Connemara Cask Strength Peated Irish Whiskey

Ireland – 58.5%ABV – 750ml bottle – $54 and up | £42 | €47

What an interesting whiskey this is!  Many of you who know me or a regulars of this blog know or can see that I, for the most part, stick to Scottish single malt whiskies and will, on occasion, dabble in the American whiskies.  I tend to steer clear of Irish whiskies.  Not because I do not like them or have a prejudice toward the Irish, I plum just don’t know much about Irish whiskies or what to expect from them.  I aim to change this and I’ve got to say Connemara is helping me!

When I think of Irish whiskey, like many Americans, I just think of Jameson (the standard entry level stuff) right away.  Dr. Whisky, by the way, actually has a nice post on Jameson which can be found here.  It’s nice enough but nothing to cry home about and certainly not an every day dram (at least not for me).

So after reading a few reviews of the Connemara, realizing that it was St. Patty’s day and hearing some nice stuff about it from my friends Gal & Kfir over at Whisky Israel, I decided to pick some up.

A peated Irish whiskey [you say]??  Yes, a peated Irish whiskey indeed.  This, unlike most Irish whiskies is distilled only twice (as with most Scottish whiskies); the vast majority of Irish whiskies are distilled three times. Connemara whiskey is matured in ex-bourbon casks (not sure if they are first fill, 2nd fill, etc…) which also adds in the overall flavor.

So, here’s how it all went down:

Initial whiff Huh… Chinese food, Lo Mien perhaps?  Very floral (salted celery?) but quite sooty.  The peat is so strange here, not smokey at all.  Like soot on a steel pipe from a barrel stove (I used to have a barrel stove in a wood fort my old buddy Jason and I stole.  I tell you the story some time.  Funny stuff.  Ah, the things 13yr olds do…), honey and very grassy.  Strange though, I can’t shake the Chinese food…

On the mouth Even at almost 60%ABV, it’s not that hot (though I’ve got a fairly high threshold).  What a mix of flavors!  Again, the peat is not a really smokey peat, more vegetal really.  With some water, this stuff is quite creamy, not sweet however.  Its all about various types of root veggies with chocolate, unsweetened mind you.

Finish Long, sooty again and some honey comes back.  Not sure how old this stuff is but I am not getting a ton of oak.  Peppery and maybe a little white chocolate.

In sumYou know, after a few minutes, there’s an after taste that’s a bit odd.  Not bad but not super pleasant either.  I guess the best remedy for that is to drink more!  Actually, I did, the very next day and started off with water.  In so doing, I did not get that after taste — could have been something I ate the day before…  This is a good one.  It’s a contemplative dram, lots to discover here, though, maybe I’m digging to deep…

Check out what others are saying about it:

Dr. Whisky

For Peat’s Sake

The first in a new series of interviews – A Day in the Life of…

Serge Valentin of whiskyfun.comWhiskyfun

I’ve decided to start a new series of interviews to help demystify some of the many aspects of the whisk(e)y industry.  Who makes it, how they do it, how they got into it, how to they sell, promote it, market it, etc…

While this series is called “A Day in the Life” (the title was inspired by the Beatles, in case you didn’t spot it), it will focus on more than a day in the life of a Cooper, Sales Person, Ambassador, Master Distiller, Independent reviewer/critic, etc…  I will try to get a little personal (without making said person blush).

Being that Serge just interviewed me on, I figured turnabout was fair play and asked that he be my first interviewee.  Praise be to the dude upstairs, Serge agreed.

Serge’s Whisky Fun site has helped me, and continues to help me along this strange and wonderful journey through the world of whisky.  His website, as it currently exists, has been up and running since 2002 and he posts whisky reviews nearly every single day.  Quite amazing really.

Serge, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.  I hope and trust that it will help readers better understand, who you are, what you do, how you do it and, perhaps more importantly, what drives you.  Cheers brother!

Readers, read on:

Yossi: Serge, you have new postings/whisky reviews almost every single day.  Could you describe your process?

