Tag Archives: Irish whiskey

Is this the last Irish whiskey you can taste only in Ireland?

During a recent trip to Ireland, I stopped into the Palace Bar, the oldest bar in Dublin. It still has all its original Victorian-era fittings, including a “Writer’s Bar” – now, how could I possibly resist that?

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While seated at the bar, I noticed a display of private-label Palace Bar Irish whiskey. Although it’s becoming a novelty for U.S. bars and restaurants to have their own private-label brand or barrel, it’s not a widespread practice across Ireland. At least…not any more. (A side note: I saw very few people drinking Irish whiskey during my stay – it’s broadly a beer and wine culture– and very few bars offering more than a handful of bottlings. And no wonder:  it turns out that a whopping 90% of Ireland’s spirits are exported.) But here was a rare Irish whiskey that can’t be obtained anywhere else but in Ireland.

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I asked the barkeep for a closer look at the bottle. It’s a 9-year-old single malt, single cask whiskey, bottled at a fairly strong 46% abv, and touts the bar as “Famous for Intellectual Refreshments.” It’s also made by the Cooley Distillery, newly acquired by U.S. spirits company Jim Beam. Cooley was the last indie whiskey distillery in Ireland; William Grant owns Tullamore Dew; Diageo owns Bushmills; Pernod Ricard owns Jameson. Cooley had been the last indie holdout.

Would Cooley continue to make the Palace Bar whiskey? “No, they have no interest in smaller bottlings,” the barkeep said mournfully. He’d been working at Palace Bar for fully four decades, and was there when they’d launched the Palace Bar whiskey not even a year prior. In the 1940s, he continued, it was traditional for pubs to have their own brand, but that practice had largely died down. The Palace Bar last had a private-label whiskey maybe 50 years ago.

So that means that the remaining Palace Bar bottles may soon be rare. Priced at 50 euros, it doesn’t sound like they are in danger of selling out right away, however. At least not according to the bartender: “People come in around Christmas time and buy a bottle as a gift for family, or for friends who stopped in 20 years ago.”

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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!

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5 things I’ve learned about…International Whiskey

The March 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on International Whiskey.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  It’s a big, big, big, big world out there. American, Canadian, Irish, Welsh, French, and Japanese whiskies all made their way to my doorstep.  (I should probably explain that “International Whiskey” is shorthand for all whiskey except Bourbon, Rye, and Scotch. Why exclude those categories?  Bourbon and Rye were covered recently; Scotch will be covered in depth later this year. And yes, despite that exclusion, there was still a TON left to cover!)

2.  Whiskey spans so many styles –  single malt, blended, peated, cask-finished – ages, mash bills (the blend of grains used to make the spirit), and colors, from crystal clear to deep nut-brown.

3.  Different can be good. One of my favorites was an Irish Whiskey, light (in color and feel), and had tropical fruit notes, like a Sauvignon Blanc, beneath a light veil of smoke (Slieve Foy 18 year-old). Another favorite – polar opposite – was an American regional, quite dark and rich, and had a creamy mouthfeel that put me in mind of the head on a root beer float (Stranahan’s). And both were delicious.

4.  It’s an amazing testament that so many countries have opted to distill whiskey. Originally, whiskey was brewed in countries that lacked the warm climate for producing fermented drinks made from grapes. However, this is no longer an iron-clad rule. In fact, some distillers in California and other states now produce brandies and whiskies in the same facility.

5.  Whiskey is perhaps the trickiest base ingredient to use in cocktails. Maybe that’s why many purists opt to drink whiskey straight.

If you have a favorite whiskey, or whiskey-based cocktail, I’d love to hear more about it, please leave a comment!

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