Distillery: Cooley (and soon, Kilbeggan Distillery)
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Current Owner: Beam Inc.
Age: at least 3 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Here's an Irish Whiskey that I didn't sample on my three visits to Éire. It's a whiskey full of stories with relatively happy endings.
In 1757, the McManus family opened the legal Old Kilbeggan Distillery in the Irish town of......Kilbeggan! John McManus, the first distillery manager, joined a group that rebelled against the British and then was promptly executed. The Codd family buys the distillery in 1794 and expands it, doubling the capacity. Success followed for over forty years until a large (drinking) abstinence movement and an economic downturn almost puts Kilbeggan out of business. The Locke family took over in 1843 and ran the distillery for over 100 years through booms and busts. US Prohibition, economic depression, and the Irish Revolution shook up the company, but it survived even through the second World War. A crash in the Irish Whiskey industry finally brought the distillery to a close in 1957, its 200th anniversary.
For the next thirty years, local folks help keep the silent distillery and its equipment clean. In 1988, the independent Cooley Distillery company purchased the Kilbeggan brand. Then in 2007, on its 250th anniversary, Old Kilbeggan Distillery began distillation again, using a 19th century pot still. Cooley plans to have the distillery produce pot still and single malts in the near future.
For now the Killbeggan blends are made at Cooley, using single malt and grains. For over 20 years, Cooley was the leading (and often only) independent distillery in Ireland. Several months ago, Beam Inc. purchased Cooley, ending their independence but expanding their potential product reach.
For those disappointed by the sale to the fourth largest beverage company in the world, consider that the two Scotch distilleries owned by Beam -- Laphroaig and Ardmore -- have put out tremendous product during Beam's ownership. See, I'm not totally anti-capitalist.
Last month I had a Saturday night to myself, so I took a walk down to our local decent Irish pub, Gallaghers, to watch two baseball games and two basketball games simultaneously while trying out Irish blends. I was successful in that endeavour. One of those blends was Kilbeggan. The bartender actually opened up a brand new bottle for me so I got the top of the juice.
Color -- basic whiskey gold
Nose -- paint + varnish + notebook paper but in a good way; give it some time and simple fruity sweetness slips in
Palate -- coarser than Powers, breakfast cereal (Frosties!, or Frosted Flakes for the Yanks), toffee, and granulated sugar
Finish -- moderate, lots of grain whiskey with sugar
Nose -- moderated into near silence
Palate -- gets considerably more sugary sweet
Finish -- gets considerably more sugary sweet
So, she don't swim so well. But neatly, Kilbeggan will appeal to those who'd like those elements in the Nose notes. I don't mind it, but wouldn't pay much for it.
On a final note, the super Oliver Klimek (of dramming.com and the Malt Maniacs) had a great post on an abrupt shift in the Kilbeggan character. In 2009, he tried it and loved it. In 2010, he bought a bottle, noticed its changed label and really noticed the changed whiskey. Seems as if Cooley has had to up the grain whiskey content in the blend in order to spread the malt out further, all to meet the rising demand for Kilbeggan. Oliver recommends that folks seek out the old pre-2010 bottles with the other label (see pic on the right) for a superior blended whiskey. I look forward to trying that one someday soon.
Okay, so maybe the whiskey itself doesn't sound like it had the happiest of endings, but its end hasn't yet arrived. But for now, the current bottling...
Availability - Many liquor stores
Pricing - Decent at $18-$22
Rating - 75