We know that St. Patrick’s Day is growing near when buzz about Irish whiskey starts to build, but this spirit deserves year-round attention.
Gentle, drinkable Irish whiskey has been building a fan base on American shores. What’s the appeal? Sheer approachability, experts say. Golden Irish whiskeys are light and fresh, often fruity and grassy, with little peat influence, if it’s even used at all. Yet they’re still complex enough to hold a drinker’s interest. And they’re often reasonably priced.
You’ll find blends and single malts among the reviews below—yeah, you read that right, single malt isn’t only for Scotch. In fact, Bushmills, our Wine Star Spirit of the Year for 2013, is near the top of this month’s reviews with several of its single-malt bottlings, as well as its blended Black Bush.
Although the spirit has enjoyed enviable growth over the past couple of years, there’s still room to grow.
“Many serious cocktail bars don’t have even one single bottle of Irish whiskey,” laments Sean Muldoon, general manager at New York’s Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, noted for its outstanding collection of Irish whiskeys. “Even ‘Irish’ coffees often are made with Bourbon.”
But there’s good news. Younger drinkers are warming to Irish whiskey, driven in part by Jameson’s steady marketing push.
Bartenders, too, are embracing the spirit for its mixability. A number of classic cocktails made using Irish whiskey have resurfaced recently, such as the Tipperary (equal parts whiskey, dry vermouth and Green Chartreuse) and the blackthorn (a Manhattan-esque mix of whiskey, vermouth, Angostura bitters and a splash of absinthe). At the same time, bartenders are creating new libations that showcase Irish whiskey’s light, appealing character.
There’s never been a better time to have a drop of Irish in your glass.
96 Bushmills Black Bush (Ireland; Diageo, Norwalk, CT). This elegant, super-soft sipper is a blend of grain whiskey and malt whiskey that was finished in oloroso Sherry casks—the emphasis on the latter. The Sherry influence shows in the baked apple and dried apricot flavors that round into caramel and butterscotch tones on the finish.
abv: 40% Price: $29
95 Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy (Ireland; Pernod Ricard, Purchase, NY). Intended as a tribute to Midleton Master Distiller Barry Crockett, this delicate, silky whiskey has a golden hue and a lovely fresh-apple scent. On the palate, apple and ripe pear meld with butterscotch and a touch of banana on the long finish. Meant for savoring straight up.
abv: 46% Price: $249
94 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey (Ireland; Beam Inc., Deerfield, IL). A newcomer to the marketplace, thi s velvety blended Irish whiskey offers sweet, malty flavors that incorporate baked apple, honey and warm butterscotch. Best Buy.
abv: 40% Price: $20
94 Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel (Ireland; Pernod Ricard, New York, NY). Like a liquid (if boozy) apple pie, this blended whiskey offers bold, rich aromatics, with lots of dried and stewed fruit flavors and butterscotch. The drawn-out finish incorporates touches of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and even a mouthwatering sprinkle of salt.
abv: 40% Price: $35
94 Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix (Ireland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY). Teasingly sweet on the palate, this easy-drinking blend has a dark gold cast and notes of honey, rich vanilla, fruit and spice. The finish is long and warming—note the high proof. It’s delicious but not too precious to mix into cocktails.
abv: 55% Price: $55