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!