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Gillman
10-23-2009, 18:19
This week I have been investigating Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey, considered at one time the best in the world ... Harrison Hall (1818) speaks of it in admiring terms (still resolved though to produce its equal in America).

First I looked at my resources at home and found a cask-strength Connemara. Connemara is a newer style Irish, from the well-reputed Cooley, 100% single malt and peated in this case. A lovely dram it is, with an oatmeal-like taste and a soft smokiness. Islay (any of it) has a harder edge, probably the different climates explain all this.

Seeking beyond the GG bunker, I found at LCBO the following:

- regular Jameson

- Jameson 12 years old

- The Irishman 70.

All went into the wire basket and are now in the Irish corner at home.

The current 12 year old Jameson is by far the best of this brand I have ever had. Bottlings in recent years served up good dollop of pure pot still but the leather/petrol taste was at times overwhelming for me, even I who tries to be sympa to assertive, unique tastes. Well, the current bottling is a beauty, while the pot still element is certainly present and noticeable the blend is very astute, making a cottony soft whiskey with a full flavour of pot still heather, light wood and some sherry. Just a beaut, and I hope it will remain as is.

Regular Jameson in recent years has always been good with a minty-like note from its share of pot still suavely blended with top-quality grain whiskies. A stand-by and (as it happens) a great value as is its bigger brother.

The real surprise was The Irishman 70, a merchant's blend of 70% single malt and 30% pure pot still. Now this is a blend! I have fashioned my own similar blends at home for a long time but this is the first commercial example to my knowledge of combining single malt and pure pot still Irish whiskeys. Wow. Again they get a rainwater soft texture and the pot still shines through but in a controlled way, the malt wraps around it and displays it to perfection. All for only $40.00 but it is worth much, much more.

While I admire all the great Scots whiskies often spoken of here, I always knew that Irish whiskey was as good or (sometimes) better, it just needed some extra-special attention from the current sources. Well, that's happened, the examples I mentioned are very well put together and in a way that makes the best of the constituents (pure pot still, single malt, grain whiskey).

Gary

P.S. Also recently tasted courtesy a friend is Magilligan, a Cooley single malt somewhat like Connemara but less peated, once again soft as the morning dew and with a lovely taste of mild cooked grains and flowers. Thus, withal a four-leaf clover of fine Irish whiskeys.

Gillman
10-24-2009, 05:16
Some further notes, to round out my encomium (I was running out of leaves for my clover reference).

Ireland seems originally to have made its pot still whiskey from a mash-bill of largely unmalted grains. Mostly barley was used, rounded with a very small quantity of other raw grains - rye, oats, wheat - and a measure of barley malt to convert their starches to fermentable sugar. It is still done that way sans the rye, oats and wheat. Triple distillation was and is the Irish way, both for its malt and pure pot still styles.

However, all-malt whisky emerged early in Ireland. The Irish whiskey Harrison Hall mentioned seemed of this style, and that was as early as 1818. Certainly by the late 1800's, Bushmill in the north was making this kind of whisky, and still does, including some blended with grain whisky. This is, today, an unpeated style, but as recently as the 1980's, it appears Bushmill was using a very lightly peated malt (see Michael Jackson's 1987 World Guide To Whisky).

Cooley decided to go with all-malt whisky too when it started up some 25 years ago or more. Today it produces that, either unblended, both peated and non-, or mixed with its own grain whisky.

The Bushmill whiskeys are excellent, and Black Bush, which I believe is 80% malt, is particularly good with a winy complexity.

But I suppose you can argue that Jameson pot still is the heart of Irish whiskey. Irish pure pot still eschews the peat. Jameson makes all the pot still that goes into Jameson's blends, into Powers, Redbreast and Green Spot. The latter two are 100% pure pot still I understand, and very good. Green Spot to my taste has the edge with its distinctive minty/honeysuckle notes. Redbreast offers more the big "oiled leather" taste, with good sherry notes, of classic Dublin pot still whiskey. There was a Jameson 15 years old at one time that offered this flavour but in a particularly luxurious velvety mode, I am not sure if it is still available.

