Jack Teeling Master Class: Four Teeling/Vom Fass Bottling

 Jack Teeling

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sang the hit song “Oh What a Night” many years ago. Last night’s experience at Vom Fass Sarasota with Jack Teeling brings the song to the fore once again. Yes, one needed to be over 21, and the doors were locked enclosing a group of 20 held by tales and the Irish whiskey produced by the 2015 World Whiskies Brand Ambassador of the Year. Then there was cake.

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Hefty Teeling glasses. As Jack says, “They are for drinking not for nosing.”

Vom Fass is a franchise business which supplies its stores with gourmet products including a unique selection of whiskies. In their own words, “Every batch of whiskey…has been tasted at our headquarters in Waldburg, Germany. We hand-pick every whiskey carefully and add refining touches to it before we fill the casks and send them off on their journey to the Vom Fass stores.”  The additional plus is that you can purchase four different sizes of the whiskies – 100ml to a full sized 750ml.

As a whisky fan who is always in search of a special whisk(e)y to taste, the Vom Fass store in Sarasota, Florida always offers a whisk(e)y that impresses me. Impress my palate and expand my knowledge of the spirit. Every time I visit, I come away with a smile, something new learned, and a bottle in my bag. Add to that the friendly customer service by owners Robert and Debbie Kay – a win-win all around for me!

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Back to Jack.  The Teeling Family has had a long connection with Vom Fass through their Cooley Distillery days.  John Teeling sold Cooley to Beam, which has since been bought by Suntory. Fortunately for all of us Cooley fans the Teeling/Vom Fass relationship continues. Jack was at the store to lead a Master Class on the four exclusive Teeling whiskies that were produced for Vom Fass.

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Jack presented a bit of his family’s distilling history and the ups and downs of Irish whiskey in general.  I still feel the need to apologize for the USA Prohibition. Talk about impacting the whisk(e)y world! (Do read David Okrent’s Last Call detailed book on Prohibition.) Anyway, on to the tasting.

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One more thing. What is integral to the tasting of these four whiskies is remembering that they originally came from Teeling owned Cooley stocks and are not part of the new Teeling whiskey that is currently being distilled in Dublin.  Hmmm…that tells me that when they are gone they are truly gone.

First on the line was the Irish Single Grain 5 YO, bottled at 40%. These ½ bourbon casks fills and ½ cabernet sauvignon casks fills resulted in a fruity, light and feathery whiskey.  Jack stated that this bottle is 95% corn and 5% barley.  I find it appropriate for a person who prefers a soft appertif, one that is gentle and easy to drink. My Islay palate gives this a 2 out of 4 rating.

Next up was the Stephen’s (Teeling) Choice Single Malt 5 YO, bottled at 40%.  There is a vibrant citrus nose, some fresh cut grass on the palate.  A fellow taster exclaimed, “It’s like an Auchentoshan on steroids.” Maybe. The chocolate I paired with it brought out some more intensity of the flavors whereas the cheese pairing dulled both.  I give this decent dram a 2.

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Is it me or does Paul actually look like a younger Robert DiNero?

Before and in-between each tasting Paul Duffy performed easy to listen to Irish music on his guitar and wind pipe, which added to the social ambiance along with the delicious nibbles of food. Three expressions of Irish cheddar, dark chocolate, veggies, fall-spiced apples with a whipped cream flavored with the Brothers in Arms whiskey were perfectly balanced to pair with the whiskies. Yes, then there was cake. More on that later.

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The third whiskey brought a bigger grin to Jack’s already beaming pride of his whiskies. This one, Jack’s Choice, is an 11 YO, bottled at 43%.  As Stephens’s big brother, Jack’s Choice brings forth a complex more sophisticated whiskey.  Finished in a sauterne cask, it hints of spice, oak and exclaims – Wait for it! Yes, the finish has a big burst of flavor that highlights the sauterne.  This one grabbed my attention and woke up the senses.  I excitedly give this a 3.

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The final dram was the Brothers in Arms Single Malt 14 YO, bottled at 40% with time in port, sherry and bourbon barrels – a real combination of the brothers, Jack and Stephen.  My first taste yelled, “scratchy, a little rough.” But as I delved into it, I found some raisins, bits of fruit, then a briny spicy finish. It grew on me.  Not as bursting in my preferred flavor profile as the Jack’s Choice, but strong enough to earn a 3-.

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This homemade fruit cake left me in awe! Why don’t American fruit cakes taste like this piece of heaven?

Did someone say cake? A simply luscious fruit cake – like none ever served in the USA – was prepared by a fellow guest and regular at Vom Fass events.  Let me say, it was to die for and I rarely enjoy a cake that does not have chocolate as its main ingredient.  The recipe belongs to Ireland’s renowned Chef Darina Allen and can be found in her Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook. I just want someone to make the cake on a regular basis for me, please. Yum.

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My Swally Shirt is becoming a must wear at all tastings.

