Teeling Irish whiskey aims to challenge norms with barrel flavors

Credit: Abel Uribe

Credit: Abel Uribe

It’s a delicate line. How do you craft something that’s recognizable yet wholly unique?

That was the question Alex Chasko, along with Jack and Stephen Teeling, asked themselves when they set about opening the first new distillery in Dublin in more than 125 years. They knew they wanted Teeling Whiskey to “challenge the norms of what it means to make an Irish whiskey,” Chasko said. But what, really, did that mean?

The possibilities were vast. After all, the only limitations they faced were legal; the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 mapped out the basic requirements for the spirit. The law is straightforward: An Irish whiskey must be made from a mash of malted barley (it may include other unmalted cereal grains); it must be mashed, fermented, distilled to no more than 94.8 percent alcohol by volume; it must be matured in wooden casks for at least three years in Ireland and/or Northern Ireland; it can’t contain additives (other than water and caramel coloring); and it must be bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume.

Beyond that, they had free rein. And that led Chasko, a Portland, Ore., native who is Teeling’s master distiller, to find ways to add a unique stamp to a portfolio of light, approachable whiskeys.

Take Small Batch, a blended whiskey that’s the distillery’s flagship spirit. It’s an Irish whiskey made from casks that are blended, then matured in barrels that previously held rum for about nine months. It’s a light, creamy whiskey packed with rum raisin, tropical fruit and honey notes. It’s sweet but not cloying.

Similarly, Single Grain is a corn whiskey that’s aged in California cabernet sauvignon barrels. It’s a surprising spirit, in part, because grain whiskeys are generally viewed as a “bulk spirit” produced to fill out a blend. “People tend to be put off by single grain whiskeys, but we wanted to show people that they can be nice, unique and interesting,” he says.

It is. It’s a gorgeous copper-colored whiskey that’s soft and buttery with red berry and spice notes, and a dry finish.

Teeling takes an experimental approach to whiskey-making, which is why it took nine months and 27 attempts to settle on the right blend for its Single Malt. Ultimately, Chasko settled on a multi-vintage spirit that melds whiskey that has been finished in port, sherry, white Burgundy, cabernet sauvignon and Madeira casks.

The whiskey’s nose has notes of marzipan, white pepper and honey, and a complex flavor that’s full of spice and cloves, citrus and vanilla.

Teeling’s whiskeys are unmistakably Irish whiskeys. But they’re often not what you expect.

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