Bourbon is hot, rye is so right now, but single malt is on the rise. Scotland is obviously ground zero for single malt whisky, but it’s not the only country where you can find it. In fact, a lot of other countries are producing single malt these days. Japan is killing it with their very traditional interpretation of single malt, and a number of American distilleries are knocking out solid versions that span the spectrum from “so very Scottish” to “are you sure this isn’t bourbon?” And Scotland’s sister island to the south, Ireland, puts out a boat load of single malt. Teeling, Bushmills, West Cork, Tullamore D.E.W., Tryconnell…they all put out a number of different single malts every year. We already reviewed a couple of variations from the lesser known Egan’s Whiskey. The rules that govern Irish single malt are very similar to the rules that Scottish distilleries adhere to: the whiskey must be aged in oak for at least three years and it has to be distilled from only malted barley at a single distillery. So, it’s typically high-quality stuff and hits the notes that Scotch drinkers love, which helps explain the high end price tag.
Tipperary is a relatively new player in the Irish single malt space, setting up shop in 2016. Right now, Tipperary is sourcing their whiskey from another distillery on the island, but eventually, the plan is to produce their own whiskey using barley grown on their own 200-acre farm. Think of it as the same trajectory as WhistlePig in Vermont—they’ve found some really good barrels that were lying around at another undisclosed distillery, did a little bit of fiddling and released them under their own label. And they’re following all the rules, so they’re not going to release their own whiskey until it’s aged at least three years.
I had a chance to check out a couple of different bottles, the Watershed and the incredibly Irish-sounding Knockmealdown. Here are my thoughts.
Tipperary chose six first-fill bourbon casks for the bottles of Watershed, cutting the barrels to 47% ABV with water from their own farm. There’s no age statement on the bottle, but given the light amber color, I’m guessing it’s a pretty young whiskey staying pretty close to that three-year minimum. There’s also no mention as to where the booze comes from. I guess it doesn’t matter; the important thing is that it tastes good.
Watershed has a really enticing nose—a little smoky, but lots of vanilla and the sip follows suit. If you’re thinking Tipperary would avoid the peat in order to distinguish itself from its Scottish neighbors, you’d be wrong. There’s plenty of peat in this whiskey. It’s earthy and smoky, with a little bit of salinity for good measure. But the caramel and vanilla are there too, as well as something fruity, like maybe raisins. And it all gives way to some pepper before a really dry finish.
It softens a little with ice, but the pepper still dominates and the peat doesn’t disappear either. Even though it’s aged in bourbon casks, this is a single-malt drinker’s single malt; smoky, salty, dry finish with lots of pepper. It’s a “scarf and one of golfer hat” kind of whiskey. A whiskey with no “e” kind of whiskey. If you’re a lover of smoky scotch, take note.
Knockmealdowns is named after a mountain range above the farm, which is where much of the farm’s water originates. It’s part of the “Mountain Range” series which will have bottles named after various peaks that surround the farm. This one was aged for 10 years in old bourbon casks, and it pours a hell of a lot darker than Watershed. It smells like leather and oak, so basically, the library room from the haunted hotel in Scooby Doo.
It’s a far more intriguing whiskey than Watershed as well. There’s not as much smoke, but it’s heavy and complicated. There’s plenty of leather on the sip, and 10 years is a long time to spend in a barrel, so you pick up a good bit of tannins from the oak. There’s a layer of sweet honey somewhere in the middle before finish that’s as dry as Watershed, but without the lingering spice. The whole thing feels very “old world,” which sounds cheesy as hell but true.
I put a little bit of ice in it to see what happens, and more caramel comes forward on the nose. The sweeter notes take over, but the leather and tannins almost completely disappear. In my opinion, this is the sort of whiskey that’s best served neat. It’s far more complex and interesting without the ice.
If you’re looking for a serious single malt that doesn’t make you feel like you’re suffering from smoke inhalation, this could be your next great bottle.