John Moriarty, whiskey expert and bar manager at Ireland’s Park Hotel Kenmare, holds the key to the locked, glass-fronted antique cabinet displaying the rarefied whiskeys that aficionados stare at longingly, yet stymied by indecision.
With155 special whiskeys on offer, it’s easy to see why.
The Irish whiskeys stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Scottish single malts—after all, the Irish elixirs are winning world whiskey awards and command equally high prices. Yet the Irish expressions—as varied in production methods, cask-finishes and limited-edition offerings as their Scottish counterparts—are not as well known.
The best solution for indecision is a whiskey tasting, according to Moriarty, including favorite Scottish single malts and their Irish equivalents. “There are several whiskeys for everyone,” he says, lining up the tulip-shaped nosing glasses with glass tops to concentrate aromas.
If a patron favors a smoky, peaty single malt like Lagavulin or Ardbeg from Islay, Moriarty recommends sampling the Irish Connemara Peated Single Malts, like 12 year old and cask strength. “You taste the honeyed flavors first, and the smoke kicks in after you’ve swallowed, with a long finish ending with an array of flavors,” says Moriarty. He adds that Cask Strength at 57% alcohol has more intense flavors and an even longer finish.
If a customer prefers the fruity, sweet, non-peated Speyside single malts like The Glenlivet or Glenfiddich, Moriarty pours Irish blended, single malt and pot still whiskeys ranging from light to full-bodied styles. “I’d start with Jameson 18 year old limited reserve, a sweet blended whiskey aged in Bourbon and Sherry casks tasting of citrus, dried fruit and spice with a lingering honey finish,” he says.
Next up might be Midleton Very Rare, a blend of whiskies aged 12 to 25 years in Bourbon barrels. “It’s soft and silky with complex caramel flavors and a sweet finish,” says Moriarty, “a favorite among the Irish.”
Bushmills 16 year old single malt is Moriarty’s favorite, his “going to bed whiskey.” Aged in Bourbon and Sherry casks, then finished in Port pipes, he says drinking it is “a gorgeous journey” as the spirit opens, starting with juicy fruit and spice, and moving to nutty toffee and chocolate.
For those who want a bolder taoscán (the Irish word for dram), Moriarty recommends Redbreast 15 year old, introduced in the U.S. just last fall. This Sherried pure pot still whiskey resonates in the front of the mouth at 46% alcohol, but has a short finish, he explains.
The Park Hotel Kenmare’s bar also has exclusive bottlings that are no longer available or are not sold in America, like Midleton 20th Anniversary Limited Edition, Bushmills Millennium and Connemara Sherry Finish Peated Single Malt. All the more reason to travel to Ireland and see what you’ve missed.