Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask whisky review
A long time ago Irish whisky outsold Scotch, Bourbon and Canadian whisky combined. No, really. Yet by the 1980s there remained just one company owning a tiny handful of Irish distilleries and sales were pretty dismal. How the mighty had fallen. Luckily the comeback is well under way with Irish whisky sales growing strongly year on year over the last three decades. What I find particularly interesting is that, just prior to the comeback, the Irish government allowed the struggling industry to rewrite the rules that defined their spirit. And in their desperation they decided on something along the lines of “feckin’ anything!” Now while I think that it’s all well and fine to have strict rules in making a spirit (for example American and Scotch whisky) I think there’s also a place for a kind of Wild West attitude along side of that. So let’s look at perhaps the perfect example of what happens when a distiller is unburdened by strict restrictions and decides to go freestyling. Enter Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask.
Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask is a relatively affordable whiskey coming in at around €25 in these parts – right in the mixing spirit zone in my opinion. Indeed I understand that is entirely Teeling’s target market for this whiskey. For such a moderate price it comes in an attractive bottle with a cork seal. The dark glass bottle is a nice traditional shape and the label is a combination of the modern and traditional that still works well. The label has a pretty decent amount of information which I always applaud. Let’s have a look at that. First up we see an ABV of 46% and anything above 40% is in my view always a good sign that the spirit has been treated with some respect and not simply diluted to the legal minimum. Likewise the label states that Small Batch is not chill filtered. For the uninitiated this means that the spirit hasn’t had all the taste filtered out just to stop it getting a little hazy in some fairly untypical situations. A completely pointless trade-off in my view. What I do have some beef with is the statement “Since 1782”. Teeling is a very new distillery and while there is certainly some history of whisky making in the Teeling family I’m inclined to label this statement as “misleading” and would prefer to see something more honest such as “Est. 2015” on there. However it’s a small quibble and there is no shortage of other brands up to the same shenanigans. Moving on we see, as expected, that this whisky is finished in rum casks. One of the new “rules” for Irish whisky is that it must be aged in wood. Any wood. This gives Irish distillers massive opportunities for creative ageing. In this case they’ve not gone nuts simply using bourbon casks prior to blending followed by a rum cask finish post-blending. Where they have gone a little left-field is their use of a corn/grain mash which is more of a new-world practice. While not stated on the label I can further inform you that the composition is about three parts grain whisky to one part malt whisky which I find pretty respectable at this price. Ageing duration goes unstated other than “an extra 6 months in rum barrels” so we can best assume it’s over the legal minimum of three years and less that the age of the distillery which is about five years. As it happens the Teeling brothers have some older spirit from their previous enterprises but you won’t find any of that in this whisky. Returning to the label we find a bottling date (2/2020 on mine) which is unusual on whisky but I feel the more information the better so why the heck not? Which is all very well but how does it taste and how does it mix, you ask.
Finally released into the glass from the almost opaque bottle we see that our whisky has a nice light golden colour. A swirl and sniff reveals how much influence the rum cask finishing has had with definite sweetness and an aroma that is about halfway between a rum and a whisky. This effect remains largely in the nose as once tasted though it’s abundantly clear that this is indeed a whisky thanks to a firm maltiness and a pleasing balance – it really doesn’t come over as too sweet which was definitely a concern I had. Furthermore there is a complexity and mouthfeel (a slight and pleasant oiliness) that is pretty impressive at this price-point, all of which is no-doubt helped by the relatively generous bottling strength. It’s unashamedly big and bold in its flavours (even if those are tricky to pin down) which is no mean feat for a blended product. I’m giving Small Batch some bonus points for how well integrated it is and its long warming finish – again quite impressive for a €25 bottle. Ultimately it’s not as quirky as we might have expected, tasting very much like a decent premium blended Scotch but whether that is a plus or minus might depend on what you are looking for in this whisky. If you are in search of a purely sipping whisky you could probably do better even at this price. I personally think it is actually perfectly sippable even if it lacks a little in terms of subtlety but, of course, the reason we’re all here is to see how good this stuff is at:
It’s when we get down to some mixing that we see what Teeling Small Batch is really made of. Obviously my first stop has to be that drink with the cleverest name: the Michael Collins. And it makes a cracking one by any measure. It’s a bit of a mystery as to why some spirits mix well and others fall flat and, while there really is no guide book, I find spirits with big flavours do best. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that Small Batch does so well. Encouraged, I experimented further and was not let down. I particularly enjoyed it in the Manhattan formula with Punt e Mes and a couple of dashes of Bogart’s Bitters. It turns out be be an excellent mixer and makes a nice counterpoint to the Monkey Shoulder that I might normally reach for. When I tested it head to head against the best known Irish mixing whiskey Teeling Small Batch ate it for breakfast. With black pudding. Although, to be fair Teeling is a little more expensive.
To be clear this is not a whisky that will set your world on fire but given the price it has oodles of character and mixes extremely well – which, as always, is what we are looking for on these pages. As a mixing Irish whisky Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask scores a pretty respectable: