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Monday, March 17, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Jameson Gold Reserve Irish Blended Whiskey

Happy Irish Whiskey Day!

Two whiskey observations before I do the review.

1.  Green Spot single pot still Irish whiskey -- Yes, it made it to the US in time for St. Pat's Day.  But despite what one retailer says, it is not the Pappy of Irish Whiskey.  More like the Paddy's of Irish Whiskey, perhaps.  As someone who knows Mitchell & Sons' history and as someone who has long since retired his own bottle of Green Spot, I fail to see any connection whatsoever to Pappy Van Winkle.  I am happy that the whiskey has come to The States and pleased that said retailer has sold a lot of bottles.

Green Spot is good stuff; mellow, honeyed, even malty.  And a $40-$45 price point is not bad.  Once upon a time Green Spot was very limited.  But now it is being produced at one of the largest (if not the largest) whiskey factories in the world and Green Spot's production has expanded so that it can be sold in many countries rather than just one.  I've seen conflicting reports about how many cases are actually produced, so I recommend you take those reports with a grain of barley unless Midleton itself gives a figure.  There are at least 80 US online retailers (including Total Wine) selling it.  But if you miss out on Green Spot, it's all good.  It's just whiskey.  Plus there's plenty of Redbreast 12 to be had.

2.  Powers Gold Label blended Irish whiskey -- Price change alert.  If you don't already know, I'm CRAZY about Powers.  It was the perfect $20 Irish whiskey, in my opinion.  It was $20, sometimes $18 if you looked in the right places.  But in 2013, the price suddenly jumped 50%.  Powers is now selling for $27-$30.  Yes, they are rolling out a new version with a slightly higher ABV, but most stores are selling the old version at the new price.  As someone who has been known to shout the praises of Powers, I'm going to cease doing so at this new price level.  I don't see, read, or hear of any big demand for Powers in America.  Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one buying it in Los Angeles.  All of the bottles I have bought have been sitting on shelves for three or four years.  If I buy the new version, I'll review it.  But if your retailer only has the old version and is selling it at $30, I can't recommend it.  Do some snooping.  The old price is still out there, for now.

Now, onto today's whiskey: Jameson Gold Reserve.

Like most of Midleton distillery's blends, Gold Reserve is a mix of pot still and grain whiskeys.  Like many of the Jameson blends, Gold Reserve has a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks whiskeys.  Where the Gold sets itself apart is by the addition of some virgin oak cask-aged whiskey.  Because virgin oak maturation seems to be a craze at the moment, one could say that Jameson was ahead of the curve when Gold Reserve was first released 18 years ago.  They didn't even need to change the label, always listing that (featuring!) virgin oak factoid right on the front.

But the Gold Reserve doesn't have an age statement, so a consumer is left to wonder why it costs three to four times the price of the regular Jameson blend.  In fact, I was that very consumer.  I like Irish blends, I can stomach Jameson, but I wasn't going to by this thing blind.  Luckily I found a bar that served it up for a reasonable price.  I was sold on its quality right on the spot.  But the bottle price remained a problem, as it tends to be in the $65-$75 range.  I was more interested when Costco sold it for $55.  Then when I found a shop clearing it out for $44.99, I grabbed a bottle.

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: NAS
Maturation: a mix of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and virgin oak casks
Bottle code: L133631382 11:11
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

From my own bottle, sampled neatly from a Glencairn glass

The color is, um, gold.  The nose is clean and creamy.  Very Redbreast-ish, though with more honey and vanilla beans.  Clean laundry (without smelly detergent), apple skins, and pear juice.  Flower blossoms (roses?), hints of black pepper, white bread, and chicken stock.  I tend to dislike banana notes in whiskies, but here it works as it appears as fresh, not-too-ripe fruit.  With some time in the glass, the whiskey releases notes of fresh peaches and cinnamon buns.  The palate... take the basic Jameson's, then sand down the youthful sharp edges, and replace them with Boston creme-filled donuts and eclairs.  Then pears, white grapes, lime juice, brown sugar, and orange pixie stix.  Tons of vanilla and caramel in the finish.  Some confectioner's sugar and a slight tartness.  Much more pleasant than its cheaper brethren, and with a better length.

This is what some of us wish regular Jameson's tasted like.  Or from another perspective, it's Jameson Dessert Reserve.  The new oak is there, but mostly shows up as all of those vanilla notes.  All hints of spirity turpentine, varnish, or cheap vodka stuff are gone, replaced by creamy pot still character.

Whether it's worth $70+ depends on how much one is willing to spend to get a tasty Jameson.  It's my favorite Jameson US-release so far, but it doesn't have much competition.  Jameson Black Barrel is hideous; time, air, water, ice, earth, wind, and fire could not save my bottle of it.  In fact, it got worse as it went along until I had to abandon it altogether.  Jameson 12 is drinkable at best, but sells for more than Redbreast 12 (which really doesn't make any sense).  And while you may not care too much for regular Jameson's, it can still be found for $20.  Are you willing to pay a 250% premium for a sweeter, softer, more drinkable version?  I like Gold Reserve, but not enough to recommend it at that price.  I'm going to have some Powers tonight instead.

Availability - Most liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - $65-$85  (If you can find it for less than $50, it's a good deal.)
Rating - 86