Welcome to this week’s instalment of our ongoing World Whisky series, an introduction to Irish Whiskey. Today I’m sticking a little closer to home, with a country that’s experienced many ups and downs in whisky production. One of the oldest whisky-making countries, Ireland’s collective culture is intrinsically linked with whiskey (if you want to know why Irish whiskey is spelt with an “e”, check out this great read.)
Thanks to a bit of a renaissance, there are now many new distilleries in Ireland producing all types of whiskey again. While most big brand Irish whiskeys you’ll see on the market are blends, there are also a lot of new brands popping up selling well-aged single malts and single grains as well. Insider note, until a few years ago only 3 distilleries were operating in Ireland – Cooley, Bushmills, and Midleton (makers of Jameson) – which means a lot of these brands will have bought their stock from one of these while waiting for their own to age. This is useful to know if you already prefer one style over the other!
It’s difficult to talk about the general flavours you find in Irish whiskey without mentioning how its different types are made. Irish whiskey shares similar categories to Scotch – single grain, single malt, and blended – but also includes the “single pot still” denomination, which is a historically significant category using both malted and unmalted barley. A lot of Irish whiskey is also famously triple distilled, as opposed to Scotch’s double distillation, meaning, by comparison, it’s often lighter and sweeter.
As you might expect, there can be a huge range of flavours present in Irish whiskey, depending on how it’s made. Single grain is usually soft, sweet, with delicate fruit notes and rich mouthfeel. Single malts often have more complexity and heavier flavours, depending on what it’s been aged in. Single pot still whiskeys are often spicier and more richly textured than single malts, thanks to the addition of unmalted barley. Also, Ireland doesn’t exclude the use of wood other than oak, so some producers are playing around with different types, including chestnut and cherry wood, which offers unique flavour profiles. Peated whiskey is very rare in Ireland, although one or two producers are making it.
Green Spot, beloved single pot still whiskey distilled at Midleton, uses celebrated Bordeaux wine-maker Chateau Léoville Barton’s wine casks to finish this unique edition whiskey. The result is a nuanced, delicate yet complex whiskey, with perfumed notes of green apple, raspberry, ginger cake and vanilla.
The Whisky Exchange, £56.95
Award-winning independent bottlers That Boutique-y Whisky Co show off their cask-selection chops once again here, with this unnamed distillery release of a 13-year-old single malt. Irish whiskey fans will probably be able to guess where this might have come from from the unique flavour profile… There’s plenty of ripe apple and peach flavours, with a subtle coconut and walnut note underneath. Wonderful stuff!
Master of Malt, £59.95
Utilising 5 different types of wood in each cask – Portuguese, American, French and Hungarian oaks, plus chestnut – Kinahan’s are pushing the boundaries of flavour with their exceptional hybrid casks. There’s loads of caramel and charred oak upfront, with Christmassy spice and juicy pineapple upside-down cake flavours. This brand will undoubtedly be one to watch.
Master of Malt, £34.95
Another single pot still whiskey distilled at Midleton, this 12 Year Old from Powers is an entirely different beast. Aged in both ex-bourbon and oloroso sherry casks, this whiskey is spicy, rich and elegant. The character of the barley shines through with toasty spice notes, plus caramel, candied orange, and biscuity malt. For the price, this is one whiskey I’d love to keep a good stock of!
One of the few peated expressions of Irish whiskey, this non-age statement single malt produced by Kilbeggan Distilling Co. will hopefully pave the way for more smoky Irish whiskeys. While the pungent heathery smokiness is there upfront, it’s also very much still an Irish whiskey at heart, with delicate floral notes and honey sweetness.
Fledgeling whisky bonders JJ Corry have been gaining a lot of attention for their cask selection and blending expertise. This newly released 16-year-old single malt is a blend of three casks, all ex-bourbon. This whiskey is full of rich stone fruit flavours, honeyed barley, and citrus, with hints of coconut and spice. These guys are very transparent about their whiskey sourcing, and I, for one, am excited to see what they come out with next.
The Whisky Exchange, £96.95
Irish whiskey certainly is exciting at the moment, and for a good reason. In fact, 2019 saw Teeling’s 30-year-old single malt become the first Irish whiskey to win the prestigious title of World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards! I hope to feature more great Irish whiskeys in The Dram Team boxes in the future, so please do get in touch if there’s anything you think we should be including. And as always, don’t forget to tag us on social media and show us what you’re drinking!