As in the case of the Islays, I like that taste best when it is moderated in some way. This might be by age, cask-treatment or a particular distillation approach. It comes into its own when well-blended, e.g., Jameson, Jameson 12 years old, Powers. Some people like the untamed pure pot still flavour but like most Islay whisky or like straight rye it can be a big taste not everyone can accustom to, even many whisky fans. The current Jameson whiskeys seem to get the balance right. The one way I like the full-test Dublin taste is in Irish coffee, in that drink it comes into its own: the fame of Irish coffee was no accident or freak of fashion.

Currently I have two all-Irish blends I made myself, which combine whiskeys from all over Ireland and mix all the types: pure pot still, pure malt and grain whiskies. If I may say, they are very good, not better than Jameson's labels, just different. I like the complexity you can get by blending in some old whisky, e.g., a 16 year old Bushmills made for the Ontario market, which has a noted petrol-like taste even though it has no unmalted grains. There must be something about Irish barley that imparts this character, or perhaps it is the yeasts used on the Island.

Anyway, the Irish know all about whiskey, since, by many accounts, they invented it. After a period when the enterprising Scots created great single malts and a well-deserved reputation for those and fine blends around the world, the Irish are showing that they can do as well. They have many fewer distilleries but with those produce an excellent range which should please many palates. And their whiskeys are very well-priced in relation to Scottish malts and fine blends, an analogy presents itself here to bourbon and straight rye.

Gary

brockagh
10-24-2009, 06:41
Hi Gary

An excellent commentary, I think. What Irish whiskey lacks is the variety of Scotch, but only because of the number of distilleries. They actually have a fantastic variety, considering there's only three distilleries with whiskey at the moment.

Kilbeggan is operating again, though, and in a year, they'll have whiskey. I've tasted the new spirit and it is very good. This was closed for fifty odd years, but is the oldest whisky distillery in the world in operation.

Also, a new distillery is being built in Dingle, and it will produce pure pot still whiskey. More great news.

I think that in modern-day pure pot still, the amount of malted barley has increased. Back in the 19th century, it was about one quarter malt, half barley and one quarter oats. Now they no longer use oats, and I have heard (but am open to correction) that it's about 40% malt now to 60% barley. It varies, of course, depending on what they are making.

Bushmills Distillery only makes malt whiskey. Currently they have an agreement with Midleton to swap grain for malt - hence the blends from the Bushmills stable.

John

Gillman
10-24-2009, 06:58
Hi John,

Thanks for this, great information. Even though there are only 3 distilleries (but more coming I see), a plethora of products can and is being made. Of course merchants can add to the variety as we see from the superb The Irishman 70. (That is the best new whiskey I have tasted in a long time). I understand Midleton has a complex plant - the distillery is well-described in Michael Jackson's last whisky book, the one he edited - which permits many variations of whiskey to be made, that too accounts for the range out there. Cooley has done great work though, the Magilligan I mentioned is just about the perfect malt whiskey by my lights. Bushmills too is a key part of the story.

Gary

unclebunk
10-24-2009, 07:15
All went into the wire basket and are now in the Irish corner at home.

Every corner in my home is the Irish corner and my poor suffering wife believes that I belong in a wire basket when I'm drinking Irish whiskey.:grin:

First, let me thank you for your extremely informative post on Irish whiskey. I grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Queens and some of my earliest memories involve going to tiny corner taverns with my father and listening to the Irishmen sing and spin their yarns while drinking stout and Irish whiskey. It was truly magical looking back on it, as everyone was always so kind to me and the environment was so full of life and laughter, all fueled by the whiskey, I'm sure. Now, all these years later, I have a fondness for Irish whiskey but have never ventured much further than the standard Jameson's, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew and Powers. Black Bush, in recent years, has become a regular pour in my home, but my favorite remains Redbreast, which is simply fantastic.

