Band-branded alcohol releases aren’t typically the best reason for a discerning drinker to get excited, any more than movie-branded games are a mark of quality in the gaming industry. There are, suffice to say, a lot of bad products out there with the names of a celebrity or a band slapped on them. If I’m given something with a band name on it to drink—even if it’s a band I’ve always loved, like Irish folk-punkers The Pogues—then I’m immediately looking at it with a heightened sense of corporate tie-in suspicion.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, to taste and discover that The Pogues have created a whiskey that both befits the band’s legacy and offers something solid for lovers of classic blended Irish whiskey. Kid Rock BADASS BEER, this is not, thank god. Among band/product tie-ins, this one is in a rarefied tier.
Of course, it’s always hard to tell what exactly that tie-in means. The distillery’s press release boasts that The Pogues “were extremely involved in product development alongside master distillers from West Cork Distillers,” for what that’s worth—but even in that case, has Shane MacGowan ever really seemed like the most discerning whiskey geek to anyone? The music of The Pogues always had more of a quantity over quality aesthetic to it, so one would almost think that thematically, the cheap stuff would be the bottle to bear The Pogues name. But I digress—onto the whiskey itself, which is a 50/50 blend of single malt and grain whiskies.
One immediately notes that this whiskey is unusually dark for a young product aged “three years and a day,” which could be attributed either to new wood or the caramel coloring that is always such a contentious debate in Irish and Scotch whiskeys, but either way, it looks very nice—a ruddy amber, a few shades deeper than the light gold/straw one would expect.*
*Turns out this was a misunderstanding on my part from the marketing materials—”three years and a day” is simply a Pogues lyric. The whiskey is a blend of 50% 10-year single malt Irish whiskey finished in sherry casks and 50% 5-7 year Irish grain whiskey aged in used bourbon barrels.
On the nose, one gets a lot of sweet, rich honey and bready malt, light floral notes and some more herbaceous, grassy tones. Light, neutral oak and woodiness is present but not too big a factor, lost somewhere behind the sweeter impressions, plus some berry-like fruit.
On the palate, this whiskey is again unexpectedly soft—I confess I probably went into it expecting some kind of more raucous profile because of the band’s legendary partying reputation—but the results are surprisingly subtle, soft and well-executed. Tea-like maltiness is easy to pick up upon, a toasted bready/nutty character with tons of sweet wildflower honey slathered on it. No real smokiness to speak off, but perhaps a bit of salinity and winey/apple-like fruitiness. It drinks very, very easily, without being thin of body for a standard 80 proof whiskey, which is an excellent combination. It’s simply clean, easy-drinking, just complex enough and packs the perfect level of heat for an extended drinking session.
I should probably mention that Irish whiskey is hardly my most-consumed area of brown spirits, as I often find them too watery or one-note to hold my attention, so I was curious how this Pogues offering might compare to another bottle I had laying around the house. From last month’s St. Patrick’s Party, it went up against a dram of Concannon Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, $20-25 price point), and once again I walked away impressed with The Pogues. Next to each other, the differences are obvious: The Pogues product is richer, more round and complex, appreciably sweeter and ultimately more rewarding. Of the two, it would be my preferred choice for neat (or on the rocks) drinking in just about every instance.
So congrats, Pogues! You made yourself a solid whiskey. $39.99 is a price point that may push it out of the range that non-music fans would expect to pay for Irish whiskey, but if you have a chance to try some, it may have you changing your tune.
Distillery: West Cork Distillers
Style: Irish whiskey
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $39.99
And now, we close with “Streams of Whiskey,” because it’s sacrilege not to do so. It’s even printed on the bottle.