After the tasting was completed and palates and tummies satiated, Jack spent time with the guests, signed bottled, gave Teeling glasses as souvenirs and proved himself to be an all-around great guy to spend time with talking about whisk(e)y.  If you can, find a Vom Fass store in your area and try these unique whiskies.  Next for me is comparing these Teeling/Vom Fass whiskies with the new Teeling Dublin whiskies that are causing quite a buzz around the world.  (Well, actually, I did try two of them at a Whisky Festival last year – but tried them towards the end of the evening and my palate was shot so I can’t give an objective review. Ergo, must try again.)

If you are ever in Sarasota, Florida, stop in and meet Robert and Debbie at Vom Fass – they will serve you well with distinguished products.

I raise a glass to the Teeling/Vom Fass collaboration and to damn good Irish whiskey.

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Notes from a Master Class: Laphroaig Bursts Forth

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The rugged lineup of Laphroaig. Bring it on!

The night was not for the timid palates nor the empty wallets. The night was prime time for those of us who seek out peat and ash and the rare and exquisite in an intimate setting will fellow enthusiasts. The night was buzzing with excitement.

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Nate Shumway. And is that a halo from heaven shining on Joe Howell?

Joe Howell of Federal Wine & Spirits and Nate Shumway of The Olde Mouldy led this private event with humor and historical factoids.  Opening toasts acknowledged Laphroaig’s celebration of 200 years of Islay whisky and for keeping America flush with whisky for “medicinal” purposes during the Great Prohibition.  Hundreds of projected photos of all that is Islay rotated in the background throughout the tasting, causing sighs of longing, memories, and shared plans for upcoming visits. I miss Islay – the blustery wind, the surf on the rugged shores, the fields with cows and sheep, and the distilleries all within easy reach no matter where one sits on the island.

The ubiquitous Laphroaig 10 YO kicked off the tasting as folks settled in and the presenters set the tone for the night. The 10 YO is not the whisky to offer anyone who generally drinks fruity white wine (ouch but true), with its big peat nose, and rough and rumble over the tongue. Put a robust cigar in hand, and there, you have a match. I offer a 2+ out of a possible score of 4.

Some of us have a few bottles of the Laphroaig 15 YO from the early 2000s and were curious as to what the 15 YO expression created for the 200th anniversary would offer.  The color is deeper than the 10 YO and the nose offers more ash and toffee. The taste brings forth a briny, ashy, iodine rush that is smoother and lingers longer with a smoky finish. A 3- score for this release.

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Taking pics, texting notes, tasting awesome whisky, grinning all the way.

After a short break to rest the palate, the much anticipated 30 YO with its Olorosso Sherry, took the tasting to a higher level.  This gem holds a fruity nose compliments of the sherry. The mouth feel is thick and syrupy with a hint of cinnamon; the peaty iodine takes a back seat. The finish brings back the sweet sherry.  When I went back to the dram the nose reminded me of wooden match sticks. Hidden Sulphur peeking? The gem is a 3+.

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Spelling errors don’t count after three whiskies!

The 40 YO, which is lovingly described as a “beautiful juice” by Joe, and is no longer available anywhere, made its grand entrance. Its red carpet reputation did not disappoint.  There is a whiff of springtime and hints of Laphroaig. If the 30 is syrupy then the 40 is lightly spicy. The natural cask strength adds an earthiness at the finish. I saved some of the 30 to compare with the 40 and, for me, the 30 edges out the 40 ever so slightly.  The 40 is beautiful with a score of 3.

And we weren’t done yet! Much has been already written about the 2015 Cairdeas. Word is that this expression was modelled on the 1960s 10 YO. I have and enjoy the 2013 bottling and wasn’t sure what to expect with the 2015. The nose is deceptively mild, the dram is bursting with peat and smoke. Love it and the long lingering finish.  A solid 3 for this baby.

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Look at that deep, rich color of the 1969 10 YO. Significant!

To test the similarities, the 1969 Laphroaig 10 YO was up next. This last dram of the master class, totally puzzled me. I didn’t get the Cairdeas at all.  The color is deep and rich. The nose brings me back to Glasgow and the malting aroma that is often in the air. Boiling potatoes pop into mind. The thick fruit and overripe raisins on the palate are too much for me. I wrote two scores in my notes a 3- and a 2+.  Still can’t decide.

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Ames St. Deli Charcuterie to round out the night.

The master class met all my expectations and then some.  Unexpectedly, Joe announced to the group that my book, Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations, has been published. He then asked me to say a few words of self-promotion, which naturally I jumped at the chance.  A few books were sold and deeper discussions with other participants ensued at the end of the tasting. Pleasures that are total surprises are the best!

Laphroaig

I raise a glass to Joe and Nate and the distinct whiskies of Laphroaig.

I wrote the book as a promise to myself to put pen to paper about my whisky journey and “barrels” of fun! Gotta have some flagrant self-promotion once in a while.

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