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Quo Vadis Kilbeggan?

by Oliver Klimek on August 28, 2010

As some of you might remember, I was absolutely delighted by the very reasonably priced Irish Kilbeggan blend when I tasted it. In fact I liked it so much that I put it on the first place of my bang for the buck list. Now I decided to buy another bottle because I wanted to have an inexpensive every-day dram on my shelf for those moments when you feel like having a dram but don’t fancy something too fancy.

The first thing I noted whas that the label had undergone a facelift, (the bottle on the right of the picture is the new version) but I didn’t really care about that because it’s what’s in the bottle that counts. But tasting my first dram from the new bottle I soon noticed that the content of the bottle has changed as well. Of course it was several months ago when I had tasted the Kilbeggan before, so this might have been a trick my memory played on me.

But at the next visit to our local supermarket I saw one bottle with the old label left on the shelf, so I grabbed it to be able to compare both versions in an objective head to head tasting.

Here are my original tasting notes for the Kilbeggan:

Nose: Full and sweet, pineapple, citrus fruit, a bit like in an old fashioned candy shop.
Palate:
Caramel and nuts add to the fruitiness.
Finish:
Medium long, fruity and sweet.

Overall: This bottle costs just €13 at our local HIT supermarket. The quality you get for this price is amazing and easily beats all other blends and single malts below €25 (regular price, no special offers) that I have ever tasted.

Rating: 80/100

Revisiting the Old Version

The fruity sweet character underlined by caramel and vanilla is definitely there. I note a little more caramel on the palate than I remember from my first tasting. There is some grain influence, but its harshness is ironed out by the smothness of the malt. My rating of 80 is still valid for this bottle.

Tasting the New Version

Nose: Fresh but a little shy, citrus fruit, malt, a little vanilla
Palate: A layer of vanilla, caramel and citrus notes on a bed of grain.
Finish: Rather short, grainy and slightly sweet.

Overall: The subtle malt flavours have a hard time fighting against the grain roughness. They barely succeed.

Rating: 72/100

Conclusion

You don’t need to be a master blender to taste the increased presence of grain whisky in the new Kilbeggan release. The harshness of youg grain is too obvious to go unnoticed. Sadly this brings down the quality of the new Kilbeggan dangerously close to the standard blends of the established Scotch whisky brands. It still maintains a small edge, but the quality difference is far smaller than it was before.

It is very obvious that Cooley had to cut down on the malt content of this blend in order to feed the growing demand for Kilbeggan. But then again, this increased demand is not really surprising. Firstly, the quality of the old version was so good that people very understandably wanted to have more of this whiskey. And secondly it did not go unnoticed that Cooley has been on a strategic expansion course for quite a while now.

It is such a shame that Cooley is not capable of supplying enough Kilbeggan for the higher demand by delivering the same quality that helped to create it. This is the first time ever that I was disappointed by a Cooley product. Let’s just hope that in future releases Kilbeggan will find back to its original quality and will not be “just another budget blend”. Because this was exactly one of the prime reasons for the decline of Irish whiskey in past decades. So far, Cooley’s products have raised hopes that Irish whiskey might be able turn around the rudder. But this new release of Kilbeggan was a definite step backwards.

As the old bottles will be harder and harder to find, I feel obliged to remove the Kilbeggan from my bang for the buck list because the current version just does not have the quality to secure it a place on the list. (Right now, I have just added a comment to the entry. It will be removed for good after deciding on the new list.)

If you have liked the old Kilbeggan, all I can recommend is to go hunt down all bottles with the old labels that you can find and stock up on them. They will soon be gone for good.

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