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Friday, November 22, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Concannon Blended Irish Whiskey

This report is kind of a bummer for me write.  I really wanted to support this stuff.  It's inexpensive, $20.  It has a good story -- the Concannon family moved to the US from Ireland and as immigrants in 1865 established a vineyard that still runs today.  And it is finished in their own petite sirah barrels.  I love me some petite sirah (petite syrah, petit syrah, petit sirah, et cetera), so I was hoping this might turn into something interesting.  So purchased it blindly.

The first few glasses from the bottle weren't bad.  In fact I liked them better than Cooley's Trader Joe's single malt.  I couldn't find the wine notes in the whiskey, but something (the corn?) was definitely keeping the issues I usually have with Cooley in check.  Then, by the time the fill level dropped to near mid-bottle (two months later) something started going wrong inside the bottle.  Once I got to the last third, it was bitter and unpalatable.

The shift was likely due to two factors.  This whiskey doesn't take to oxygen that well in a Glencairn glass, so the oxidation inside the bottle definitely did it no favors.  I also kept the bottle out in our dining room.  That's where I often put our house whiskies, the Tier 3s.  The dining room is the warmest spot in the condo, so the bottle spent some time in 80-85 degree heat on some days.

In any case, the last third of the bottle went down the sink.  But before things went too terribly in the bottle, I archived a sample to review.  So this report comes from somewhere around the bottle's halfway mark.

DistilleryCooley (owned by Beam Inc.)
Country: Ireland
Style: Blended whiskey (malt and corn)
Maturation: four years in "small" ex-bourbon barrels, four months in petite sirah casks; and though it's an American company, the maturation took place in Ireland
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Since the color is a light gold, I'm thinking/hoping the colorant is kept to a minimum.  Anise and rubber are the primary notes on the nose.  Secondary notes include blackberry jam, nail polish remover, toasted grains, and caramel.  After some air, the whiskey starts to take on some very different characteristics like coconut lotion, plastic bottle, and horseradish.  The palate is very Cooley, but grainier, rougher, and hotter.  Notes of cardboard cereal box, burnt plastic, and generic vanilla arrive first.  It's very thin and watery.  Give the whiskey ten minutes in the in the glass and the dull thud of bland spirit takes center stage.  The finish is mostly heat.  There's a burnt thing going on, cardboard, fresh red grapes, and mild bitterness.

The nose gets less synthetic once water's added.  The toasted grains and anise are still there.  But so is the nail polish remover, in the background.  A generic citrus note develops as well.  Lots of vanilla in the palate.  It's malty too.  But then something really wrong enters the picture and it makes me want to stop drinking.  I'm thinking it's the big bland spirit issue.  The finish is brief, spirity, and bitter.

I didn't finish my 1 ounce sample.  The whiskey was just going downhill too quickly for me to continue.

It's better neat.  The nose, though odd, isn't terrible.  The palate and finish indeed register as a cheap mild blend.  But I seriously do not recommend adding water.  With too many earthly elements reacting with the whiskey, it turns bad.

And keep in mind, I separated this sample before the whiskey got even worse in the bottle.  BUT, I'm giving the whiskey an extra half-star (or 5 or 6 points) in the rating because I know it had better days earlier in its life.  But I tell you this, if you open your Concannon Irish Whiskey bottle and like the stuff, you'd better not waste too much time getting to the bottom of the bottle.  If you open the bottle and don't like it from the start, I'm pretty sure it isn't going to get any better.

For a pair of more positive reviews see here and here.

Availability - many US specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $15 to $25
Rating - 69  (ranging from 75 to 63 during the life of the bottle)


  1. For similar reasons, I bought a bottle the last time we visited my in-laws. At the time, I would have given it 2 to 2 1/2 stars. Not bad, not great, but drinkable. I left the bottle with them, but now I'm going to have to ask my brother-in-law how it tastes at this point (provided he didn't already finish it).

    1. Yeah, it was 2 1/2 stars for me as well at the very start, then went downhill from there. Folks who were given official free samples for their blog reviews likely had samples that we're not yet oxidized. Then again, Florin (below) didn't like his own bottle from the very start. Am I and Scotch Noob the only folks who have posted negative reviews on this?

  2. I was able to consume maybe 1-2 oz from my bottle, before passing it on. My notes were as follows: "Not much going on. On par with JW red. Mostly grain whisky. The petit sirah finish subtle to imperceptible." I remember being more shocked than disappointed how bad this was.

    1. I agree, the wine finish was nowhere to be found. Was kind of hoping it would arise at some point and improve the whiskey. As I referenced in my above comment, I find it difficult to believe that Scotch Noob and I are the only ones to have posted negative reviews on this stuff.

  3. By the way, I'm on you, I know what you're doing, don't you think you can hide: reviewing all Cooley whiskies before Beam gets bought by Diageo, so that you don't break your Diageo fast. Am I right or what? You sneaky boy....

    1. Man, if Diageo ever does buy Beam Inc., I'm going to start reviewing potting soil for houseplants.