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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-.
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.
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.