Like most traditional Irish whiskeys, KC12 is triple-distilled which serves to give it a cleaner, lighter, more refined starting point than your average Scotch which is only distilled twice. It's aged for 12 years in used bourbon barrels which is also very traditional for Irish whiskey. Unlike most most mainstream Irish whiskeys KC12 is a single malt - meaning it's 100% whiskey made from malted barley as opposed to a blend of whiskeys made from malted barley, un-malted barley, and sometimes other grains like wheat or corn. Being a single malt, this is a bit pricier than many Irish whiskeys at about $46 per bottle, but compared to single malt Scotches of the same age that's a bargain, and for my money this is much more interesting than most Scotch at the same price point. Knappogue Castle also stands apart from most Irish whiskeys because there is no caramel coloring added. Because of this you may notice a slight variation in color from bottle-to-bottle, but I appreciate the distiller giving us an honest look at the whiskey's natural color.
Color: KC12 is a very pale gold color. Based on the color you expect a very light whiskey, but the sticky legs that form when you swirl it around the glass hint at a little heft.
Nose: This whiskey has a very unique nose that at first seemed unfamiliar and hard to pin down. My initial take was that it was earthy and just a tad smoky with hints of wet straw. As it opened up I detected more sweet, funky fruits and a sugary smell like hot rock candy syrup or burnt marshmallows. After adding a splash of water a blast of melons, peaches, light honey, and more rock candy came out along with some light floral notes. This is certainly a whiskey you could wear as cologne as the nose is delightful and just gets more and more interesting as you go.
Flavor: The flavor is just as special as the nose with complex sweetness that isn't cloying or syrupy. At 80 proof it's not an alcohol-heavy whiskey so you can really pick up the delicate flavors of white grape juice and unripe peaches. The closest flavor I can think of to this is the old Clearly Canadian peach-flavored sparkling water - I hadn't thought of that stuff in years, but this instantly brought it to mind and made me wonder if it's still on the market. With a splash of water Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old got even fruitier but lost any 'punch' it had, taking on flavors of light honey and juicy fruit gum. My only criticism of this whiskey would be that at a only 80 proof you're forced to forgo any 'kick' if you want to open it up with cool water.
Finish: The finish is super smooth and gentle, but not overly long with more white grape juice and raisins. Adding water enhances the slightly smoky element that's most prominent a few seconds after you swallow and is more like salty seawater or club soda than typical whiskey smokiness.
This whiskey really opened my eyes to the variety that Irish whiskey can bring to the table - it's not just a variation on the same old theme, but a whole new animal that highlights flavors that most Irish whiskeys manage to hide away behind standard oak and grain tastes. If you're looking for a fruity change-of-pace as we head into spring this could be your drink.