Serge: Basically, I gather samples and bottles from friends and from festivals or shops, and get samples from the bottlers or sometimes retailers as well. I register them all in a ‘rolling’ database of +/-1,200 whiskies and then compose tasting flights of two to, say six or seven whiskies, usually from the same distilleries or sometimes even vintages as I feel comparisons are key to properly assessing whiskies. When I feel I’m in a good shape, I’ll usually do ‘large’ sessions with three to four flights, most of the time during the weekends, and publish all that in chunks. I know people often think I’m tasting whisky every single day but that isn’t true. Sometimes I have no time, or I’m not in the mood, or I feel I’m not in good shape (the use of reference malts or benchmarks comes very handy to check that).

Yossi: Do you have a preferred time of day in which you taste and why?

Serge: Yes, usually between 4pm and 8pm. Before 4pm the latest meal’s influence may be too high and I do not follow a specific diet just to optimize the tastings 😉 and after 8pm my senses are often too tired. Doing and writing up such tastings require a lot of attention, especially since English isn’t my mother tongue (and God knows my little writings are still foul more often than never.) Also, I’ll never taste whisky when I know I’ll have to drive or ride a motorcycle, for obvious reasons, unless I have a chauffeur (read my wife or my children).

Yossi: One thing I try to focus on is what dram to drink for a particular mood or season.  Do you approach whisky in a similar manner (when not doing reviews, just drinking for the enjoyment)?

Serge: The problem is that all these tastings do not leave me much time for casual drinking, especially since I’m also much into wine – no I have no wine blog. Sometimes I’ll have whisky with friends after dinner, that is to say late at night, and I’ll usually focus on the best whiskies I’ll have tried in the previous weeks, whichever the distilleries, regions or styles. So no, not really ‘season’ drams I’m afraid, although a superb citrusy Bladnoch or Rosebank may match a sunny July afternoon better than a heavily sherried Laphroaig.

Yossi: I noticed on your website there is an image there of a spittoon with the caption “We want Spittoons!”  Can you explain what that is all about?

Serge: Yeah, that wee campaign was organized a few years ago when one of my son’s friends got killed by a drunkdriver who had just attended a wine festival. Anybody should ‘drink responsibly’ and certainly not drive after having swallowed alcohol, but I believe people who organize tastings, festivals or even distillers should make that easier by providing spittoons, or any other kind of empty container, and tell the tasters that it’s okay to spit. What happens too often is that you’re provided with one single glass and several drinks to taste, while there’s no spittoon, which ‘pushes’ some people to empty their glasses by swallowing everything so that they can get the next dram, which, moreover, is usually better than the previous one! Spittoons should be obligatory.

Yossi: Another item I saw on is an image that says “WAR! Of the whisky fakers”  Can you describe this?  How big would you say the faker industry is?

Serge: It’s not quite an industry but believe me, all serious whisky collectors got caught at least once. There are various kinds of fake whiskies around, not mentioning the huge amounts of popular blends such as Johnnie Walker Red or Black that are forged in Asian, African or South-American countries. Basically, you have fake old bottles (for example, a rather mundane – but good – old Macallan 8yo bearing a 25yo label, or an old bottle of blend with a copied or even imagined label for a rare old single malt). On the other hand, you have also refills, that is to say a genuine bottle of 30yo that’s been refilled with a regular 10yo. That happens with brands that haven’t been careful enough, for example bottles that have cork stoppers and easily removable and replaceable foils. A very trendy Islay distillery starting with an A springs to mind.

Yossi: Have you been faked out in a whisky purchase?  How did you find out?

