Irish Blended Whiskey Tasting

Recently, the WOL crew and I did a blind tasting of five blended Irish whiskeys. They were a mix of established and newer brands, all non-age statements, and cost under 50 euros each. We ranked these whiskeys based on what we liked from most to least without going into too much detail on the notes or scoring as we wanted to enjoy comparing them side-by-side and see if some of these newer brands can stack up to established drams.

Blends have always interested me as a whiskey drinker. It is how I got introduced to whiskeys and, most likely, how many other whiskey consumers were too. Blends dominate the category and the market leader, Jameson, still holds more than 70% of the market. We are now spoilt for choice here with over 40 distilleries and new releases almost every week, but for export markets, which accounts for 95% of Irish Whiskey sales, they are still primarily driven by blends.

An Irish Blended Whiskey is defined officially in the technical file as a blend of two or more different whiskey types from the “Pot Still Irish Whiskey/Irish Pot Still Whiskey”, “Malt Irish Whiskey/Irish Malt Whiskey” and “Grain Irish Whiskey/Irish Grain Whiskey” varieties. It’s often a blend of one or more of the more-flavoursome Pot Still, or Malt mixed with a higher proportion of the more-neutral-flavoured, and usually cheaper, Grain. In contrast, “Blended Scotch Whisky” needs to have one or more Single Malt Scotch AND one or more Single Grain Scotch whiskies. This means blended Scotch contains grain whiskey but not all blended Irish will.

Blends play multiple vital roles. For the producer, its quicker to produce high quantities of it, thanks to continuous distillation using column stills for the grain component. This volume can then help secure listings and distribution. This could be a gateway for future growth for smaller and newer distilleries. In contrast, entry-level blends for established distilleries are usually cash cows for the portfolio and more premium blends like Midleton Very Rare and Johnnie Walker Blue Label, bring in higher margins. For the consumer, aside from being a gateway into the category or brand, the cheaper blends usually go in to Irish coffees, hot toddies, and cocktails. We love our Single Pot Stills and Single Malts, but blends are here to stay, so we might as well find ways to enjoy them as much as the others!

So back to the blind tasting. My wife prepared three sets of five samples to ensure we were all tasting blind. The samples were sent to the WOL team, and we jumped into a Teams video call. We tasted the whiskeys in order from one to five, talked about the nose, the palate, and the finish of each and gave our scores. In the end, we ranked them 1 to 5. Once each of our rankings was shared with the group, I went to get the cheat sheet for the reveal.

The five whiskeys we sampled and their purchase price were:

  • Jameson (€20)
  • Powers Gold Label (€23)
  • Copeland Merchant’s Quay (€39.95)
  • Dunville’s 1808 (€34)
  • Lough Ree Bart’s (€46)

Our rankings from what we liked the most to least:

Dave

  • Copeland Merchant’s Quay
  • Jameson
  • Lough Ree Bart’s
  • Dunville’s 1808
  • Powers Gold Label

Mike

  • Copeland Merchant’s Quay
  • Lough Ree Bart’s
  • Jameson
  • Dunville’s 1808
  • Powers Gold Label

Jon

  • Copeland Merchant’s Quay
  • Lough Ree Bart’s
  • Jameson
  • Powers Gold Label
  • Dunville’s 1808

The reveal was fun. We did not expect to be unanimous for top place, and nobody ranked the whiskeys from the most expensive to the cheapest telling us that there are some excellent value blends on the market. All the whiskeys were enjoyable, and there really is no last place since the five samples are just a sliver of what’s available out there.

Tasting them side-by-side, surprisingly for our curious minds, showed the versatility of Irish blends and the quality of what new distilleries are releasing as well as how tried and tested brands are really keeping up. It would even be more interesting when more distilleries release their own whiskeys. If Irish producers, bonders, and bottlers can keep the quality as high as their pace, then there’s no doubt Irish whiskey has a bright future ahead.

3 thoughts on “Irish Blended Whiskey Tasting

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