Your post has me thinking now of going out and grabbing some Jameson 12, Connemara and Irishman 70, assuming I can find the latter two. I'm interested to know what other Irish whiskeys you recommend that best represent the contrasts in aroma/flavor that can be found in various brands of Irish whiskey. Thank you in advance for your thoughts on this.

ratcheer
10-24-2009, 07:19
I tried to like Irish whiskey when I was in college. I never really developed a taste for it.

Tim

smokinjoe
10-24-2009, 08:40
Thanks for the nice information, Gary. As our spate of Irish type weather continues Down South here, your post further influenced me to seek out my Irish last night. A little Powers and Kilbeggan turned out to be a very nice diversion.

Megawatt
10-24-2009, 08:47
I'll definitely be adding the Irishman 70 to my list of must-buys!

Gillman
10-24-2009, 12:27
Thanks, gents, for your comments, most appreciated including the recollections of the Irish-American bar environment of some 30 years ago. Tim, I too in the 1970's had difficulty with Irish whiskey. At the time, and I recall this well, it had a pronounced oily character deriving from the pot still element. Even then Jameson was a blend but originally it was all pot still and still showed the character strongly then. Today, the Jameson blends certainly disclose their pot still heritage but in a more subtle, nuanced way. Indeed at one time, and I believe some reviewers said this about 10 years ago, regular Jameson was if anything too bland. That has not been the case for some years now, and I think you would enjoy the regular Jameson or the Jameson 12. The regular one has a grassy, minty, fragrant nose and taste, not unlike some rye whiskey we talk about - in fact it reminds me of the Baby Sazerac and Handy ryes - it seems like an Irish cousin, or rather the vice versa is probably more true! The Irishman 70 is classy stuff, you get the pure pot still element in a well-defined way but wrapped around it is that smooth Bushmills malt.

I think Powers is excellent and defines the genre very well. If there were two I had to choose it would be that one (or regular Jameson) and Black Bush.

Gary

texascarl
10-24-2009, 13:49
I think Powers is excellent and defines the genre very well. If there were two I had to choose it would be that one (or regular Jameson) and Black Bush.

Gary

This. I have few Skills but ample Powers.

unclebunk
10-24-2009, 15:19
Thanks, gents, for your comments, most appreciated including the recollections of the Irish-American bar environment of some 30 years ago.

Sadly, that would be some 40 plus years ago. How time flies. If I may, though, I'll add one more story that sprang to mind today. It was in one of these Irish pubs in NYC that I saw my first dead person! I was only four or five years old and, as always, accompanied my father and uncle to an establishment that could shoehorn no more than about thirty people inside it. I remember the place well for two reasons: it had crushed peanut shells all over the floor (which I found amazing at the time because I could just throw the shells wherever I wanted) and the bartender would always run next door to an Italian joint whenever I showed up and return with two massive hot meatballs and warm bread for me, which he would allow me to eat at the bar with my coke and maraschino cherries. It always made me feel important, and the Irish brogues and music swirling around me seemed enchanting.

On this particular occasion, the patrons were holding a wake to celebrate the life of one of their dear friends, who happened to be laid out in an open casket along the wall across from the bar. The place was roaring with laughter, as they told stories about the deceased gentleman, who I knew quite well, if only from sight, having seen him in the pub many times before. I couldn't get my head around the notion that he was actually dead and everyone seemed to think it was funny, such was my five year old take on the situation. When I finally plucked up the courage to venture over and peek inside the casket, an old Irish guy came over to me and whispered in my ear, "It's okay, son. You can pet him. He won't bite you, that's for sure." And off he went, bellowing with laughter, as he walked to the men's room. Ah, the good old days!:lol:

TNbourbon
10-24-2009, 15:43
I especially appreciate your comments about the Jameson brands, Gary, as I find them the most consistently enjoyable among what is regularly available here. I suspect if I were to name a go-to Irish, it would be the standard Jameson, though for the insignificant premium it commands over it, it's not unusual for me to claim the Jameson 12yo instead. (In which, though, I've never found a significant 'rubber-tire' savor -- though the scent is often there.)
Additionally, perhaps of ANY worldwide whiskey, I think the Midleton Very Rare is one for which I'll gladly pay its significant premium to enjoy when I have the hankering.