Serge: Oh yes. I have at least five obvious fakes in my stash and maybe others. The first time I found out about one of them it was a very old Suntory that I had bought on eBay. I googled it while looking for more data about the historical side of the bottle (it was a bottle for the US Army in Japan) and stumbled upon an older eBay page. It was the very same bottle, same scratches on the label and so on and it had been sold to ‘my’ seller a few weeks earlier. The problem is that it was empty at the time, whilst it was full and sealed when I bought it! That hit a nerve and I started some pages about fakes, with the help of some very knowledgeable experts such as Sukhinder Singh, Carsten Ehrlich or Dave Broom. Some bottlers have been very helpful as well, such as Springbank or Diageo while others have been, say not so helpful. Mind you, you wouldn’t want to see your super-premium brand name being associated with forgeries, would you! I also remember I had published a picture of a suspicious bottle that I had found on a specialized auction house’s website but the latter instantly threatened me with some lawsuit instead of trying to explain why they thought it was genuine. Very helpful! Anyway, I started to get dozens of daily emails asking for bottle authentication (sometimes regular bottles of J&B or Teacher’s that some guys had found in grandpa’s cupboard, or even just bought at the nearest supermarket) so I decided to stop all that, much to the relief of some distillers, I’ve been told. But the pages remain online as a wee guide, you can find them at

Yossi: How did you get into whiskies?  Do you have a story that goes with it?

Serge: It’s been a long process that started in the late 1970s when I visited Glenlivet Distillery with some friends and bought my first bottles of malt as soon as I was back in France. There weren’t many at the time, Cardhu ‘white label’, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet… Ten years later I attended my first serious tasting session at Mark Reynier’s La Réserve in Knightsbridge. A dozen old official Springbanks (pear-shaped or not) lined up… Moving! I still remained a casual whisky drinker before another trip to Scotland and the discovery of an amazing shop thanks to my friend Olivier: Robertson’s in Pitlochry. Imagine dozens of old Signatory bottlings lined up, with all these beautiful colours. Ardbeg 1967, Laphroaig 1966, Springbank 1969… I started to buy (a little) less wine, and much more whisky!

Yossi: Other than independent reviews, do you have a profession within the whisky industry?

Serge: Strange question Yossi. Had I a profession within the industry, would I really be independent? Seriously, the answer is ‘nope’. But I’m an owner of some advertising agencies, which is probably almost as bad.

Yossi: Did you have a gateway whisky?

Serge: Hard to tell. Maybe these old Springbanks that I tried in London twenty years ago, or the very first Brora ‘Rare Malt’ that I tried later. Why don’t all single malts taste like a 1972 Brora?

Yossi: Looking at all of your top whiskies, there seems to be a theme; peat, peat and more peat.  A bit of an exaggeration, I know, but the majority of whiskies seem to be the peatier ones.  Do you have a preferred Scotch whisky region?  Or time period for that region?

Serge: I beg to disagree! Now it’s true that there are many peated whiskies in my top lists. Old Ardbegs, Laphroaigs, Lagavulins, Bowmores, Caol Ilas, Broras, Port Ellens, Ledaigs, Longrows… I feel peat brings another dimension to old whiskies, it sets them apart from other aged golden spirits such as calvados, cognac or armagnac, or even rum, whilst unpeated or very lightly peated old whiskies tend to resemble brandies or rums as golden spirits tend to converge when they age well. Peat also transmutes in a beautiful way, it can be replaced with myriads of tiny ‘tertiary’ aromas and flavours in a well-aged peated whisky (either aged in wood or in its bottle but that’s another story). As for younger whiskies, let’s not forget that a heavy peatiness, just like a heavy sweetness (ah, new oak or first fill bourbon!) or ‘sherriness’ will mask many of the flaws that are inherent to a young immature spirit. That’s also why, I believe, many very young peat monsters are surprisingly good whereas a Speysider of similar age is usually too spirity, mashy and ‘simply fruity’ (apples, pineapples, pears). But as usual, there are many exceptions.

Yossi: You use the 0-100pt rating system. When rating whiskies, if you gave a bourbon 90 points and a Scotch whisky 90 and a Japanese 90 points (just pulling numbers out of the air), would you say that they are equal to each other?   Is the 90pt Scotch better because it’s “Scotch”?  Or, are these all in a league of their own not to be compared to each other?  Please explain.

