Ten Great Irish Pours for St. Patrick's Day
There's lots of beer consumed on St. Patrick's Day, and liberal drams of Irish whiskey. And while standard Jameson's, Bushmill's, Paddy's, Redbreast, Murphy's and Tullamore Dew are okay, it's nice to break out some of the higher-end expressions that aren't found just everywhere for you and a few close friends to share over good, sober conversation and a bit of Clancy Brothers or Van Morrison on the box.
Irish Whiskey has long fought for equal prestige against their better regarded Celtic cousins to the East. But innovation and creativity at Ireland's distilleries in the last decade has yielded some interesting and compelling pours. Indeed Irish Whiskey has been one of the fastest growing segments of the brown spirits business the last few years.
Before recommending some top pours from my drinks library, it's worth mentioning what separates Irish Whiskey from American, Scotch, Canadian, Welsh and others. The principal difference is that Irish whiskey must be distilled three times before going into the aging barrels in order to be called "Irish Whiskey." Scotch is distilled twice. American "Bourbon" is distilled just once. Like Scotch, Irish whiskey is aged in used oak barrels from American whiskey distilleries, and often finished in Madeira, sherry or port barrels depending on the creativity of the master distillers. Irish whiskeys tend to have sweeter, lighter profiles than their Scotch counterparts. While Scotch is made from blends of malted barley, Irish distillers play around more with blending both malted and un-malted grain.
$45: Michael Collins Single Malt: This single-malt uses barley dried over peat smoke, giving it a slightly smoky aroma and mouth feel. Made up of whiskies aged 8 to 12 years in oak. Spicy on the mouth at first, but smoothes out.
$250: Jameson's Rarest Vintage Reserve: Rich, deep, long finished and almost oily, this is a special expression and well worth the money if you have it. Jameson's combine some whiskies that have aged in port casks with others that have aged in ex-Bourbon barrels. No chill filtering, which helps keep the flavors complex and layered. Carmelized bananas, dates, figs. You get the idea. Not your typical Irish Whiskey.
$43: Connemara Peated Single Malt: If Compass Box hadn't already copped "Peat Monster" for one of its expressions these folks could have used it for this peatiest of all Irish Whiskies. This is as gentle as the Irish Sea, which is to say not at all. I like it, and it's an interesting contrast to what you expect from an Irish whiskey.
$48: Powers 12-Year Old Special Reserve: Just recently launched in the U.S., this is a superior pot-still whiskey consistent with Power's signature flavor profile of marrying up spiciness with a honey flavor. The 12-year old definitely benefits from the extra years of aging in ex-Bourbon barrels. Oaky and longer finish than Power's flagship blend.
$45: Greenore Single Grain Irish Whiskey: This whiskey is distilled from un-malted grains and then aged in American Bourbon casks. A bit lighter than other Irish whiskies, with somewhat more pronounced citrus and green apple.
$35: Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey: Made by Cooley distillery, the only independent distillery left in Ireland, Tyrconnell is made from 100% malted barley, but no peat smoke is used in the process. The result is a fruity, oaky, nuttier, longer finish. Tyrconnell also comes in three specialty finishes; Madeira cask finish, Port cask finish and Sherry cask finish (separate reviews to come). At approximately $35 a bottle,
$1,000: Knappogue Castle 1951 is a pure pot still whiskey. It was distilled at the B-Daly Distillery in Tullamore, which closed many years ago. There are fewer than $1000 bottles left, so it is obviously a collector's bottle and not easy to come by. The age gives off aromas of overripe bananas and molasses, with notes of apples, honey, oak and a touch of licorice.
$115: Bushmills 21-year old Single-Malt. Aged for 21 years in American Bourbon barrels and European sherry casks, it is then vatted and married and sent to Madeira drums for finishing. Nicely nutty with notes of dried fruit and butterscotch.
$150: Midleton Very Rare: This is a blend, not a single-malt. The bottles are dated and released in limited supply every year. A blend of 12 to 21-year-old whiskies, matured es-Bourbon casks. Very floral on the nose, with notes of almonds, honey, lavender. Long and smooth.
$60: Green Spott: This pot-stilled whiskey from Midleton Distillery is a limited release, with only 500 bottles distributed per year. Made with 7-8 year old whiskey, with 25% of the whiskey coming from Sherry casks. Very slight menthol on the nose and tongue, which makes for a unique and pleasing character. Lots of honey and slight note of coffee. A very interesting whiskey to have in one's library.