Gillman
10-24-2009, 16:17
Thanks, all again, for those comments. Gosh, that is quite a story about the wake in the bar. I can't imagine that could happen today, but who knows? In New York, I often see bars with Irish names, e.g., along 3rd Avenue, and wonder if they have anything like the ambiance of the old days. I guess McSorley's does, but that is an exception I think. I know a place called Molly Malone I like, at 3rd Ave. and about 21st, great hamburgers and Guinness. Last year I recall dropping in to an Irish bar around Grand Central Terminal, I had some good whiskey there and a Guinness. The pretty waitress told me that the younger crowd, even Irish, don't drink Guinness like they used to, they still like beer but lager and other kinds. That's a shame because make no mistake - Guinness is still a fine drink, even after all the years and changes.

Gary

Gillman
10-24-2009, 16:22
For those with some time in New York who hanker after Irish stout, I recommend two places: Stout, a bar on 33rd street (not too far from MSG), and Gingerman, I think on 36th between Madison and Fifth. Stout has Guinness of course but often English or Scots stouts on draft - and sometimes American ones, plus an excellent bottled selection of international quality stouts. A big commercial-style bar it is but I like it. Gingerman has a superb craft and import beer selection, with many fine porters and stouts either from Ireland or in that tradition. I'll be there at Xmas, Cliff, I'll be calling to see you then.

Gary

loose proton
10-24-2009, 18:05
personally, I'm not that fond of lower end jameson, other jameson maybe good but I've not tried them. Aged Bushmill and Redbreast are both good drinks and not over priced.

Jono
10-31-2009, 13:02
I picked this up on a lark...Irish - The Knot....at first I thought it was a new Irish Whisky...and at 100 proof I thought, wow! However, it is not called a whisky though it was sitting in the Irish whisky section...it appears to be more of an Irish Spirits Liquour....like Irish Mist. I could take it back but as I don't mind the occasional sweet liqour...Irish Mist is pretty good...I think I will keep it. William Grant and Sons produces it...in County Cavan.

http://irishwhiskeyblog.com/2008/10/22/trying-and-tying-the-knot.aspx

"It looked different from the boldfaced "PROOF 100 PROOF" on the label to the dark caramel coloring to the sweet vanilla nose. It's pleasant enough though a bit too sweet and heavily flavored for me. It's more like a Celtic Southern Comfort, though I say that based on some very hazy memories of drinking SoCo long ago. My first thought was that The Knot would make an excellent drink for adult female-type people who don't really like whiskey.

So far my initial hunch has been spot on. Whiskey drinkers (mostly, but not exclusively, guys) think it's "interesting" but stick with the whiskey. But nearly every woman to whom I've introduced The Knot has loved it. They keep refilling their own glasses, and a few have even left the house with the half- (or more) consumed bottle, one cradling it affectionately in her arms on the way out. In short, it's been a big hit with the ladies as an aperitif, as an after-dinner drink or as a casual cocktail."

loose proton
10-31-2009, 13:56
Sadly, that would be some 40 plus years ago. How time flies. ....Real life. I love it! Thanks for the peek into your world!!!!!!

Jono
11-01-2009, 15:08
Tried The Knot...it is not bad...vanilla and honey predominate the taste with some background grain alcohol note...not thick and syrupy....a nice aperitif type of drink. Maybe the Irish version of the WT American Honey but at a higher proof.

unclebunk
11-01-2009, 15:59
Finally found the Irishman 70 today at a great liquor store in Milwaukee. Looking forward to sampling it while watching the World Series tonight. The bottle also came with a $10 mail-in rebate, knocking the price down from $30 to $20. Not bad, eh?

Gillman
11-01-2009, 16:41
That really is an excellent net price. Looking forward to your comments.

