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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Single Malt Report: Trader Joe's Irish Single Malt

When we lived in Maryland, I was disappointed to discover that their Trader Joe's (TJ's) grocers were not allowed to sell alcohol.  It was difficult to describe to Marylanders how agreeable TJ's booze pricing can be.  And I am not talking about Two Buck Chuck.  That doesn't count.

Now I'm back in Cali.  And TJ's now has a well-chosen selection of whiskies -- Dalwhinnie 15, Balvenie Doublewood, Glenfiddich 12 & 15, Macallan 10 Fine Oak, Laphroaig 10, etc.  They also have their own label of Scotch whisky, though the quality of those have been mixed at best.

This year, much to my (and many others') surprise, a Trader Joe's Irish Single Malt suddenly appeared on the shelves.  Somehow TJ's had successfully contracted with Cooley Distillery to bottle some of their 4-year-old juice under the store's label.  At a price of $19.99.

New whisky at that price is difficult to pass up.  In LA, $19.99 is less than two glasses of mid-shelf booze at a bar.  For a whole bottle of something new, an IRISH single malt no less...

It's half full!
Label: Trader Joes
Type: Single Malt
Region: Ireland (Louth)
Age: minimum 4 years
Maturation: "single use bourbon oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

It was a bold move by TJ's to go with an Irish single malt, something not very familiar with the average drinker in The States.  And I use the word "was" because now that Beam Inc has taken over Cooley and announced that most of their independent contracts will not be renewed, we may not see this whiskey for much longer.

It's also a bold choice because the nose and palate of this whiskey is quite different than the usual Irish blend or Scotch single malt.  It's sorta its own soup.

Sku and the guys at L.A.W.S. gave this decent reviews.  And I'm going to agree with Sku, though the bottle says this is only matured in bourbon casks, there is undoubtedly sherry stuff in here.

At first sips, this one was a puzzler.  I couldn't get my mind around it.  But with some oxygen and time, it has improved and I've had better luck cracking the malt.

Color - light amber
Nose - sandy and/or dusty, teeny bit of smoke, smoky butter?, old notebook paper, winey tannins, hints of a sweet sherry and dried fruit
Palate - lots of cocoa, cloves, sweet malt, oak tannins, very drying
Finish - still very drying, mildly flat, cocoa

WITH WATER (near 33%ABV)
Nose - gets sugarier, some coconut oak stuff, starts to sniff more like a good blend
Palate - less cocoa but more vanilla, a little smoke, very oily and silky texture, still quite drying
Finish - goes weird here, a brief bitter vegetal vanilla puff

Though I don't recommend adding a few drips of water, this whiskey actually makes for a pretty good highball as the club soda brings out the palate's sweetness.

To be honest, I haven't been the biggest fan of Cooley's Irish single malts.  I do like the Knappogue Castle 12yr and the Tyrconnell finishes, but their Connemara bottlings and indie spinoffs have underwhelmed me.  This one sits somewhere in the middle.

On one hand: I won't go back for a second bottle of this TJ's malt.  It makes me yearn for Irish single pot stills.

On the other hand:  Some people are enjoying it quite a bit.  If you like the Cooley malts, then this may be your jam.  And at the price, it's a rarity and not much of a risk.

Availability - Trader Joe's
Pricing - $19.99
Rating - 75