10 Best Irish Whiskeys for St. Patrick’s Day 2019 – It’s Not All About Jameson!
Ireland has a long and proud history of whiskey making and includes the world’s oldest licensed distillery in Bushmills. You will also hear strong claims that it was the Irish who first began distilling whiskey, although we wouldn’t want to get stuck in the middle of a whiskey debate between the Scots and Irish, so won’t offer an opinion on this dispute.
Although the rules governing what is a whiskey in Ireland are similar to those in Scotland, they do like to do a few things differently. Besides adding an extra letter to its spelling, they also have an extra piece of kit that creates some of their drinks: the pot still. This distills a mash made from both malted and unmalted barley and gives the whiskey a spicy freshness that is unique to Irish pot still whiskeys and many of the blends in which it is used.
To help navigate your way around the various Irish whiskeys, they can be broadly divided into four categories, as follows:
Single malt – as with Scottish single malt, this is a whiskey made from malted barley that has been aged in oak for a minimum of three years at a single distillery.
Single pot still – “single” again denotes that this is the product of a single distillery, but using a pot still and a mix of malted and unmalted barley.
Grain – a whiskey that has been distilled from one or more of four grains: corn, rye, wheat and barley.
Blended – whiskey that has been blended using any combination of malt, grain and pot still whiskeys.
Powers Gold Label
There are many famous names in the blended Irish whiskey category jostling for attention, with some great value choices among them. Bushmills, Jameson and Tullamore DEW all have quality whiskeys at around the £20 mark, or for £10-15 more you can explore the likes of Pearse Lyons, Writers Tears and Powers.
Deciding which one is best is largely a matter of personal preference, so as Powers Gold has been our go-to bargain booze for years, that’s the one we’ll give the nod to. It’s exceptionally smooth and has an oily feel to it, with the fresh, honeyed spices of pot still whiskey making it typically Irish and some toastier, charred notes adding a moreish depth. You can pay a lot more for a fraction of the quality of this classic Irish blend.
Bushmills 10 Year Old
This is what we would describe as a “sociable whisky”. It has a full flavour but isn’t yelling for attention, allowing you to engage in conversation while quietly enjoying its malty charms.
It has deeper notes of earthy grains and smooth chocolate with lighter touches of honey and orange, which all gradually reveal themselves in more detail as the night draws on, while a clean finish sprinkled with oak and pepper steadily fades as you put down the glass for more sociable chatter.
A fine whiskey that makes for a welcome companion at home or down the pub.
Redbreast 12 Year Old
Redbreast is a single pot still Irish whiskey brand that forms part of the Pernod-Ricard subsidiary of Irish Distillers who produce whiskey at the Midleton distillery alongside other brands including Jameson, Green Spot, Paddy and Powers.
It typifies the pot still style, with an assortment of spicy aromas and flavours given a sherry richness through ageing. It’s sweet and oily with a long finish that moves from sticky ginger toffees to deep, chewy liquorice. For many of its fans, this is the best whiskey in the world and exactly what Irish whiskey should taste like.
Glendalough Double Barrel
This release from Glendalough is a single grain whiskey that has been aged in bourbon barrels before spending a six-month finishing spell in oloroso sherry barrels to bring out its fruitier side. The aroma trail starts with sweet vanilla, but stay with it for long enough and you’ll get some of the toasted almonds and oak that become more prominent upon tasting.
That initial sweetness develops some richness of caramelised fruits and honey, while the oaky flavours dry out and crackle with pepper. There’s quite a lot going on here and we think it’s a good choice for entry-level whiskey drinkers or those who already have a cabinet creaking with bottles and are looking for a grain whiskey option.
This whiskey doesn’t engulf yours senses with smoke in the way that some of Islay’s whiskies do, which makes it a good choice for anyone who has previously been nervous about testing their taste buds on a peated whiskey.
That smoke makes a pleasant introduction on the nose, mingling gently with sweeter notes and, on sipping, lingers politely in the background while the sweet flavours introduce some of their vanilla, floral and grassy friends. There’s a slight rush of alcohol and a drying oak finish that add a little fire to the smoke, but mostly this is a well-mannered peaty experience.
