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Mar 21

A Lesson in Irish Whiskey

Irish WhiskeyAh yes, the redheaded stepchild of whiskey – Irish.  And that descriptor actually works; Ireland is full of redheads!

In all seriousness, many whiskey enthusiasts view the Irish variety as boring, laughable, and sometimes even a step backwards in whiskey evolution.  But why?  Let’s dig a little deeper into our beloved drink hailing from the Emerald Isle.

Before we get started, you should know that distilling in Ireland has changed dramatically in the past one-hundred years.  Once a land booming with distilleries, it is currently down to three – Bushmills, Cooley, and Midleton.  These three distilleries produce 100% of the whiskey claiming Ireland as its heritage, which to me shows that innovation and taking risks is trumped by tradition and the necessity for staying in business (survival).

The main difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch are the styles produced.  Many blends of Scotch are sent to market (in fact, 90% of Scotch is blended), but the more revered brands are single malt.  On the contrary, many of Ireland’s most popular brands, including Jameson, Powers, Paddy, and Kilbeggan, are blends.  There are some single malts, but they are few and far between.  A unique style of Irish whiskey is pure pot still, found only in the Redbreast and Green Spot brands.

Irish whiskey can also be separated from Scotch in that it is typically triple-distilled.  Although we typically associate multiple distillations with other high-quality spirits (vodka, etc.), to some people this can have a negative effect on whiskey.  This extra distillation or two can purify the whiskey a little too much, removing some of the flavors brought on prior to aging.  Depending on what side of the argument you are on, this can create either “pure” or “impure” whiskey.

So maybe (just maybe) you’re here to get my opinion on the topic.  What do I think of Irish whiskey?  To be honest, I’m with the skeptics for the most part.  In the handful of years that I have been purchasing whiskey, I have only bought two bottles, and those were for St. Patrick’s Day.  I just don’t get the same satisfaction out of Irish that I do out of Scotch or bourbon.  From my experience, Irish whiskey is just too light and one-dimensional, which is fine in small amounts, just not worth my money when there are better choices out there.  I’ll order a Jameson at the bar, but it’s usually when I had a big dinner and I don’t want my drink weighing me down.

What do you think of Irish whiskey?  Do you find it enjoyable or do you stay away from it completely?  Let me know in the comments.

 

-Ryan

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  1. Josh Feldman

    I personally like Irish whisky a lot. It tends to run sweet and simple but there are stand-outs and Cooley is shaking things up a lot with Connemara and Tyrconnel. I have high hopes the others will follow suit.

    I currently have the following bottles of Irish whisky open at the moment. I’ll give my star ratings. Most are reviewed on my blog:

    From Midleton (Irish Distillers):
    Midleton Very Rare *****
    Redbreast 12 ****

    From Cooley
    Connemara Turf Mor (not tasted yet – just sniffed)

    From Bushmills:
    Black Bush ***
    Bushmills Single Malt 10 ***
    Bushmills 1608 ****

    1. Ryan

      I’ve heard good things about the Redbreast Cask Strength, but knowing that the standard Redbreast costs $55, I’m not in any hurry to spend a lot more for an Irish whiskey with a good reputation.

      I’ve had Connemara and I will agree that it is very good. I haven’t had Black Bush, but it seems interesting probably because it is lightly peated, and sometimes peat can cover up a bad whiskey. ;)

      -Ryan

      1. Joshua Feldman

        The other Ryan just reviewed Redbreast CS. He didn’t like it that much and felt it wasn’t a good value. His review is here:
        http://valuewhisky.blogspot.com/2012/03/redbreast-12-year-old-cask-strength.html

        Personally I like Redbreast 12 a lot and consider it one of the top 5 Irish whiskies I’ve had. I would buy it again.

        If Black Bush is peated it is so lightly peated I didn’t notice. I find it a barely above average product. It has less grain alcohol than White Bush. Other than that it doesn’t stand out. Peated Irish are mainly just Connemara Peated and Connemara Turf Mor. Double distilled and quite distinctive.

        Another interesting selection – much cheaper – is “The Knot”. It’s very herbal, hempy and and distinctive. It’s around $30 – but hard to find.

        1. Ryan

          I checked out Ryan’s reviews yesterday. I’d say if he feels it’s below average and it costs $70, it’s not really a good value!

          I’ll have to check out “The Knot”; sounds interesting!

          -Ryan

  2. The other Ryan

    Avoid! (except Connemara). I wonder how much role the triple-distillation plays in the reduced flavor-potency of Irish. Ever had one of the triple-distilled Lowland Scotches? I’d like to know if those are as boring as Irish whiskey, but I don’t want to spend the money to find out!

    1. Ryan

      I would think triple-distillation GREATLY reduces flavor-potency! I can’t say I’ve ever had a triple-distilled Lowland Scotch, but I typically avoid Lowland Scotches to begin with.

      -Ryan

      1. EricH

        Auchentoshan is the only remaining Lowland distillery doing triple distillation. Some of their older products are quite good but it might be tough to adjust if you’re used to Islay flavors. However the best example of triple distilled single malt would have to be the now closed Rosebank.

        1. Ryan

          Very interesting, EricH. I would hesitate to sample Auchentoshan based solely on your choice of words of “tough to adjust” – that just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

          Thanks for the comment!

          -Ryan

  3. G-LO

    I have no problems with Irish Whiskeys. Since this is less than a week after St Paddy’s Day, it’s been a hot topic, and I have commented about it on Josh and The Other Ryan’s blogs. Although they tend to be much simpler and more mellow that the American and Scotch whiskeys, I still enjoy them and consider them to be an excellent diversion. Just don’t try them after an Islay or a big Bourbon. They will simply fall flat.

    Cheers!
    G-LO

    1. Ryan

      That’s probably exactly the issue with Irish for most whiskey lovers – we compare it to the “bigger” whiskeys that a lot of us are used to. If you take it for what it is, you can definitely appreciate it a bit more.

      -Ryan

  4. Dale Young

    Ryan,

    My youngest daughter spent a semester in London last year, and her big sister went over for a visit. They were lucky enough to be in Dublin Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. The only thing she really remembers from that night is that she was drinking Greenore Small Batch SIngle Pot whiskey. She knew I would enjoy it, and was able to bring me home a bottle of it. Redbreast 12 was my favorite Irish whiskey prior to tasting Grreenore (which, by the way, is an 8 year old). I now have our local Wine and Spirit Store order me a bottle on a monthly basis. It goes for around 50.00 a bottle.

    I would be interested in hearing what you think of it. If you ever do a review, would you drop me a line?

    Thanks,

    Dale Young
    Central PA

    1. Ryan

      Dale-

      I will certainly keep my eye out for it.

      Thanks for the comment!

      -Ryan

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