Five Awesome Irish Whiskey Sips for St. Patrick's Day
Irish whiskey makers will have a prosperous St. Patrick's Day as their particular brand of elixir remains one of the fastest growing segments of the spirits business.
Jameson Irish whiskey, the world's leading brand, reported a strong 16 percent spike in sales by volume (shipments to liquor stores) in the last six months of 2010. The brand sold more than three million cases during 2010, with one million of these cases consumed in the United States. In the U.S., sales were up a hefty 27 percent.
Though the market is dominated by two brands, Jameson and Bushmill's, there are several other brands of Irish whisky to consider laying in for the holiday, or giving as a gift.
$58.00: Starting with the big brands, consider Jameson Gold Reserve, a terrific expression that until recently was only available through airport duty-free retail. It is a blend of three whiskeys of what Jameson says is "advanced years," and each of the three have been matured in different wood: virgin oak, ex-Bourbon barrels and sherry casks. It has a long creamy finish, and complex taste notes of vanilla, pepper, hazelnuts.
$60.00: Turning to Bushmills, or as the Irish refer to it -- the Protestant whiskey (because it is made in the North, while Jameson is made in the South), my choice is the 16-year old, not the older, more expensive 21-year old. This version of Bushmills is aged for 16 years in a combination of Olorosso Sherry and ex-Bourbon casks, then finished for several months in Port wine barrels. The port finishing gives the 16 a deeper, amber color and lushness.
$40.00: Malt Advocate named Redbreast 12-year old the "Irish Whiskey of the Year," and it was a worthy choice. Unlike most Irish whiskies, which are distilled three times, Redbreast is distilled twice. Redbreast is the only pot still Irish whiskey available in the U.S. There is a more expensive 15-year old, but age doesn't always equal higher quality. The 12 seems just right -- a blend of honey, raisins, toffee. Smooth and balanced.
$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 smooths out.
$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.
$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.