honey.  The sting of medicinal grain.  Then complexity on the expansion with some nutty rancio, dark grape, red fruits and a drying of the palate with oak tannin, musk, and a clean herbal note as you head to the finish.  There are gentle wafts of bubble gum and mint.

Surprising complexity for a 5 year old grain whiskey.  This is engaging stuff that challenges your expectations of what young grain whiskey can be.  It's light and sweet like you'd expect, but there's more richness and complexity too.  It's doesn't have the tartness you might expect from wine barrel maturation. 


Someone with a palate is doing some good things over at Teeling.  This is a company to watch.

(20cc Sample secretly taken from a launch event at Rye House in Manhattan, with Teeling Single Grain presented by Stephen Teeling.  Event arranged by Baddish Group.) 

Stephen Teeling presenting Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey at Rye House in Manhattan.


  1. This is engaging stuff that challenges your expectations of what young grain whiskey can be. It's light and sweet like you'd expect, but there's more richness and complexity too....

    Sounds like a girl.....(smile)

    1. OK. But that comment REALLY sounds like a girl! :) (Not that there's anything wrong with it!)

  2. Teeling has really caught my interest (I even like their Poitin!), enough so that I imported a bottle of this new single grain whiskey some months ago. Already a fan of Greenore, especially the older bottlings, I was excited to try this one ASAP and it did not disappoint. I think the fact that it got aged entirely in the California Cabernet barrels really creates something that sets it apart from the younger Greenore whiskey. A great new addition to the grain whiskey family. Next up for me is to track down the new NAS single malt made of a variety of finished whiskies.

    On a side note, in addition to the 21yo "Silver" single malt finished in Sauternes which might still be available (which I have and really enjoy despite the substantial price) they have also released a rare and very expensive 26yo "Gold" (finished in Burgundy casks) and even more expensive 30yo "Platinum" single malt which I have not tried (and likely never will!).

    1. Wow - you are really on this topic. I'll have to seek out those older rarer expressions. I hadn't even heard of the 26 yo Gold. That's fantastic. Thanks for the information.

    2. Kind of combines a long interest, Irish whiskey, with a new one, quality grain whiskey in general.

      Only one down side to the 26 and 30 yo Teeling single malts and that is a huge price point. Only a few of the Gold were released (about 1000 I think) and the price is probably upwards of $600 (on the plus side it is apparently still available...). The Platinum is even rarer as well as even more expensive. Which is why I suspect that sadly I will have to do without.

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