There’s no doubt that Irish whiskeys are having a moment in the sun and as the mercury starts to fall, it might be time to fill your rocks glass with something a little unfamiliar.
When we think of Irish whiskey, it’s easy to go with the big players – Bushmills and Jameson. While these are both great Irish whiskey producers, there is also a host of newer smaller distillers, from Dead Rabbit to Slane, that is defying tradition in their pursuit of innovative spirit perfection.
Firstly, lets look at how Irish whiskey is different from Scotch. Firstly, it’s said that whiskey originated in Ireland, where it was introduced by Irish monks (aren’t all the best drops?) around 1000AD, although that original spirit – uisce beatha or the water of life in Gaelic – bears little resemblance to what we consider whisky today (it’s said Irish Mist whiskey liqueur is based on one of these traditional recipes). Fast forward to the late 1800s and Ireland was home to over 30 distilleries. After a century-long downturn, Irish whiskey has made a bold resurgence and is now one of the fastest-growing spirit categories.
You might find Irish whiskey to be smoother than its Scottish cousin, and that’s because while Scotch is typically distilled twice, Irish whiskey is distilled three times, creating a spirit that’s noticeably lighter. Also, while Scotch is (typically) produced in continuous stills in an uninterrupted process, Irish whiskey is produced in large copper stills. Another biggie is the use of peat – Scotch uses peat during the malt drying process while the Irish producers use kilns, which retain the natural barley flavor. The focus in Irish whiskey is also on the distillation process, while in Scotland it’s all about the blend.
Finally, while Scotch is aged in casks for a minimum of two years, in Ireland it’s three years, something to consider when you’re opting for cheaper, younger spirits.
The Dead Rabbit
You know the bar in New York (or at least, you should) but you might not know that the acclaimed cocktail haven in the Financial District teamed up with Dublin Liberties Distillery’s master distiller Darryl McNally to create Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey, a dram inspired by one of the Irish street gangs that once ruthlessly controlled parts of Manhattan. Look for vanilla followed keenly by spice, fruit and malt, and an undertone of bourbon.
Although it dates back to 1887, Green Spot Irish whiskey is relatively unknown outside Ireland. A classic single pot still whiskey produced in Cork (by the same guys as Jameson), Green Spot is one of the last remaining bonded whiskeys. Aged seven to ten years in both sherry and bourbon casks, expect touches of apple and honey as well as roasted nuts. There are only 12,000 bottles produced a year so if you find one, hold on to it. For something a little different, look out for the Chateau Leoville Barton expression, which is finished in wine casks!
Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength Black Barrel
While you can find Jameson whiskey almost anywhere in the world, the brand also has a few select products, including the Select Reserve Cask Strength version, which is the most bourbon-like spirit produced by the company, thanks to the use of double-charred bourbon refill barrels (as well as sherry casks) and a hefty addition of pot still whiskey in the blend. Perfect for sipping as well as cocktails.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Grinsell’s Wood Tree 3
Another lesser known but bloody good Irish whiskey is the Midleton Dair Ghaelach, a blend of 15-22-year-old Midleton pot still whiskey finished in Irish oak hogsheads, which is pretty rare as most of the country’s forests were decimated to make ships. A departure from the typically Irish whiskey style, this dram has subtle woody notes, with sweet vanilla, chocolate and honeycomb, and is bright and inviting, with an exceptionally long finish.
Redbreast 15 Year Irish Whiskey
Another relatively wallet friendly drop, Redbreast 15 Year is a delicious single pot still whiskey that’s rich and earthy thanks to extensive aging. Initially a one-off release that was eventually made a permanent part of the range, Redbreast 15 displays cinnamon and cloves on the nose, followed by a dry palate of spicy oak, fresh apple and mango, and a dry, slightly spicy finish that makes it perfect for elevated classic whiskey cocktails.
Teeling Brabazon Series 1
Teeling has been the face of Irish whiskey’s renaissance since it was founded in 2015, driving the market forward with its small-batch releases and innovation. The Dublin producer is best known for its curious and bold expressions, including whiskeys finished in five types of wine casks; single malt bottlings; Calvados barreling; and 24 and 33-year-old reserves. For a great Teeling Whiskey, try the Brabazon Series 1, the first release of the distillery’s Brabazon range, which explores the impact of fortified wine casks on the spirit profile. Earthy with touches of sweetness and caramalisation, this is a brilliant sipping spirit for when the lads visit.
One of Ireland’s best-known producers, Old Bushmills Distillery produces its whiskey with water drawn from Saint Columb’s Rill, a tributary of the River Bush. It’s been producing Irish drops since 1784, and currently offers a range of whiskey, from its Black Bush line, which are produced with a greater proportion of malt whiskey than the White Label; the Red Bush, made with more malt whiskey that’s been matured in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks; and 12, 16 and 21 year old expressions. For something a little different, try Bushmills 1608, a special release marking the brand’s 400th anniversary of the license to distill aqua vitae in Antrim, that regularly wins the top spot in Irish spirit competitions.
Slane Irish Whiskey
A smooth yet complex whiskey that offers newbies a great opportunity to try something new, Slane is triple distilled, with toasted grain and malt whiskeys blended and matured in virgin oak to give robustness that makes it a sipping essential. The addition of whiskey aged in sherry casks adds to the complexity. Look for strong vanilla notes, Demerara sugar and rich caramel, as well as hints of dried fruit.
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