Blame The French



A review of the Barkan “Reichan” Assemblage Galil 2010 and Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  March 12, 2013


Tullamore DewOne of the facets of wine culture that has contributed mightily to its more negative reputation for effete, snobby, high-brow insularity is the wine world’s propensity for invoking foreign words and phrases. If a culprit must be found, blame France. For, like it or not, the one nation most associated with wine is France. French wine continues to dominate the fine wine market and remains the benchmark for quality. Hence we have the French words, phrases, concepts and poses endemic to wine including such terms as bouquet, brut, cuvee and domaine.

Another is “assemblage,” or the “art of blending.” It is also the name of a line of high-end blended wines from Israel’s Barkan Winery. Barkan’s Assemblage series are three wines created by blending grapes from nearby vineyards to showcase the uniqueness of specific grape-growing locations within Israel. Both a testimony to terroir – French again, alas – and the ingenuity of their winemaking team, the Assemblage wines are created to be approachable and food-friendly.

The Barkan “Reichan” Assemblage Galil 2010 is a blend of 67 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot and 13 percent Syrah grown in the upper Galilee near Har Reichan. Each base wine is separately barrel-aged before blending. It opens with black cherry and plum aromas that have a hint of smokiness and then progresses smoothly into bright red cherry, cassis and blackberry flavors with accents of mocha, spice, and minerals. This well-made, balanced beauty would be a great choice for your Passover seder, or can be enjoyed over the next several years.

Spirits-wise, with Passover rapidly approaching, we thought we’d cling to our chametz – the leavened foods that are forbidden to even own, much less consume, over the Passover period – just a little bit longer. Next week we’ll cover kosher-for-Passover spirit options, but for now, consider Tullamore Dew, a blended whiskey from Ireland.

The origins of Tullamore Irish whiskey can be traced back to 1829 when the Tullamore Distillery was founded by Michael Molloy in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland. It enjoyed a solid reputation, and did very well.

In the 1880s, Daniel Edmond Williams became general manager. He had a genius for whiskey, and began a series of improvements to the distillery: electricity, telephone service, new construction for warehousing and a bottling facility, and he created the Tullamore Dew brand, which quickly became the distillery’s signature brand. By 1886 the company was a massive distilling operation, employing 100 people and producing 270,000 gallons of pure triple distilled pot still whiskey.

The B. Daly Distillery (Tullamore) was very successful basically from its founding, until the 20th century, where it fared no better than any other in Ireland when the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921, though violence continued in Northern Ireland) ruined the domestic market, just as U.S. Prohibition (1919-1933) removed a major export market. The Irish whiskey industry suffered even more due to the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) and the loss of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth markets (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of the Caribbean and Far East). The global economic downturn, of course, didn’t help either, and then World War II more or less pushed Irish whiskey into economic oblivion. The B. Daly Distillery survived, but hardly prospered.

In 1947, Desmond E. Williams, grandson of Daniel, created the Irish Mist Irish Whiskey Liqueur, which proved highly successful, and then released Ireland’s first blended whiskey brand, in hopes of capitalizing on the success of Scotch blended whisky, called “Tullamore Dew Blended Whiskey.” Despite the popularity of these new products, the business faltered and ceased distilling in 1954, closed entirely in 1959, stopped selling diminishing stocks of whiskey in 1963, and sold the brand in 1965.

This was a common fate in Irish whiskey where just four functioning distilleries remain.

Thus, all Irish whiskeys are produced at one or more of these four distilleries. There are lots of different styles, and lots of floating whiskey brands (which are made to order by one of these four) that are owned and marketed by others. This includes Tullamore Dew which, as of 2010, was owned by Scottish family company William Grant & Sons (of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame).

By 2009 the floating “Tullamore Dew” brand became the second most popular Irish whiskey in the world (behind Jameson’s), and remains the fastest growing Irish whiskey brand globally – despite not being properly tended to or invested in by its then owners, the C&C Group plc. William Grant & Sons are thankfully investing heavily in the brand (including a new $50 million visitors center) and focusing a fair amount of energy on the U.S. market (they’ve rebranded “Tullamore Dew” as “Tullamore D.E.W.”). They have also announced plans for a new distillery to be built in the town of Tullamore, County Offaly, in Ireland’s midlands. That is, they plan to make the Tullamore Dew brand once again a proper distillery-identified Irish whiskey back in the place of its creation. Leave it to the Scots to bring a little more authenticity back to Ireland. Kudos to William Grant & Sons!

Tullamore Dew is deemed “Kosher approved-parev” (neither meat nor dairy) by the Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD) – meaning that while not certified kosher, it has nonetheless been officially approved for consumption. While here in the United States opinions seem split: the highly respected Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) lists Tullamore Dew as “Not Recommended” though no reason is given, while the also highly respected Star-K of Baltimore considers it “approved” in its most recent liquor list. Whatever – we hold by the London Beth Din.

Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey (40 percent abv; $24): this well-made, light, medium-sweet, slightly hot finishing, subtle blend offers fruit (apples and pears) and citrus notes (lemons and oranges), vanilla, honey, a little oak, light floral aromas, with characteristic Irish whiskey oiliness and a final, gently drying, kiss of sweet chocolate and fruit (peaches?) on the fairly hot finish. Light and uncomplicated, but very enjoyable and (oh so) easy to drink. L’Chaim!

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