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Kilbeggan 18 yo

by Oliver Klimek on April 14, 2011


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Rich amber
Nose: Vanilla, peach, burnt sugar, hints of raisins and cinnamon.
Palate: Peach, dried apricot, caramel, vanilla, honey and cinnamon.
Finish: Long, sweet and slightly fruity.


My thoughts about this whisky go somewhat beyond the concise notes I usually write, for a variety of reasons. First, but not foremost, because Cooley were kind enough to send me an entire bottle of their new flagship blend instead of the usual sample. I won’t try to find a reason, but it seems I am not alone in bloggerland in this respect. Anyway, I think it’s just fair to invest a little more time than usual to assess this whiskey.

As a regular reader you may remember that I gave the NAS Kilbeggan a bit of a bashing last summer. The grain content in the new release was just too high to maintain the quality level of the last version. You can imagine that I was quite eager to find out if the new 18 yo expression would be able to convince me.

The peach and honey character I found on the palate reminded me strongly of some of the grain whiskies I have already sampled. This seems to be a signature of aged grain whisky, and it can also be found in the Redbreast 12 which as a Pure Potstill whiskey also contains a fraction of unmalted barley. I have never found this signature in old Scotch blends, but in the Kilbeggan 18 it is rather prominent. So I suspect the grain content in the Kilbeggan is significantly higher than in Scotches of comparable age.

A high grain content is the weak spot of any young blend. But after 18 years of aging it has become a strong asset for the Kilbeggan 18. I have to applaud to Cooley for doing it differently than their competitors from Scotland who usually brag about the high malt content of their older blended whiskies.

I have always wondered about this. It is no secret that at 18 years or older, grain whisky is on eye level with malt whisky. The single grain releases of independent bottlers speak a clear language. But yet, Scottish blenders reduce the content with rising age of the blend as if it was something to be ashamed of. It is the grain whisky that makes a blend a blend. And a 18 year old blend can be proud to feature it.

The Kilbeggan 18 is an excellent blend that with its rather strong vanilla notes even bears some resemblance to a bourbon, but with a smoothness that sets it apart from the former.

I won’t spare you a few negative remarks, though. At 40% bottling strength, the Kilbeggan feels just too watery. For their top shelf bottling, Cooley should have granted us at least 43%. And as nice as the aftershave-esque bottle may look – obviously it was designed to be an eye catcher by using as much shelf space in the bars as possible – trying to pour a dram with a single hand is not really recommended. The bottle is rather clumsy and you may lose the balance. I have not yet seen an official announcement regarding the retail price, but be prepared to bite your lips.

Rating: 86/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

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