When some Scotsmen, already distillers of Scotch, decided in 1999 to begin distilling a gin, they had the good sense not to name it something like MacAlastair’s or MacFarlane’s. I think this counts as a case of mind over matter: no matter what the gin tasted like, with a name that evoked Scotland and Scotch whisky, it would simply not taste right. Instead they christened it Hendrick’s, a name seemingly well chosen for its lack of a very obvious national character. It sounds like a name from the British Isles, to be sure, but from where within them, precisely? It stands fairly solidly on its own, a fate that the distillers may well wish for their gin. Continue reading Hendrick’s Gin
[PLEASE SEE CRUCIAL ADDENDUM TO THIS REVIEW AT BOTTOM]
If vous are like moi, you certainly don’t associate France with whisky (or even with whiskey). Cognac and brandies, to be sure, but not the kind of whiskies one might order on the rocks or mix with soda and guzzle while gobbling peanuts or potato chips. So very un-French. Indeed, the one time that yours truly visited France, I tried ordering some favored spirits on the rocks, and was disappointed; the portions were skimpy, the glasses were inappropriate, the ice was bad, and the drink just plain didn’t feel right while sitting on a sidewalk in Paris. I soon realized that one should not try to drink like an American while in France. Instead, drink like the French do: alternate red wine with cappucinos, act blasé, and take August off.
Yet, it turns out that French whiskies do exist, and, like so many things both good and bad these days, they appear to be multiplying uncontrollably.
Let’s try to get a handle on at least one, recently encountered, which goes by the name of “Bastille.” The large “1789” on the bottle does not refer to the origins of the whiskey, which are considerably more recent, but instead to an event known as the French Revolution. (I suppose they don’t mind if a few impulse-buyers are fooled.)
It is described as a “hand-crafted whisky,” distilled from wheat and barley, and utilizing water “naturally filtered for centuries through Grande Champagne limestone.” It is a blended whisky. It is aged in wood casks, “including the most luxurious French Limousin oak.”
Cutting to the chase Continue reading Bastille 1789 (a French Whisky)
The Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, describes itself as the oldest licensed distillery in the world, and no one seems able to mount a serious challenge to that assertion. The license to distill in that spot was granted by King James I in 1608.
As with my previous considerations of Jameson and Tullamore Dew, this review is only concerned with the plain, common man’s variety of Bushmills Irish Whiskey; i.e. the Bushmills Original blend, sometimes known as Bushmills White Label or just White Bush (there being another popular but pricier blend by the same distiller called “Black Bush”). And as with Jameson and Tullamore Dew, Bushmills is a triple-distilled blended whiskey, and that’s enough on the technical end.
Speaking of Bushmills cannot but be a little personal for me. I was relatively young when I decided (or realized) that I was not cut out for drinking beer. One is always fine, but any more than that is just too much liquid. I find it wearying to consume. So, I looked to the spirit world for guidance. To order a mixed drink all the time seemed like it might be a bit fey, not to mention the link to monster hangovers. Being of Irish stock, I made a try of drinking Jameson, but as my review would’ve hinted, it did not ultimately please. I think I went straight from there to Scotches. I tried single-malts occasionally, but my standard go-to in a bar became the blended J & B. It was unostentatious, and quite sturdy enough for my youthful palate, although a little problematic to order in a loud bar since it was sometimes misheard as “Jim Beam,” which I found wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Continue reading Bushmills Irish Whiskey
Jameson Irish Whiskey is easily the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world. It has long been a fixture as such; if a bar stocks only one Irish whiskey, it is almost certainly going to be Jameson. I’m not the sufficient historian to know how and why this came to be so. But it likely has something to do with the fact that Jameson was one of the few survivors of the destruction of a once-thriving international market for Irish whiskey, caused by a trade war with Britain and worsened by the era of prohibition in the United States, both events occurring early in the twentieth century. In addition, being a whiskey manufactured in the Republic of Ireland, Jameson has arguably generated loyalty from many Irish expatriates and their descendants, as opposed, say, to the “Protestant” Bushmills Irish Whiskey from Co. Antrim.
Whatever the reasons for Jameson coming to connote “Irish whiskey” in much of the world, I do think that Jameson’s dominance explains why Irish whiskey has had such a low status for so long. (This has been changing in recent years with a proliferation of good quality new and resurrected brands.) Jameson—and here I am speaking of the plain, ordinary type and not the single-malt and aged varietals—is simply not a good whiskey.
Before I get more specific about my dislike of it, however, I’d like to indulge in a brief reminiscence that perhaps shows how even bad liquor finds its appropriate place.
Those who traveled back and forth between Ireland and the U.S.A. in past years and decades would undoubtedly remember a strange feature of the trip: the forced stop at Shannon Airport. That is, if you had booked a flight from the U.S.A. to Dublin (the capital city on Ireland’s east coast) you would fly across the Atlantic for six and half hours or so, and then, with your destination about fifteen minutes away, the aircraft would descend and land on Ireland’s west coast, at Shannon, a place that seemed more of a glorified airfield than a true, busy international airport. Passengers would be required to leave the plane, for perhaps an hour and a half or so, and then would have to get back on so the plane could take off again for one of the shortest jaunts a jumbo jet would ever make, over what seemed just a few fields and rivers to Dublin city. Although Shannon was at one time a standard refueling stop, nobody was fooled as to why this stopover was maintained as a compulsory one for modern transatlantic airliners; its purpose was only to provide work to the employees of that airport, and to get the travelers to open their wallets in various ways. Indeed, duty free shopping originated at Shannon Airport. And that is not the only thing that Shannon Airport gave to the world. Continue reading Jameson Irish Whiskey