Gary

unclebunk
11-02-2009, 09:08
The real surprise was The Irishman 70, a merchant's blend of 70% single malt and 30% pure pot still. Now this is a blend! I have fashioned my own similar blends at home for a long time but this is the first commercial example to my knowledge of combining single malt and pure pot still Irish whiskeys. Wow. Again they get a rainwater soft texture and the pot still shines through but in a controlled way, the malt wraps around it and displays it to perfection. All for only $40.00 but it is worth much, much more.


Man, Gary, you really hit the nail on the head! I had the Irishman 70 last night and loved it. I'm not sure what I can add to your already perfect description. The "rainwater soft texture" and "pot still shining through but in a controlled way" is dead on, with the malt adding perfect balance but never getting in the way. I have friends who actually don't care for the intensity of pure pot still flavor as found in Redbreast, for example, so I'm curious to see what they think of the Irishman when they try it. Others don't care for the "biscuit-y" grain flavor found in most Irish whiskey blends, and that is not really present in the Irishman at all, so it really may appeal to lots of folks. I should mention to others that, although we have been referring to this whiskey as Irishman "70," the number is not actually present on the bottle's front label, so don't pass it by thinking that you've found the wrong thing. But read the back label and you will see the description of "30%" pure potstill and "70% malt." Thanks for the tip on this one, Gary.

Gillman
11-02-2009, 10:03
Thanks much for this and delighted you found this a winner as I did. That biscuity edge of pure pot still, what Jim Murray calls its "brittle" character, Jackson called it "linseed", is I think much in evidence but in an appealing way, it doesn't hit over the head in other words.

On the front side of the bottle here in Canada the 70 appears, it states: "The Irishman" on a rectangular black label, gold-edged, and underneath prominently, "70". Underneath that, "Irish Whiskey". Sounds like the label may differ here and there but it is the one and same whiskey!

Gary

brockagh
11-02-2009, 12:55
Tried The Knot...it is not bad...vanilla and honey predominate the taste with some background grain alcohol note...not thick and syrupy....a nice aperitif type of drink. Maybe the Irish version of the WT American Honey but at a higher proof.

I don't think the Knot is Irish whiskey. In fact, I'm not even sure if it's Irish. Does it say so on the bottle. I liked the advertising campaign.

Jono
11-02-2009, 13:59
It is not Irish Whiskey but it is made in Ireland...it is a spirit liqour...has caramel coloring added....I don't know if there is a drop of Irish whisky in it...I assume grain alcohol plus flavorings. I think I will use it when I try some "Gillmanizing"...maybe blend it with my left over Basil Hayden's.

unclebunk
11-02-2009, 14:19
That biscuity edge of pure pot still, what Jim Murray calls its "brittle" character, Jackson called it "linseed", is I think much in evidence but in an appealing way, it doesn't hit over the head in other words.
Gary

Yes. I guess that's what I meant to say. It is in balance, so does not dominate the flavor. Perhaps, though, I am confused as to where the "biscuity" flavor is derived. I did not think it was from the pot still but from the cereal grains that one finds in a typical Irish blend. I am thinking specifically of Bushmills Original, which I'm guessing is light on the pot still but heavy on the cereal flavor. I happen to like the aroma and grainy mouth-feel of Bushmills but have friends who hate it for this reason. I guess I need to do some side by side taste testing to learn about this stuff.

Gillman
11-02-2009, 17:00
Ah, you may have identified the malt element (present also in regular Bushmills, albeit at a lower intensity than Black Bush and Bushmills Single Malt) not the pot still with that metaphor.

Gary

brockagh
11-02-2009, 23:17
Yes, there is no pot still in Bushmills Original. It is mostly grain, with some malt. It would be the same grain that is found in Irish blends from Jameson, to Powers, Tullamore, Paddy... It would have some of the same malt as the Irishman 70, coming from Bushmills.

Blackbush would have about 20 to 30% of this grain, with the rest being malt.