2013 was a fantastic year for Irish Whiskey. After years of double digit growth, Irish Whiskey saw another banner year with 17% percent growth in volume and a whopping 20.5% growth in gross revenue (source DISCUS). William Grant & Son’s Tullamore DEW has long been in the Irish Whiskey mix, but has lived in the deep dark shadow of Jameson and Bushmills. Seeing the opportunity in Irish Whiskey, William Grant did a bit of a reboot to the Tullamore DEW brand with a return to its heritage, emphasizing the origins and the fact that D.E.W. is actually the initials of the brand’s creator, D.E. Williams, who was from Tullamore.
In addition to the syntactical polish to the brand, William Grant expanded Tullamore D.E.W.’s offerings with a special limited edition expression. Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey ostensibly commemorates the courageous rebuilding of the town of Tullamore after a devastating hot air balloon accident and fire in 1785, but we think it’s really more emblematic of William Grant’s efforts to pull the Tullamore D.E.W. brand out of the ashes, reemerging as a serious contender in the Irish whiskey space.
Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey (55% ABV / 110 proof, $54.99) – a blend of golden grain, malt, and pure pot still whiskey, finished in Oloroso sherry casks, this whiskey is dark gold in color. The nose on Tullamore D.E.W.’s Phoenix is a blend of fruit and grain with apricot, apple, raisin, and honeysuckle combined with malt, cereal grains, caramel, and sherry. All this is backed by clove and solid oak which act as unifying factors for the aromas. The higher proof of Phoenix is pretty apparent on the nose which is slightly vapory and a little too acidic. The entry for Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix is flavorful but shares some of the acidic qualities of the nose and tracks a similar path, leading with apricot, pear, aromatic grapes, and honeysuckle before moving on to the midpalate, which is defined by oak and clove spice with a touch of caramel. In the midpalate, before we get a heat spike, the flavors all come together quite nicely, but there isn’t much time to enjoy them, as at the end of the midpalate Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix gets hot and sharp. This heat spike leads a medium length and overly dry finish which clears out a lot of what we liked about the whiskey. Adding some water to Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix (and we recommend quite a lot of water) does a lot to help round things out, as well as boosts the oak notes in the midpalate, but it’s no match for the spike in heat at the end of the midpalate.
It’s great that William Grant is investing more energy and trying to breath life back into Tullamore D.E.W. The base is a solid Irish whiskey, but Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix is not a step in the right direction. Many of the specialty premium Irish whiskey releases are moving more and more towards pot still whiskey. Going high proof with an acidic and fairly untamable release just isn’t a match with the marketplace or the needs of consumers. Imbibers often turn to Irish whiskey for its affability, but Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix is anything but affable. There are some interesting ideas at work with this release and for a very short time in the midpalate they do come together, but everything that this spirit accomplishes is decimated by a mistake in proofing and blending. While we applaud brands for experimenting and expanding their offerings, Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix just doesn’t succeed.