Talking about which Irish whiskeys to either gift or share to mark St. Patrick’s Day used to be like a quiet conversation amongst friends. There was a lot that didn’t need to be said as much was already understood by those already familiar with the available selections. For others the discussion might have covered how many Jameson shooters to have with your green beer and Irish car bombs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — different strokes, as they say — though it was more about quantity than quality.
These Are The Good Old Days
Today, it’s more like a bustling convention floor with multiple simultaneous exchanges and a larger and rapidly expanding range of Irish drams from which to choose. And that’s good news. Irish whiskey is very much in ascendance and we are still at the start of “the good old days” for the category.
A reader this weekend (we’ll call him Ken because that’s his name) emailed me to ask for recommendations for Paddy’s Day whiskeys. Ken has enthusiastically made it a point to get his hands and tastebuds on nearly every new and many old Irish whiskeys over the past few years. He wants to line up +/- 4 whiskeys for the day. He’s hoping to get the recently released (in the US) Redbreast 21-year-old among others that he hasn’t tried.
With so many new Irish whiskeys coming into distribution here — and so many good ones — it’s hard for me to issue a pick list. Also, after guiding about 80 tastings with various crowds in the past few years and attending many others I’ve seen how wildly different individual reactions can be to any given whiskey. And even that usually changes on any given day. I’m reminded of two friends of mine on a tour of Scotch distilleries a couple of years ago who managed to be at polar opposites on nearly every one of the 60+ whiskys we tried; for every “brilliant” there was a countervailing “shite.”
Allowing for the differences, I would at least strongly encourage you to include at least one Irish whiskey you have yet to try. Frankly, it’s hard to go wrong. Among the newest, Teeling have some really excellent whiskeys just now coming into US distribution. The established independent brands from Castle Brands (Knappogue Castle, Clontarf), Sidney Frank (Michael Collins), Walsh Whiskey, née Hot Irishman (The Irishman) and others are very good drams. The Bushmills line and the Beam Cooley brands (Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, Greenore, Connemara, 2 Gingers) are always enjoyable. I mentioned Redbreast before before, and that reminds me that Irish Distillers Ltd (IDL) continue to expand distribution of their Jameson/Powers/Paddy blends as well as the Single Pot Still bottlings (Green Spot is now in America). I don’t mean to leave anyone
out, rather, please chime in with the comments. The point is, we have
whiskey “go leor” or “galore” from which to choose these days, and more
are on the way.
“Let’s See, What Do I Feel Like…?”
I’m not sure which bottle or 3 I’ll break out for Paddy’s Day. It depends on the time, place and mood. I don’t get hung up at all about which is “the best” because “the best” is the one you like right there and then. One other — and more important — factor in my criteria is the one that the distillers themselves say is the biggest influence on how you perceive a whiskey. It’s who you’re drinking with. Seriously. It matters. In fact, the shared enjoyment and the craic are the point of the whiskey in the first place.
I’ve adopted a practice that a friend discovered while researching the history of a very old Jameson whiskey that he found. A wealthy industrialist in pre-Prohibition days really appreciated fine whiskeys. Whenever he opened a bottle of whiskey he’d write on the label the date, the place and the names of the people with him. It’s neat to look on the shelf and be reminded of that occasion no matter how big or casual it was. It turns an empty bottle into a memento.
I’d like to hear from you about what your Irish whiskey choices may be for Paddy’s Day this year and why you choose a particular brand or bottling. I’d also like to hear about who you’ll be toasting, with whom you’ll be sharing the whiskey, or a person that the whiskey brings to mind.
Have a good one, and Sláinte!