5 things I’ve learned about…Irish Whiskey

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the March 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine will include (among other things) my review column on Irish Whiskey!  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. Compared to just about every other whiskey, Irish whiskies are lighter and smoother. In general, they don’t have intense peat, intense caramel from barrel aging, or deep dark colors (golden vs. amber). At their best, they have a gentle finesse. Many are honeyed (vs. burnt toffee flavors) or have floral or even light tropical fruit flavors.

2.  Irish whiskeys are building quite a fan base on American shores — the category racked up an astonishing 25% increase in U.S. sales between June 2010 and 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group. Damn!! What other spirits category can claim that…beyond candy-flavored vodka?

3.  So what’s the appeal? Frankly, Irish whiskey is approachable and affordable, but still complex enough to be interesting.

4. But it appears that no one has told the Irish whiskey distillers that they’re hot stuff.  Scotch tends to be accompanied by reams of marketing materials and boastful claims on the back of the bottle; American whiskey is pretty macho in its claims too, and tends to have flashier packaging. Marketing materials and bottle labels for Irish whiskey don’t tell you much, and the bottles generally are plain. Attention PR and marketing pros!

5. Ironically, just as bartenders are rediscovering Irish whiskey, they’re finding that very few are used in classic cocktails. No worries, they’re happy to create new ones. The Redbreast 12-year is called for in a handful of new craft cocktail recipes, but Jameson seems to be called for most of all. This time of year in particular, look for the cheerful abomination known as “The Pickleback”:  a shot of the Jameson basic blend, served with a “back” of pickle juice.

If you have a favorite Irish whiskey or cocktail featuring Irish whiskey, please add a comment, I’d love to hear about it!

6 thoughts on “5 things I’ve learned about…Irish Whiskey

  1. Man, can’t stand Irish whiskey, particularly Jameson. I’ve had too many shots forced on me over the years I guess. If it’s absolutely necessary, I can live with Tullamore Dew. Otherwise, pass the Bourbon.

  2. Yo Kara!

    So so true. Irish Whiskey is what I will usually recommend to someone that wants to try their hand at whisk(e)y, but doesn’t know where to start. Redbreast and Midleton are my favorites so far.


  3. I tried some Redbreast 12 and loved it. I was really impressed. We’ve been inundated with Bushmills ads in the NYC subway system for a couple years now, all aimed at the young hipster male market. And then yesterday I noticed a Tullamore Dew ad in a station that’s usually packed with the Bushmills ads.

    I’ve never been impressed with Jameson. But it always had a huge following in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I’m from. It seemed to be the brand of choice for people in their 20s ordering straight whiskey.

    I’ve heard that despite the healthy number of Irish whiskeys on the market, there are actually few distilleries in Ireland (four, I think, compared to Scotland’s nearly 100). For a country that loves its whiskey at least as much as the U.S. or Scotland, I always thought that was odd.

    Overall, though, I’ve always put Irish whiskey—unfairly—in the same category as Canadian whiskey. I tend to forget about the Irish because there’s so much from Scotland, just as I forget about the Canadian because of all the American. I’ve actually branched out and bought a bottle of Japanese whiskey recently. I should make Redbreast 12 my next new bottle.

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