"Water of Life"
Irish whiskey is a simple passion of mine. A great Scotch is equally appreciated, but it's with the Irish spirits that I have the most lengthy relationship; of which I can wax poetic. The process of distilling spirits, as both the Scots and Irish have done for ages, seems to me, a very artistic endeavor. It's creative and skilled work paired with a good bit of science, which I genuinely admire. My other dream job would be at a distillery on the shores of either country. I see it as demanding the equivalent "chemistry" of the composing process: where refinement is in the details and an obsessive dedication to the craft is the norm. Like great song-craft, it seems inspired by improvisation, calling our attention to the nuances. Most importantly, it is to be shared.
Here I aim to share some of my favorites with you; whiskeys that I've come by on travels to Ireland with my lovely wife, Jeanne, (who also shares a passion for the spirits of the Emerald Isle) and some that go back to my earliest discoveries of the "Water Of Life". No offense to American bourbons, but the Irish have my heart when it comes to stocking our cabinet or ordering a pour.
I'm no expert on the subject, but I've sipped, sampled, shared and relished in some two dozen or more Irish whiskey's with anyone who takes an interest in it and even a Master Distiller by the name of Jerry at the Midleton (Jameson) Distillery. A bit of reading and research on the subject of tasting and distilling has deepened my appreciation. I've certainly made my own comparisons and experienced the joy of discovering new favorites.
I've written briefly about a handful of these whiskeys and made whatever comparisons I'm compelled to make. Check back from time to time as I will update this list every so often. For now, I raise a glass to you. Slainte!
Kilbeggan, both the 18 and 21, are my favorites at this moment. The 18, specifically, was extraordinary. I say was because it's gone from both our cabinet and out of production altogether. As you can see, at the time of this writing, the 21 has not far to go in terms of another pour or two. These are big whiskeys, lush and sophisticated, but not heavy. The balance is perfect between the sensation of a bold, sophisticated whiskey and a completely accessible dram. The 18 year old was, quite honestly, my most favorite whiskey to date.
At the time my wife and I purchased this beauty from the TD distillery in, where else, Tullamore, we were told it was only available in the Czech Republic. Having researched it further, I see that it had a moment in the sun in Bulgaria and other select markets eventually. Crafted by Ireland's eminent Master Blender, Barry Walsh, Black 43 is a triple distilled blend rather than the more traditional single pot still offering. This Tully was so exceptional it runs a very tight race with my beloved Kilbeggan 18 for a favorite. Seriously, it was superb, far above and beyond any Tullamore Dew I've ever sipped.
This is my go to whiskey. When I first got bit by the Irish whiskey bug I was living in Seattle. I don't recall the year, but I recall my first dram. It was Bushmills Original 1608; at that time with an orange label. Distilled at the "Oldest Licensed Whiskey Distillery in the World", in Northern Ireland, Bushmills has long been my favorite. I always get a hint of green apples with Bushmills in my glass. It was there at the first sip and remains with me to this day. Black Bush is silky smooth with all of that green apple character I have forever sensed. Like an old friend, I will turn to Bushmills again and again, as well as, any of the distillery's variations of the brand.
Another great whiskey from the Midleton Distillery to which my wife and I have been fortunate to travel. As noted before, to brag a bit, we had a personal tour from one of the head distillers at Midleton; spending the day with him at the distillery and around the town. We climbed a hill to overlook the storage facilities and the entire distillery property at one point; a true highlight of that trip. You've undoubtedly seen your standard Jameson at damn near every bar in the world. They've done a tremendous job saturating the market with a wide variety of products under the Jameson brand; many which are interesting and quite good. This Distillery Reserve, however, is one of the finest examples of what the Jameson brand represents. This is straight-up fine Irish spirit. For all of the marketing strategy Jameson puts forth it's hard to beat a quality bottling of a no-hype whiskey. The Midleton Very Rare is easily one of the best whiskeys we've ever had and it is the older brother, so to speak, and perhaps a more refined sibling to be sure, to the Jameson brand. Can't go wrong with this one, however.
From Mitchell and Son family distillery comes Red Spot; the 15 year sibling of Yellow (12yr) and Green (7-10yr). This is a glorious whiskey. It's got weight to it. Full bodied, but mellow-smooth. It is quite perfect. Certainly a go to whiskey if I'm feeling like something more on the higher end. It's not overly pricey, but also not an everyday pour in my household. We consider this the "good stuff". When my wife and I first found Green Spot we brought it home as a rare bird in our collection. Now you can find the Spots in the states at any properly stocked liquor store. The Red is, however, the most complex of the the three though any variation is a really great whiskey in my opinion. Not to be missed.
Ah, Redbreast. Admittedly, I have a different relationship with the Redbreast family of whiskeys from the Midleton Distillery. I'm not a fan of straight-ahead Redbreast. It's perfectly drinkable, as is the base Jameson, but I'm just not enamored with it in any way. These two, however, are quite a different matter altogether. The 21 is superb, as is the Lustau. Both complex, both offering something unique. You know you're in to some serious whiskey with the 21. The Lustau is finished in Oloroso Sherry casks, with a fruitiness coming forward in taste. Both lovely whiskeys, unquestionably.
This one is new to me as of this writing (early 2020). Triple casked in Virgin, Seasoned and Sherry casks then blended, Slane is some grand stuff. I really dig this one as a go-to for any occasion. There's also Slane Castle in County Meath in its history, which hosts the occasion major concert event, which is simply very cool. This whiskey really gets it for me, kind of like my first experience with Bushmills. I'm keeping my eye on Slane and anything they offer, as I believe there will be some truly fine distilling coming from these folks in the future. An affordable and really well crafted Irish whiskey blend that I'm happy to share in the company of more spendy whiskeys.