In the UK – and abroad – Irish Whiskey can sometimes be passed over in favour of the output from its British neighbour. But, this shouldn’t put you off. It’s a different style, has an intriguing history and creates a lot of fantastic products.
At a recent tasting with the Whisky Squad, I had the opportunity to try five great varieties and learn about the country’s history from Tim Forbes, an Irishman (and now Londoner) who runs the Whisky Exchange’s blog.
In short, Tim told us that Irish Whiskey had – in the late 19th century – been highly profitable. But, during a period of 20-30 years, it saw itself decimated due to Prohibition in the US, a trade war with the UK and a huge increase in the output of blended Scotch whisky due to the Scottish decision to embrace the Coffey Still, which decreased the cost of production.
Throughout the 20th century, distilleries in Ireland were merged continuously until it was all made at only one distillery (Midleton). This remained up to the point Cooley came into the picture in 1987, although this company has since been bought up by Beam Inc., an American spirits company.
Despite this concentration of ownership, Irish Whiskey still provides a wide variety of taste.
So, what did I think of the five I tried? Here are my thoughts:
#1. Inishowen Peated:
This peated whiskey is made from a mix of malt and grain. On the nose, I got spearmint and chocolate, while the taste provided flavours of pancakes, coffee, rubber and Terry’s chocolate orange. It had a nice mouthfeel and was softly pleasant. Not my favourite of the night, but a good starter.
#2. Bushmills Black Bush:
I found this to have a perplexing scent skewed somewhere between salted toffee, sea air and cod liver oil. There was a light smokiness and I got hints of wheat and baked pineapple. It was a bit flat for my liking and, while it had a pleasant aftertaste at first, it finished very quickly.
#3. Locke’s 8-year old:
This spunky sweet single malt whiskey gave me strong hints of supremely sweet foam strawberries along with bubblegum and a touch of nail polish remover on the nose while the taste was of custard, honey and lychee, with an aftertaste of fake strawberries.
#4. Jameson Select Reserve, Small Batch:
This whiskey is made in a single pot still and reminded me of farm fields on the nose: wheat, walnut bread and Shreddies. The mouth was much more developed, moving from honey to brandy snaps and baked peaches. One of my favourite of the night.
Tasting this one was a great joy. The night prior to the tasting I had found out about it and decided it would be a mission of mine to give it a go, so it was a fantastic surprise when I realised it was on the tasting cards for the night. This version is currently only available in Ireland, France and Germany, though a limited number of bottles will be making their way to England sometime soon, I’m told. On the nose there was cantaloupe and, more specifically, brandy poured over melon. On the mouth I got Corn Pops (which are a sugary, corn flavoured breakfast cereal in Canada) and a huge hit of rum balls. It was absolutely divine with dark chocolate. The winner of the evening for me.