Serge: In my system, all drinks are equally treated, which means that should a Japanese and a Scotch (or even, say a tequila) be given the same score, that would mean that I think that they’re of equal quality indeed. I know some people say that that means comparing apples and pears. Why not? Both are fruits. But that works only because I believe a score is only a way of summing up one guy’s opinions in a numerical form, and certainly not a judgment or any kind of gospel. A score (whichever the way it’s expressed, 100-scale, 20-scale, stars, thumbs up, pictograms) should always go with complete tasting notes and any reader should first try to know a bit about the taster’s preferences, background and experience before taking any score into account. Ultimately, it’s always better to try the whisky yourself. I also insist on comparing. I think trying a whisky alone or alongside wildly different other whiskies does not allow proper assessments, you have to compare a whisky with similar whiskies (say, three 20-25yo Cragganmores) and with reference whiskies that you know very well as well (say Ardbeg Ten, HP 12 and so on) to be able to find some kind of consistency. It’s not perfect but I believe it’s the only way not to score the same whisky 80 pt one day and 85 pt the next day. Now, I’m afraid total accuracy and consistency are impossible to achieve, no taster is a machine.

Yossi: A large focus on your website is music.  Where do your tastes lie?

Serge: Firstly, jazz, especially avant-garde or ‘free’ as we used to call it. Also opera, blues, good rock and roll, African music, Asian music, Brazilian… I try not to post too much ‘avant-garde’ music on Whiskyfun but I’m trying to let people discover rather rare or little-known artistes. Should I stop blogging about whisky one day, I’ll probably blog more about music. You can live without whisky, you cannot live without music! Apart from listening to music, I also love reading Nick Morgan’s gig reviews as soon as they drop into my mailbox, prior to publishing them on Whiskyfun. And Kate’s exclusive photographs are always fab as well! Both add so much flesh to this wee website!

Yossi: What was the first piece of music that stopped you in your tracks?  How old were you and what about it moved you?

Serge: Probably like everybody, my father’s records. I remember very well Art Blakey, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery, Don Byas, Jimmy Smith… I don’t know how old I was, probably less than 10.  My favorite at the time was a Dixieland band called Firehouse Five Plus Two, also Kid Ory. And then, a little later, there was our neighbor who used to play Jimi Hendrix records very loud, all windows open. We started to paint our rooms with large purple and orange flowers.

The very first record I bought with my own pocket money was a band called Steampacket, that used to gather Brian Auger, Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart if memory serves me well. It was already an old record, I can’t remember why I bought it! Probably because of the picture on the sleeve.

Yossi: You asked me this in your interview with me for my band Kimono Draggin’: If you were on a desert island, what one album would you want with you?  What one whisky?

Serge: Haha, one of these ‘All of Mozart’ 30-CD sets that are issued from time to time. You say only one record? Maybe Ummagumma by Pink Floyd. It’s the second record I ever bought with my own money. Or Exile on Main Street, or Trout Mask Replica. Or maybe something quiet, such as a good Bill Evans. Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin. Coltrane at the Village Vanguard (which isn’t that quiet, agreed). No, wait, Miles’ Kind of Blues. That’s it, Kind of Blues! Or why not Kimono Draggin’s latest? I like it a lot and it may help the coconuts fall from the trees, should you play it loud! ;-). As for the whisky, a double-magnum of just anything.  Alternatively, a carefully composed vatting of old Springbank, Bowmore and Brora or Clynelish.

Yossi: I’ve seen pictures of you playing horn, do you play for fun or with a band?

