Face it, St. Patrick’s Day is one of those occasions when most people who are caught up in the fray are going to drink the most ubiquitous and easy to reach booze there is. There’s nothing wrong with that. Heck, it sure makes it easy on the bartender, who by noon has already had a looooong day.
However, some of us might celebrate at a private gathering, or somewhere a little less yiddle dee dee-tastic. We can go for what’s easily within reach, but given the occasion, what if we want to sip something slightly more festive than your everyday Irish? Besides the usual blends, Irish Whiskey also comes in delicious single malt and pot still (a mash mix of unmalted with malted barley, distilled in a pot still) expressions, and one of the more recent trends is to play with different cask finishes, as they do in Scotland. Given the lighter nature of most Irish whiskeys due to their customary triple distillation, the cask finishes are quite noticeable, and have surprising effects – not merely tasting of the sherry or bourbon in which the whiskey had its final respite. These are pretty whiskeys indeed.
Here’s a wee roundup of Irish Whiskeys that will help you keep calm while getting your Irish on. A couple are new, some are older friends that are worth keeping in the clan. As one can see, each has their own distinct character, in more ways than one.
Green Spot: Beloved in Ireland and the U.K. for years, this is one of the most exciting new Irish Whiskey imports to the US market. It’s a blend of Pot Still whiskeys aged between 7 and 10 years, having rested in a combination of new bourbon, refill bourbon and sherry casks. Soft, sweet fruit (pears, ripe peach, golden apple) on the nose. Dark chocolate, caramel and walnut on the palate, finishing clean and fresh. Almost no detection of that pencil lead quality many Irish whiskeys tend to possess. Light bodied, subtle and dewy, think of it as a romantic Irish poem – one of those “magic” things, according to poet W.B. Yeats, that is “patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
The Irishman Single Malt: Even the very name “The Irishman” suggests this is a friendly, welcoming whiskey, one you like to go drinking with. Aged 10 years, this one also rests in a combo of bourbon and sherry casks. It starts out light and fruity then becomes more complex on the palate, with interesting deep herbal notes at the finish, almost akin to one of the more sweet styles of Amaro. Silver medal winner at the 2013 NY International Spirits Competiton. Would be fun to sip while binge watching Father Ted episodes.
Bushmills 16 Yrs Single Malt: Despite being comprised of a blend of two single malt whiskeys, one aged in ex-bourbon barrels and one in ex-Port, it has a rather uncomplicated tasting finish. Robust and a little earthy, but with a subtle sweet note that makes it very easy to drink. If it were a book it would be a Flann O’Brien short story collection – with a little something for everyone.
Redbreast Single Pot Still 21 Yrs: The oldest of the Redbreast sherry cask single pot stills is dark, brooding and toasty. Burnt sugar with dried fruits, toffee, vanilla and leather, swirling into a sweet finish. It is at once loud, tempestuous, engaging and playful. Wisened and a little rough around the edges, it’s the Richard Harris of the bunch.
Knappogue Castle 14 Yrs Single Malt: This one spends most of its time in ex-bourbon casks with a finish in Oloroso sherry casks. It’s just enough of a sherry hit to give it depth of flavor, but the whiskey still retains the classic Knappogue Castle lightness, which is evident by the golden hue still present on the whiskey. Graceful, light and intriguing, it’s the Maureen O’Hara of Irish Whiskey.
Bushmills Black Bush: I was hesitant to include a second Bushmills expression until I gave this another try. It’s such an easygoing whiskey that one can’t not include it in a Paddy’s Day roundup! It’s a blend that has spent some time in Oloroso sherry casks, giving it hints of both sweet and savory spices (clove, cinnamon, thyme and bay leaf) and red apples. It has a medium weight with a pleasant biscuity (the American sense of the word, not a cookie) quality. It’s the perfect tea time dram, and would be delicious with Irish soda bread, tea cake or shortbread. But you aren’t drinking this at tea time, are you? You’re 5 Pogues songs in on the jukebox by now…