Note: Due to some recent comments, I’m going to have to start leading off every “low end” whiskey review with this note. I understand that this is a blend and that it is intended for mixing, not analyzing in comparison to fine single-malts and other high-end whiskies. However, as I do not mix cocktails, and I do enjoy some inexpensive whiskies straight, I am going to proceed with this review as if I’m contemplating its merit as a low-end sipper.
Kilbeggan is one of those ubiquitous bottles that you see on market shelves in the Irish Whiskey section, but always pass by in favor of the well-known options (like Jameson), or the lesser-known “insider” whiskies, like Redbreast or a single malt from Cooley’s. There actually is a Kilbeggan distillery, which was mothballed in 1957, and much later re-opened as a whiskey museum. Irish whiskey company Cooley bought the rights to the brand name and began producing Kilbeggan at its own facility, which means the bottles on the shelves are blended Cooley Irish whiskey. However, in 2007 the company also refurbished the old distillery and in 2010 began producing whiskey at the old site again. This product will be available starting in 2014. I intend to review it again at that time.
The current Kilbeggan is a blend of Cooley grain whiskey and malt whiskey. This differentiates it from other Irish blends like Jameson and Powers, which contain Irish single pot-still whiskey instead of just malt. Kilbeggan is aged for at least 3 years (or “sometimes longer”) in ex-bourbon barrels at the warehouse at the old Kilbeggan site.
Nose: Clean scent. Very grain-y, with the usual lineup of cereals, powdered sugar, and freshly-baked bread. While not particularly hot at the baseline 40% ABV, there is a pronounced nose tickle. Some high notes appear: raspberry? green apple? But they are transient.
Palate: Thin body, with only a hint of pot-still bulk. Tongue burn is minimal, although it lasts for awhile. Not much in the way of flavor is revealed: a repeat of the cereal notes and that slightly unpleasant “wide-cut” effect: vaguely reminiscent of the scent of turpentine.
Finish: Medium-length. Green apple again, and a slight woody nuttiness. Not unpleasant for an inexpensive whiskey, but there are no stand-out flavors.
With Water: A generous splash of water reveals a nice banana taffy tang on the nose, with heightened vanilla notes. The body is unaffected, and is considerably smoother (no surprise there, it’s diluted), but is somehow also more soft and no longer has that vodka/turpentine quality. The banana taffy is repeated on the finish. I heartily recommend dosing this with a little water.
Overall: This, like Jameson, is an eminently drinkable Irish whiskey. I feel that Jameson has a little more to offer in the way of fruit notes and character. For my money (and especially if I’m drinking it straight), I’ll stick to Jameson. I am, however, excited to try the whiskey now being produced at the rejuvenated original distillery. The “Not Recommended” rating is due to the minimal flavor, and the fact that Jameson is probably a better buy.