St Patrick’s Day is the ideal opportunity to reacquaint yourself with, or taste for the first time, Irish whiskey and with March 17th approaching, I thought now was a good time to look at what’s happening in the Irish whiskey world.
For many years whiskey production in Ireland was in the hands of just a few companies, with much of the whiskey being produced at the large Midleton distillery. In recent years, however, there has been a surge of interest in both the drinking and production of Irish whiskey which is bringing new life to the distilling industry. Traditionally known for their pot still whiskeys, that make use of triple distillation and a mix of malted and unmalted barley, Irish distillers also produce some great single malts and blends and various permutations of all three types are increasingly being used.
Tullamore D.E.W. is a good example of this. Established in 1829, but then closed in 1954, it re-opened in 2014 as a new distillery on a greenfield site in Tullamore. The whiskey currently being released has been distilled under licence at Midleton Distillery but once their own is sufficiently matured they will switch to this and they have already shown the breadth of expressions they intend to have in their range. The light, toastyness of the Tullamore D.E.W. original and the creamy, chocolate, fruit and nut of the 12 year old Special Reserve show how varying the proportions of the triple distilled grain, pot still and malt whiskey used can influence these uniquely Irish blends, whilst their triple distilled single malts are spicy, fruity and complex delights. Just in case you are wondering, the D.E.W. after Tullamore stands for Daniel E. Williams – who worked at the distillery for nearly 60 years and is credited with bringing about Tullamore D.E.W.’s distinctive character.
Renaissance and experimentation are exemplified in the new Teeling distillery in Dublin. Set up by Jack and Stephen Teeling (whose father founded Cooleys in 1987) the idea is to bring ‘choice and breadth’ back to Irish whiskey in an innovative style whilst maintaining respect for the traditions of old. The whiskeys currently being released are from stock owned under a supply agreement with Cooleys plus some family owned casks and these are double distilled whiskeys but the whiskey being produced at their new distillery includes traditional triple distilled pot still whiskey so this will contribute to the variety of whiskeys they can release. Current expressions include a delicious small batch blend that has a high proportion of malt and is finished in rum casks. There is also a single malt which aims to retain typical Irish smoothness whilst introducing as much flavour as possible, and this has been done by vatting together whiskeys finished in five different wine cask types. Finally, they are producing limited edition whiskeys to mark various points in the development of the new distillery and the Revival Commemorative Series Volume II is a very interesting expression as it is a 13 year old whiskey which spent the first 12 years of its life in ex-bourbon casks and was then transferred to 250 litre ex-Calvados French apple brandy casks for the final 12 months. This unique finish brings apple and pear flavours not found before in an Irish whiskey.
Pot still whiskeys with their rich and creamy taste and mouthfeel are still, unsurprisingly, very popular. Although broadly similar each expression is influenced by the type of casks used for maturation. For example, Yellow Spot uses a combination of bourbon, sherry and Malaga casks to produce flavours that include honey, spice, coffee, chocolate and red apples while Green Spot is matured in new and refill bourbon casks that result in clove, green apples and toasted oak flavours, and the fabulous full bodied, fruit cakey Redbreast 12 year old bears the clear influence of Oloroso sherry casks.
Irish blends distinctive smoothness and flavour makes them great for everyday drinking and means they continue to be in demand. Slightly confusingly, as discussed above, in Ireland a blended whiskey can consist of potstill and grain, malt and grain, or potstill, malt and grain. As well as the Tullamore D.E.W. and Teeling mentioned already others worth considering are the well priced Paddy and Kilbeggan, and for an extra special treat the Jameson Gold Reserve can’t be beaten. Not forgetting also Black Bush from the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland, which, with its high proportion of malt that has been matured in Oloroso sherry casks, is delightful.
Bushmills also produce single malts but with a typical Irish twist as they are triple distilled. The 21 year old is probably the stand out whiskey of the range – aged for a minimum of 19 years in former Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon-seasoned casks the whiskey is then married together in Madeira casks for a further 2 years, resulting in a whiskey of great depth that has notes (among others) of tropical and dried fruit, spices, dark chocolate, and coffee and quite rightly deserves the rave reviews that it gets.
For many years, Bushmills was the only whiskey distillery to be found in Northern Ireland but, as in Southern Ireland, there are now several new distilleries either already in production or at the planning stage and with 32 new or proposed distilleries in Ireland as a whole there is lots to look forward to. And whilst the various types may at times get a little confusing, one thing you can be sure of is that whichever Irish whiskey you choose you’ll find they are usually smooth yet complex and unique personalities who you’ll enjoy spending time with. So if you’re after the perfect whiskey to drink, or to give as a gift, on St Patricks Day check out the full range of the Irish whiskeys we stock.
If you need any help with your choice then please do contact us.
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