I have recently been revisiting albums from my more youthful years! Whilst browsing my library I came across the Irish band Hothouse Flowers. One particular track I used to play over and over was “Hallelujah Jordan” from the 1988 album “People”. The opening lyrics: “Hallelujah Jordan he went to the nearest bar, he ordered Whiskey and Soda. See how far he’d get to forgetting her. Yeah!”
This got me thinking: if I was in that situation what would be my whiskey? So I decided a situation like that would require something special. So I looked beyond the familiar brands of Jameson and Bushmills, at some much lesser known names, and even an independent bottling.
Both Ireland’s national drinks, stout and whiskey, are made from barley. [The Irish spell whisky with an “e”.] Both use a malted barley and a percentage of un-malted barley. It is generally understood that the triple distilled whiskies of Ireland have a lighter more approachable nature than scotch, which can certainly appear more complex and harder to fully understand. Ireland and Scotland are certainly two of the world’s great whiskey nations. However in recent times the fortunes of Ireland distilleries have not gone as well as their counterparts across the sea. Scotland has around 100: all the whiskey in Ireland is now made out of just three distilleries. Many of the old names still exist as brands which have been kept on or purchased by large beverage companies that now produce numerous whiskey brands at single sites. Jamesons is for example no longer a Dublin-based distillery but it is made at the new Middleton Distillery in County Cork alongside Redbreast and Tullamore Dew. The Kilbeggan distillery, that closed for the last time in 1957 continues to be produced at The Cooley Distillery County Louth.
Another interesting point to be noted about Irish whiskey is the fact that peat, although plentiful across Ireland, is rarely used in making whiskey. One school of thought is that whiskey had become a large industry long before mechanized peat extraction had become available and the locals preferred to use wood and charcoal which was readily available. Peat does however feature in the occasional Irish whiskey. Northern Ireland’s Cooley distillery also makes the delightful Connemara Peated Single Malt with no age statement.
My research took me to one of my favorite and more importantly closet to work! Irish pubs, “Swift Hibernian Lounge,” on 4th Street between Lafayette and Cooper Square in Manhattan. I tried a number of different whiskies including the 16 and 21 year old single malts from Bushmills, which by the way happens to be the oldest distillery in Ireland founded in 1608 the same year as the Jamestown Settlement in the US. The Irish were drinking and distilling whiskey whilst the US was still trying to find itself. Here are three excellent very well priced whiskies that stood out for me and are well worth a visit including something a little different from the folks at Bushmills.
Powers Signature Release
I tried three Powers whiskies from the Middleton Distillery. My favorite is the Powers Signature Release. The Nose:A delightful light pear drop, biscuit, cream, vanilla bean, soft brown sugar and a light hint of ginger. The Palate:Rich malted grain notes, buttery cream and baked apple / pear. The Finish: Sherry oak influence and baking spices (clove and cinnamon). This sits in a great price bracket of around $47.00 in between the standard Powers and the higher end John Lane bottling.
A.D. Rattray Cooley Irish
My second choice took me to the A.D. Rattray bottling of a Cooley distilled whisky. This is an 11 year old cask strength bottled at 55.9%. A high end choice and certainly a rare discovery which retails for $135.00 but worth every cent! The Nose: has beautiful fruit a citrus mix of nectarines and satsuma, a buttery stone fruit jam pastry and a touch of sweet floral tones. The Palate: is full and plush, creamy baked bread and toasted brioche. The Finish: very full and smooth with a lingering hint of ash.
Knappogue Castle 12 Year
Finally something distilled at the Bushmills distillery the Knappogue Castle 12 year old. The Knappogue Castle [pronounced NAH pogue]is a tourist attraction near Shannon Airport County Clare purchased in the 1930’s by an American enthusiast who decided the castle should have it’s own whiskey. The very first vintage was a 1951 Tullamore Dew. The more recent vintages have been from Cooley and now Bushmills. Drinking this Knappogue Castle 12 year is a great way of trying a Bushmills entirely bourbon barrel aged avoiding the signature Bushmills sherry influence. The Nose: Sweet malted barley, toasted cereal, fresh citrus orange and fruit pie peach cobbler. The Palate: soft creams, light hints of baked orange cookies and a whisp of honey. The Finish: rich and silky lingering toffee notes. This is you will find in stores also at and around the $47.00 mark.
So when you get the chance, make your next whiskey experience an Irish one.