Serge: Ah, that picture! It’s a pocket trumpet and it’s a funny story. It was during the Islay Festival, around 2003 or 2004. Glengoyne had commissioned a yacht and sailed to Port Ellen harbor, calling themselves ‘pirates’ as their whisky was totally unpeated whilst most of the island was celebrating its peat monsters. With some maniacal friends (Olivier Humbrecht, Davin de Kergommeaux, Charlie McLean, Dave Broom) we attended a fabulous wee party on the ship. We had already tasted (right, quaffed) a lot of great Glengoynes when the captain opened a chest full of small musical instruments such as ukuleles, tambourines, pocket trumpets, triangles and so on. We all took one each and started to jam, in a certain way. I don’t think it’s been recorded but I’m sure the end result would be up there with the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s very wackiest! Seriously, I do own old horns and reeds, which I used to blow quite some years ago but I’ve always been hopelessly bad. If you desperately need a Selmer Super Action 80, I have one for sale, it’s virtually new.

Yossi: What passions, other than whisk(e)y and music do you have?

Serge: First, my family and my friends. Then motorcycles (old Ducatis, old Harleys), vintage watches, wine, fine food, painting, travelling… Also my work and probably many other small things.

Yossi: Michael Jackson was a friend of yours (if I’m correct).  Do you have a fond memory of him that you may not have shared that you’d like to share?

Serge: No, I’m afraid I wasn’t one of the great MJ’s friends. Not that I wouldn’t have loved that to happen but I only met him a couple of times, as a simple whisky lover (which I am anyway and shall always be). Now, I do have a fond memory of the last time I very briefly chatted with him, it was at Whisky Magazine France’s launch party in Paris five or six years ago. No whisky chatting, jazz… MJ was a huge jazz connoisseur. The man had depth and was not full of himself at all, there will never be anyone to touch him.

Yossi: Lastly, if you had a message or lesson to give people who are just getting into whiskies, what would that be?

Serge: Message why not, lesson certainly not. Have fun. Don’t take all this too seriously, it’s only booze.  But remember, next time you try a whisky, there’s a better one out there. Try to unearth it!

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Islay region – 48%ABV – 750ml bottle – $39 and up | £27 | €32

So, there is a very interesting story to the Laphroaig Quarter Cask.  Apparently, years ago, before you and I were born (well, maybe not you, or you, or her, but he and me), the good folks at Laphroaig (and perhaps other distilleries) used to use smaller casks for transporting whisky as it was easier to do so by way of the ‘pony express’.

Well, enter the modern world where everything is about how you can ‘save a buck’, and these distilleries chose to use larger casks for transporting via rail & road.

In doing so, what was lost, however, was a quicker maturation process (due to greater contact with the wood, up to 30%) and an added oakiness the extra wood contact imparted.

Laphroaig revived quarter casking for this expression and I have to say I’m quite thankful they did.  In comparison to the Laphroaig 10yr, this Quarter Cask expression has a softer mouth feel and more of a sweetness which both offsets and compliments the amount of peat in this baby.  As a bonus, it’s bottled at 48%!!

Not only is this expression (in my eyes) superior in almost every way to their standard 10yr, it’s only about $7-10 more over the 10yr — a real bargain if you ask me!

Here we go!

Initial whiffs Smoke, like a furnace blast, rather sweet, orange blossoms and extinguished soy candles, pine, oak, herbal/flowery tea (chamomile perhaps?), rotten bananas – I can almost taste the fruit flies 😉

Palate Smokey & quite leathery, chewy but smooth in texture & medicinal/herbal, loads of oak (the quarter sized casks have a huge influence here), much better than their standard 10yr expression – the balance is great!

Finish Long, smoky, drying finish, tons of oak here!  Quite satisfying.

In sumWith all of the medicinal & herbal notes in this baby, she’ll nurse you back to health!  This is like Scottish chicken soup.  Quite warming, even after first sip.  If you’re not a peat head, this is not one for you, this is a peaty one and I think you’d have a tough time getting past the initial smoke blast this one gives you.  If you are a peat head — welcome to heaven!

Side note (or would it be a footer way down here….hmmmm) The fact that they have a titanium white cork cap kills me.  You’d think, with all of the peat in this one, that the cap would be charred & melted or something.