New whiskey blends are popping up all over Ireland, whether they’re from new distilleries getting product out before their distilled booze is mature enough; established distilleries dipping their toes into new waters; or new businesses simply looking for a slice of the blended whiskey market.
Of the newer kids on the block, we’ve been enjoying Silkie (40%), a fresh and fruity blend from Donegal’s Sliabh Liag Distillery, and Roe & Co (45%), a new Diageo product full of warming vanilla and spicy oak flavours.
But our pick of the bunch comes from Slane, a new distillery in the Boyne Valley. It’s triple casked, with the blended whiskeys coming from virgin, seasoned and sherry barrels, and its clean oak and grain flavours are coated with a creamy and fruity sweetness. It’s great to sip neat but we think it would also make a versatile cocktail choice, possessing enough spice and booze to provide a punch as well as flavour.
Teeling Single Malt
The Teeling Distillery can trace its roots back to 1782, but it wasn’t until 2015 that its new Dublin distillery was opened – the first in the city for over 125 years. Among the new enterprise’s core releases is this dark-bottled delight, a no age statement single malt that includes whiskeys that have been aged for up to 23 years.
It’s a very fruity number, largely as a result of the quintet of wine casks it has been matured in – sherry, port, madeira, cabernet sauvignon and white burgundy. It has an immediate festive booziness that makes us think of breaking open the stilton, along with sweet, dried citrus peel, vanilla and a dry woody finish that grips the back of your throat and lingers.
Knappogue Castle 21 Year Old
To show that not all Irish whiskey is produced for the “affordable” market, we wanted to include an aged whiskey with a heftier price tag hanging round the bottle’s neck, and aged Irish whiskey doesn’t come much better than the barrels locked away in the 15th century Knappogue Castle. 12-year-old, 14-year-old and 16-year-old whiskeys are readily available, but for something extra special, we’ve selected this limited edition 21-year-old single malt.
The aroma is heady with oak, which, when accompanied by a splash of water, opens out to reveal rich malt and a touch of sweetness. There’s more malt on the flavour – rich, intense and as if the barley has sucked in the concentrated goodness of apples and pears before starting its journey to become whiskey – while the oak flavours twist and turn through light and dark textures before smoothing out with a buff of leather at the finish.
Dingle Distillery Batch 3
The Dingle Distillery does its work in small doses, with just three limited edition whiskey releases to its name since November 2016. Bottles of Batch 4 – a single malt matured in bourbon, sherry and port casks – will be available soon but, until then, we’ve been enjoying its predecessor.
Despite being a new operation, the distillery uses traditional methods of production, with localised well water, wooden fermentation vessels and three bespoke copper stills making it very much a hand-crafted product of its County Kerry environment.
Triple distilled and aged in a combination of bourbon and port casks, it’s a light gold spirit with an aroma of soft plums and tropical fruit. A first sip provides a sudden rush of alcohol and spice, which gradually recede to reveal chewy caramel and dark chocolate flavours. Temper the flames with a drop of water and those initial tropical aromas open up on the palate, too.
A distinctive spirit with hidden complexities that will reward a slowly drawn out supping session.
This unique blended whiskey – so new that it hadn’t been bottled when we gave it a taste – has been aged in a hybrid cask made of five woods, which makers Kinahan’s describe as creating “a riot of unconventional flavours.” The woods are American, French, Hungarian and Portuguese oaks along with chestnut, and the riot smells more like its taking place in the back streets of Morocco than its Dublin home.
Kicking off proceedings on the taste front are a few spicy characters, led by cinnamon but with some nutmeg joining in, and there’s lots of wood, too – some of it with the snap and whip of youth, some of it with a more rounded polish – but these flavours are also joined by a gooey Danish pastry sweetness that helps to soften the experience.
We also claim to be confronted by something minty, giving it a fresh, zingy kick and a herbal tang, but such is the ever shifting nature of the riot that you’ll likely find your own assortment of characters wandering through the scene. Overall, it’s one of the more interesting whiskeys we’ve had in a while and a riot we’ll look forward to returning to.
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