4 New Spirits: Talking Irish Whiskey, Rare Scotch & Green Chile Vodka

Almost daily, I’m tasting a wide range of spirits, wines and beers, whether at restaurants and bars, distilleries, wineries or breweries or as samples crossing my desk. For February, here are just-released spirits standouts — February beer highlights are here and wine here.

St. George’s New Vodkas ($24.99)


[Photo Source: stgeorgespirits.com]

Yes, St. George Spirits sold the Hangar One brand a couple years back. But never fear: they just released their own vodka in three variations —  St. George All Purpose Vodka, Green Chile Vodka, California Citrus Vodka. Even for someone who does not drink vodka, they are stand-outs, particularly the Green Chile. St. George uses fresh, local citrus in the California Citrus and distilled each vodka in their copper stills from a non-GMO base.

The green, vegetal Green Chile is made from tens of thousands of pounds California-grown hot and sweet peppers (jalapenos, Serranos, habaneros, red and yellow bell peppers) as well as lime peel and fresh cilantro. The St. George team had to wear special masks to work with all those chilies, but the heat doesn’t dominate in the vodka. This vibrant spirit is all fresh pepper skins, green chile and cilantro notes, without the heat.

For a non-vodka drinker, I immediately began imagining it in cocktails from first smell and taste — and have had a lot of fun experimenting with it. California Citrus vodka makes a lovely citrus-forward martini or vodka and tonic. The vodkas are in California to start, but also AZ, CO, DC, IL, FL, KY, MD, NV, WA with more states on the way.

Buy: Alchemy Bottle Shop in Oakland, Swirl on Castro in SF, K&L.

Deanston 18 year Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($159)

[Photo Source: bunnahabhain.com]

[Photo Source: bunnahabhain.com]

Deanston 18 year Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46.3% ABV) just released the first Cognac finish-inspired single malt Scotch blended by Deanston Master Distiller/Blender Ian MacMillan. Released only in the US with a mere 2640 bottles, it’s a more experimental Scotch — since the grain base can’t be changed, it’s Grande Champagne Cognac casks in which the whisky is aged for 6 of its 18 years that adds creamy spice and citrus (the first 12 year it’s aged in bourbon barrels). The whisky is balanced and elegant, an ideal gift, particularly for Highlands Scotch fans.

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Islay Single Malt Scotch Bunnahabhain just released a limited Ceobanach (pronounced “kyaw-bin-och”), which will be an annual release from Master Distiller/Blender Ian MacMillan. Just released in February with a limited 4200 bottles in the US, Ceobanach means “smoky mist” in Scots Gaelic. In tune with Islay whiskies in general, there is peat, brine and sea salt but also creamy vanilla, bitter orange, even white pepper notes, in contrast to the balanced smoke. The recipe nods to 1800s Islay whisky and Bunnahabhain Distillery’s early days (founded in 1881).

Buy: You can purchase both whiskies at The Whisky Shop, Healthy Spirits and K&L, D&M in SF, Ledger’s in Berkeley, and in markets including NY, FL, GA, WA, IL, CO and MN.

Teeling Irish Whiskey’s Single Grain Whiskey


[Photo Source: teelingwhiskey.com]

Teeling has been pushing Irish whiskey into new territory since it launched a couple years ago (with a distillery opening in Dublin this year). They started with a classic Irish whiskey while also experimenting aging whiskies in different barrels, as Irish whiskey’s grain make-up is fairly strict by law. As owner Jack Teeling recently told me over lunch, “We’re respectful to the past, but look at what America is doing — innovating around different casks and grains — as we innovate with Irish whiskey.”

Their first release was a lovely, small batch Irish whiskey, inspired from their long family history (going back to 1782) of distilling in Ireland. Teeling’s father, John Teeling, launched Cooley distillery in 1987 and sold it to Beam in 2012.

Over lunch, I tasted their new release, a Single Grain whiskey. Made from 95% maize (corn) and 5% malted barley, bottled at 46% with no chill filtration, it was distilled at Cooley before the sale, then fully matured in California Cabernet wine barrels so has a local CA tie. It’s intense-yet-smooth, laden with white pepper, spice and lush berry, with a dry finish. As one would expect, with the corn base, it recalls an elegant bourbon. It was just released in February in the US. This fall, watch for their Single Malt, which is already out in Europe.

Teeling says about 25% of their production is experimental as they age Irish whiskey in white Burgundy barrels and sherry butts, to name a few, exploring the different nuances and possibilities in a category that has long held to tradition. Even more after my distillery travels in Ireland, I don’t want to see tradition diminish, but there is plenty of room for experimentation. I am delighted to see Teeling take the lead as many small distilleries get ready to launch in a country that has long had merely 3 distilleries producing all of its whiskey.