Review: Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey

By Ben Duffy Nov 9, 2018
Ben Duffy/ illustration

Proper No. Twelve, 40 Percent ABV
Irish | $29.99 (750 ml)

Up Front, let me offer the disclaimer that I’m a Scotch drinker by preference, though I’ve certainly done justice by more than my share of Irish whiskey over the years. At any rate, it actually works in Proper No. Twelve’s favor that I’m more accustomed to Scotch, because it’s always a joy to pour a splash of Irish whiskey into a glass and see that pure gold. Irish distillers don’t seem to have fallen into the trap of “color = flavor” that has driven many of their Hibernian counterparts to the shameful practice of adding caramel color to their product. (Side note: Just say no to dyed booze.)

True to style, Proper No. 12 pours a clear, bright yellow in color. Two fingers of Proper, swirled in a Glencairn, produce the wide legs characteristic of an 80 proof spirit, which narrow into droplets that race down the inside of the glass at jackrabbit speed.

While there is still no official announcement, it appears the Ultimate Fighting Championship is indeed planning to shut down its 125-pound men’s division entirely. Conjecture on the part of many fans -- not to mention the division’s champion, Henry Cejudo -- is being borne out by the growing number of UFC flyweights in the past week who have announced either their release from the promotion or their move to bantamweight.

Of course, the implosion of an entire weight class in the world’s premier MMA organization couldn’t take place without some wackiness. Famed whiskey maker Conor McGregor, of all people, decided to weigh in, tweeting to One Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong a guilt-tripping call to sign the UFC’s flyweights. As a shot of distilled Irish “WTF,” it would be hard to top that tweet. Leaving aside the fact that quite a few of the UFC’s top flyweights are moving up to 135 pounds with apparent good cheer, the assertion that One’s greed is somehow the prime driving force here is truly bizarre. To any sensible observer, this is the culmination of the UFC’s longtime frustration with trying to sell the flyweight division to North America, finally driven to the breaking point by the inability to call Demetrious Johnson the sport’s most dominant figure anymore.

More strangeness ensued when the report came late Thursday that the champ-versus-champ bout between T.J. Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo at UFC 233 in January would take place at flyweight. While that announcement might imply that flyweight isn’t completely dead in the water, I think it’s more likely that this is just Dillashaw taking a shot at burnishing his already-remarkable résumé by becoming a simultaneous two-division champion, if just for one night. I’m intrigued, and I can only imagine that Cejudo greeted the news with dismay. His low-risk, high-reward scenario has now been flipped on its head; now he’s the one who stands to lose his belt, and worse yet, he has to make the dreaded cut to 125 pounds one more time.

NOSE: Proper No. Twelve offers an immediate wallop of vanilla, with some slight floral and even citrus notes. Sweet, sweet, sweet in the nose. American oak bourbon barrels -- though not as prominently as some other Irish blended whiskeys -- and definite grain whiskey characteristics. Very much what you would expect from an Irish whiskey, though I’d say this is sweeter and softer in the nose than most, with less crispness. That isn’t to say Proper No. Twelve smells better or worse than Jameson’s or Bushmills; just different, while being obviously of the same style.

I don’t like to add water to a whiskey the first time I try it, especially ones bottled at 80 proof, so I won’t do it here.

On the other side of the multi-promotional, multi-divisional upheaval, Bibiano Fernandes just lost his first fight in nearly eight years and, with it, his One bantamweight title. That may make things more interesting for Johnson, his longtime teammate and training partner. Assuming One does not award Fernandes an immediate rematch with Kevin Belingon, the man who upset him on Friday -- or simply overturn the judges’ decision unilaterally -- “DJ” is an immediate viable title contender in that weight class, too. Remember that he was a Top-10 if not a Top-5 bantamweight before his long reign at 125 pounds. Also, why couldn’t One have sent Fernandes to the UFC, as well?

TASTING: On the first sip, Proper No. Twelve stumbles out of the gate. The promised sweetness and vanilla notes are certainly there but without the same smoothness and balance you would expect from even the middle-shelf Irish blended whiskeys with which Proper wants to compete. This whiskey also carries a bit more heat on the front end than you would expect. Frankly, it’s ironic that so much of this whiskey’s marketing is focused around how balanced it’s supposed to be, because in my opinion, it could use a few more rounds of touch-butt with that dork in the park.

The finish fizzles out; where a good whiskey has structure to it -- sweetness and burn followed by a round mouthfeel and a finish that can be anything from silky to astringent -- Proper No. 12 just kind of runs out of steam. At risk of mixing my metaphors, this whiskey is getting choked out by Nate Diaz in the middle rounds.

I’m not a distiller, so I can’t diagnose the problems here -- too much grain versus malt, overused barrels -- but I know the feeling when tasting a spirit disappoints your expectations after nosing it, and Proper No. Twelve delivers that experience.

I’m as big a proponent of the UFC’s flyweight division as you’ll meet, but I can’t seem to find anger over this move. Assuming 125 pounds really does go away, I think of it as a failed but noble experiment. Who knows? They may even be back one day; and it’s a surprising move by the UFC. While it’s certainly possible to see this as the UFC dropping promotional dead weight, it’s equally valid to see it as an admission of failure and defeat. In spite of spending time and effort and having one of the best fighters in the world as a centerpiece, the UFC simply couldn’t sell men’s flyweight to its audience. Whether that’s down to the inherent quality of the fights, Johnson’s personality and fight style or the UFC’s inability to figure it out is open for debate. I tend to think it’s some combination of those factors.

CONCLUSION: I don’t give numerical ratings to spirits; talking about “notes of vanilla” and “a structured palate” is pretentious and self-important enough without holding up a number card like I’m a fookin’ Olympic judge.

However, I’m more than happy to give a blunt assessment. I may have come off overly hard on Proper No. 12. It isn’t a bad whiskey by any stretch. If I seem hypercritical, it’s due to a mistrust of the huge marketing push behind Proper and especially to its price. For comparison’s sake, the same store where this bottle was $30 had Jameson’s, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew between $21 and $25. Proper No. Twelve is simply not superior to those whiskeys, much less Black Bush or the other next-shelf Irish whiskeys that are its closer competitors in price.

If I had to make a comparison, I’d say Proper No. 12 is a sweeter, less refined Tullamore Dew at nearly one and a half times the price. Much like the UFC’s flyweight division, that isn’t a good place to be.


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