In honor of that day when everyone is Irish, here are some thoughts on my favorite Irish whiskies, just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day next Thursday. Don’t fear that only two different distillers are represented. Unlike the U.S. and Scotland with their many, many distilleries, Ireland has only three.
These are excerpted from my Dowd’s Tasting Notes blog.
I recently found myself in McGrievey’s, a classy restaurant and tavern just steps from the Hudson River in Waterford, NY, the nation’s oldest incorporated village. What better whisky to order in a place with an Irish name than this Bushmill’s gem I hadn’t had in several years.
Standard Bushmill’s, the Northern Ireland-made golden amber whisky, is a fine example of the genre. But the distiller’s Black Bush takes enjoyment to a much higher plane.
Black Bush is frighteningly smooth and, thus, almost too easy to sip. It offers a slightly floral nose, quickly opening up over a couple of ice cubes or a splash of water. The initial notes of caramel, vanilla and spice blend harmoniously into a continuous treat for the palate.
Suggested retail price: $29.99 for the 750ml bottle.
JOHN L. SULLIVAN IRISH WHISKEY
Sullivan’s was one of the first Irish American names I learned as a kid. The last bare-knuckle world heavyweight boxing champion who hung ’em up in 1889 after a 75-round title defense was a familiar sight in posters and illustrations that abounded in athletic clubs, saloons and meeting halls. This tribute whiskey comes from the Cooley Distillery, Ireland’s only independently owned distillery.
This is a small-batch blend of single grain and single malt whiskeys, aged 4 to 10 years in used American white oak barrels that had contained bourbon. That gives Sullivan a touch that has helped so many Scotch whiskies gain extra notes of smooth maturity.
John L. was a complex man, said the sports scribes of his day, so it is only fitting that the whiskey bearing his name is likewise. I detected layers of spice, citrus and then vanilla, coupled with the light oakiness of the bourbon cask. That is followed by touches of rosewater, honey and cinnamon, with the latter clinging slighty to the long finish. I much preferred this whiskey over a cube of ice to release its notes, although I admit it wasn’t at all bad in a Manhattan, a testament to its bourbon-like character.
Suggested retail price:$24 for the 750ml bottle.
In 2008, Bushmills celebrated the 400th anniversary of being awarded its license to distill by King James I, and did it with a very special whiskey. This particular commemorative was made using something known as “crystal malt.” I’m admittedly partial to Bushmills and Black Bush, a pair of very easy to drink Irish whiskies from the iconic Northern Ireland distillery’s line. This, the sixth style but in limited quantities, has lately been available only at the distillery store, but your favorite spirits merchant will be on sale in the U.S. only from February through December next year. After that it will be available only at the distillery store.
Bushmills 1608 is a worthy special blend. The crystal malt — which has a crystallized appearance when germinated, and thus still moist, barleycorns are lightly toasted — introduces a sweet, toffee note to the final product. Also in the mix are notes from the classic Bushmills malt whiskies matured in a combination of used American white oak and Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.
Bushmills whiskies in general tend toward the sweet side of the palate, and 1608 doesn’t diverge from that path: vanilla, honey and toffee notes are prevalent, and the finish reminds me of a high-grade dark chocolate. All these elements work well with the slightly higher than average potency — 46% alcohol by volume, or 92 proof.
Suggested retail price: $100 for the 750ml bottle.
MICHAEL COLLINS 10 YEAR OLD SINGLE MALT
Michael Collins, like John L. Sullivan from the Cooley distillery, is re-booting its image and a New York importer is helping them do it. Sidney Frank Importing Company of New Rochelle has teamed up with Cooley Distillery to launch the new look of Michael Collins whiskies in the U.S. The dark, moody label features the iconic silhouette of Collins, the renowned Irish patriot, on his bicycle, a familiar sight during the nation’s struggle for independence from England. The brightness comes inside.
Cooley is considered to be the only distillery in Ireland to double distill its whiskeys and use peated malted barley. What that process has has resulted in is a wonderfully smooth, yet still kicky whiskey. There is a definite spice note to each sip, perfectly compatible with the rich, deep body of the whiskey.
I find this not as pleasing in a cocktail as I did over a single ice cube in a tasting glass. Must be the independent Collins spirit asserting itself.
Suggested retail price: $39.99 for the 750ml bottle.
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