Monday, June 27, 2016

Immersing Myself In Irish Whiskey

Originally licensed as Locke's in 1757, Ireland's
Kilbeggan Distillery keeps the spirit of history alive.
I recently spent two weeks in Ireland surfing sketchy reefs and exploring the unbelievably gorgeous coast of Counties Donegal, Sligo and others. This required a lot of driving on Ireland’s notoriously narrow-as-fuck roads. More than a few times, I was convinced that a double-decker bus or a dustbin lorry smashing into my car was going to be the last thing I saw.

So, when the driving was done and the panic attacks were beaten back, I got down to the business of tasting Irish whiskey.

Yes, Scotland is king, but if you’re a Scotch fan like me, you may find it refreshing to explore the different approach of Irish whiskey. There is no Islay brine in Ireland, and (spare one outlier) no smoky peat bombs that dominates many Scotch whisky. There is huge diversity in Irish whiskey, but, generally speaking, the best are smooth and silky with a range of pure floral, honey and malty flavors.

I didn’t taste nearly as much Irish whiskey as I would’ve liked, but I found some really fun stuff.

I also spent some time touring the
Kilbeggan Distillery, Ireland’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. For the whiskey lover, or any tourist interest in Irish history, I cannot recommend visiting this place enough. 

If you’re driving between Galway and Dublin, the Kilbeggan Distillery is right off the highway and, although clearly a tourist destination, it’s anything but a trap. The old distillery is filled with creaking original wood and massive open-top fermenters. The river still powers the 100-year-old mill, and old copper stills tower in the courtyard. You can even check out the oldest copper still in Ireland, which they still use.

Below are my notes on some of the Irish whiskeys I tasted on my trip.

Redbreast Mano a Lámh
This beautiful whiskey from Midleton Distillery is aged in first-fill oloroso Sherry casks. It's smooth and vibrant with lots of flowers, caramel, sweet oak and dried berry aromas and flavors. There's a lovely creaminess and elegance to this whiskey, and it goes down dangerously easy.

The Jameson Distillery in Dublin has a Disney-fied feel to it, but it's
worth a stop. This neighboring bar has a wide selection of Irish whiskey.

Jameson Crested Ten

Smells of honeys and pears with spiced tea and smoke. A bit biting on the palate but smooth enough with flavors of honey, baked pear, almond and smoke. This seems more smooth and less harsh than the regular Jameson bottling.

Galway Bay 10-Year Single Malt
Super floral with apricots and nut aromas. Quite smooth with tropical fruits and mixed nuts. A sense of woodsy spice pervades this whiskey, and I love it.

Green Spot 12-Year
Moderately smooth with lots of apples and caramel. I get some oaky and vanilla elements. Quite good.

Connemara Peated Single Malt
Pitched as Ireland’s only peated single malt whiskey, this would fit right in with its Highland Scotch cousins. It’s so smoky on the nose, with these peat and charred earth and bog aromas. Lots of smoke and spicy peat and clove on the palate but there are still some floral and honey tones. Delicious stuff - worth seeking out if you’re a fan of peat.

Tyrconnel Single Malt
A bit sharp on the nose but some honey, yellow flowers and baked pear liven it up. Creamy and honeyed with peaches, nuts, mellow herbal tones. A bit simple but solid.

This entry-level whiskey shows sweet aromas of malt balls and brown sugar. A sweet, nutty, malty whiskey with notes of honey and flowers. Straightforward, simple stuff but very tasty.

Kilbeggan 8-Year
A little deeper than the entry-level whiskey, but still shows that sweet malty aroma. Moderately smooth with floral perfume, honey, malt and soft spice notes. A bit more depth and silkiness.

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