Due to popular demand, I opened a store!

“Ask and ye shall receive”

I’ve had a link on my blog for a little while now but didn’t want to make a post until I had something for everyone.

You see, my guess is that a good portion of my readers are NOT Jewish (we Heebs only make up 2/10 of 1% of the entire population of the earth, chances are, you’re not a Jew).  And, if you’re not Jewish, you may not want a shirt, pin or magnet with this logo (but you may *really* dig it if you *are* Jewish):

If you’re not Jewish, but wish to become an “Honorary Whisky Heeb” you may *really* want some swanky clothing or accessories with this logo:

So, if you like what you see be you Jew or Gentile, come, visit my store.  If there is a certain type of shirt, mug, pin, magnet, etc… that you don’t see but would like to, let me know and I’ll try to work with you: jewmalt [at] yahoo [dot] com

I appreciate any patronage to The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society store but, most importantly, I appreciate you coming to read my blog and your return visits.


Joshua (Yossi)

Lagavulin 1991/2007 Distiller’s Edition

Islay region – 43%ABV – 750ml bottle – $80 | £49 | €63 (the US price shown is for the 1991/2007, the UK/EU prices are for the 1993/2009 edition as I could not find the 1991/2007 edition pricing for them)

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve got some work ahead of me.  I just received 4 new samples to review and all of them are titans in their own right.  This, The Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1991/2007, 2009 George T Stagg Bourbon (at over 70% ABV!!), Port Askaig 17yr & the Laphroaig 30yr – talk about a line up!

I decided to start with the Lagavulin Distillers Edition for no reason other than the fact that it was a cold rainy evening and I needed to get warm.  I needed comfort and, if you know the Lagavulin, the peat in their whiskies really helps to get you to that warm, safe place in your mind whether it’s memories of a family campout back in the 70’s, the birth of your first child or the first time you listened to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” — Lagavulin takes you there.  It’s that great.

Here is what the standard bottle looks like (1993/2009 edition shown):

and here’s a picture of the sample I worked from (a nice & healthy amount as you can see):

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we?  Yes.  Yes, we shall:

Initial whiffs Very “Lagavulin”, almost more Lagavuliny than the standard 16yr (if that makes sense – if ‘Maximum Strength Tylenol’ is like regular tylenol, only more potent – this is how this nose is, without increasing the ABV), noticeably sweeter, warm-campfire-peat, dying embers, a bit pungent, fried banana, candle wax, very seaweedy, candied citrus fruits, wet leather — this has to be one of the most complex noses out there (that I’ve nosed) – absolutely lovely – I’ve been nosing this for 5 minutes now… I think it’s time to taste.

Palate Rubbery, both in flavor and mouth feel, big tobacco, very salty but less sea-like, anise, not as sweet as the nose, oily smoke, quite nice though, compared to the standard 16yr… the balance seems a bit off here (can’t place it but, it’s off – could be me).  Still, very-very nice.

Finish Peppery, lasting smoke, a bit more biting than I expected given the 43%ABV, some vanilla, salty — Yum!

In sum As amazing as this one is, for some reason, I like the standard Lagavulin 16yr expression a bit more.  Perhaps it’s because that’s what I’m used to or maybe it’s that off-balance feel I got from the nose to the palate, not sure.  This is a nice little treat especially if you want the big warm peat but something a wee more sweet (should I keep rhyming here?  Because, I totally can.  Don’t think I can’t or won’t…  Oh, you don’t believe me??  “Beat Street, the king of the beat, I see walk that beat from across the street, uh-huh-huh, beat street is a lesson too, ’cause you can’t let the streets beat you…”)

Wow, that was unnecessary!  Carrying on — This is without a doubt a warmer-upper to be enjoyed during a cool autumn evening but again, as much as I liked it, I’d be happy to keep paying the lower $$ for a Lagavulin I like more (the standard 16yr expression).

A special thanks to The Scotch Hobbyist for the sample trade!  Cheers to you my friend!