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Irish whiskey / Whisky reviews

W.D. O’Connell 12-year-old all-sherry matured single malt

A while ago, I stated publicly that “I need to slow down my whiskey purchases for a while”. But then the 5k travel rule was lifted, we took a road trip to Kinsale, and went to the 1601 Off License. The plan was to buy some gluten free beers we hadn’t found in the Off License back home, and the cask strength Redbreast that I had been talking about for a long time that we should have on the shelf.

But we also saw another interesting bottle – the W.D. O’Connell 12-year-old single malt that I thought was sold out everywhere a long time ago.

Knowing this whiskey had a very good reputation, of course we couldn’t resist and it went into our shopping bag despite a quite high price – which is nothing new in Irish whiskey especially for limited, cask strength bottlings. If you want to support the industry, new distilleries and other whiskey companies, you need to just to accept it. Having tasted some previous bottlings from W.D. O’Connell – the Bill Phil, Bill Phil cask strength and the 18-year-old PX sherry cask, I was quite sure I wouldn’t regret buying this one. And, after tasting it, we immediately decided to get a second bottle.

W.D O'Connell 12-year-old single malt

Some whiskeys are just special, beyond what I’d just describe as “good”. Some whiskeys make your palate sing, they touch your soul and give you a warm feeling of joy. This is a whiskey like that.

This lovely single malt is distilled at Bushmills distillery and has been matured all 12 years in a second-fill ex-Oloroso sherry butt, before being bottled at 59,2% ABV.

Nose

My first impression is an aroma of charred wood. It’s like when I was young and grilled sausages in the forest with friends, and then put out the fire with water from a nearby lake. It’s an aroma I haven’t found in a whiskey before, very intriguing! Other than that, there’s caramelised sugar, liquorice, toffee of sorts (specifically the old Swedish sweets kolabönor), nutmeg, and peach.

Palate

Nice mouthfeel that is on the creamy side, with toffee and spice, pepper and lighter spice such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a layer of liquorice or menthol with dried fruit. With some water, softer flavours with vanilla fudge, a slightly bitter kind of note, ginger, and fresh sweet fruit behind it. This is absolutely beautiful… it warms my entire being to drink it. Chewy, long finish with toffee, nutmeg, cloves and that menthol type of flavour. This is absolutely my cup of tea. Let there be more whiskey of this type, please! Honestly, if I had only this whiskey to drink for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t mind.

Music

I want to try to pair every whiskey I review here with a piece of music. Whiskey, as well as music, makes me feel something. Music can be superficial and simple but still pleasant to listen to. Much like a whiskey that I call an easy sipper that doesn’t have any particular depth but that still is enjoyable to drink. Or it can touch you deeply, evoke feelings and engage your mind. Music is art, and so is whiskey.

For this whiskey I wanted to share a piece of music that has given me that “wow” experience. I thought I knew which one, but when I listened to it, it wasn’t “wow” anymore. But when I looked through my playlists, I came to think of “Black mountain rag”, a tune I’ve always loved and admired, and always wanted to learn to play. I can listen to it over and over again.

When I first discovered this tune I played the mandolin, and I looked for mandolin versions of it but none of them was even close to the quality and feel of the guitar version. Last year however, I started learning flatpicking on the guitar and signed up for an online workshop. One of the tunes taught there is actually Black mountain rag, and there is even a version of it in the basic curriculum! So now I’m finally learning to play it.

One who could play it for real was Doc Watson (RIP, 1923-2012). Most people who play it have learned it from him, and if not, they have learned it from someone who has learned it from him. It is a tune with many variations, in three parts with different layers, twists and turns, and when I hear it it’s so fabulous that it sometimes makes tears fall because it is so good. I don’t want it to end. Precisely like the W.D. O’Connell 12-year-old.

Let’s listen to it – I’ve chosen to share a recording not of Doc Watson, but instead of Billy Strings, a young guitar player I’ve come to appreciate a lot lately. I’ve watched some concerts with him during the spring, and he’s really grown on me, especially because of his brilliant Doc Watson covers that are some of the best I’ve heard. Enjoy!

Here you can hear it played by my other guitar gurus Doc Watson and Norman Blake (and a few others) in a video from 1979.

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