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  1. #1
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    Today We're All Irish

    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.
    Last edited by Gillman; 10-23-2009 at 19:08.

  2. #2
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    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
    Last edited by Gillman; 10-24-2009 at 05:42.

  3. #3
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    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

  4. #4
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    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
    Last edited by Gillman; 10-24-2009 at 07:00.

  5. #5
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    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.

    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.
    Last edited by unclebunk; 10-24-2009 at 07:33.
    "I distrust a man who says 'when.' He's got to be careful not to drink too much, because he's not to be trusted when he does." Sydney Greenstreet

  6. #6
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    Red face Re: Today We're All Irish

    I tried to like Irish whiskey when I was in college. I never really developed a taste for it.

    Tim
    Self-Styled Whisky Connoisseur

  7. #7
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    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.
    JOE

    Wag more.
    Bark less.

    "Every bottle is its own learning experience." -- Sensei Ox-sama

  8. #8
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    I'll definitely be adding the Irishman 70 to my list of must-buys!

  9. #9
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    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

  10. #10
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    Re: Today We're All Irish

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    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.
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