Irish Whiskey Renaissance

A few years ago I was in a somewhat authentic Irish pub in America when an Irish woman appeared next to me at the bar. She asked the bartender what whiskey they used to make their Irish coffee.

“Jameson’s,” he replied.

The Best Irish Coffee

There are few better winter warmers than a good Irish coffee. Many bars and bartenders will claim to have made the first one, but the semi-official crown goes to Joseph Sheridan and the bar at Foyne’s Flying Boat Station, where World War II-era travelers from America to Ireland would disembark after an 18-hour seaplane flight and a chilly boat ride to the terminal. Sheridan created the drink to warm up and relax guests arriving from Stateside.
Begin with a well-warmed toddy glass (or a travel mug). Be sure the coffee is piping hot and the heavy cream thoroughly whipped.

• 0.5 to 1 oz Irish whiskey
(the original recipe calls for about 0.8 oz, but you can blend to your taste)
• 1 tsp sugar
• Hot coffee
(about 150 ml, but really, whatever you need to fill your glass)
• Whipped cream
(hand-whipped heavy cream is better)

First add the whiskey to the warm glass. Add sugar. Fill glass almost to the top with coffee and stir gently to mix ingredients. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and serve.

“Jameson’s is rat poison,” she said rather coldly. “Give me one with Bushmills or it’s nothing.”

For many years, that choice was the only choice most Americans had when it came to Irish whiskey, and since Bushmills was based in Northern Ireland and Jameson in the south, one’s choice was often non-existent in bars where the Irish owner might be from one country or the other.

Fortunately, much has changed in Ireland. Irish whiskey is a rapidly growing spirits category, with a distinctly sweeter and mellower style that differentiates it from Scotch whisky. One of the keys to many of the top Irish brands is the distiller’s use of unmalted barley blended with malted barley for distillation, though Bushmills is the notable exception.

Jameson and Bushmills have extended their lines with more aged whiskeys. The large Midleton distillery handles production for many brands, including the pot-distilled Redbreast. There have even been new distilleries, such as Cooley, known for Kilbeggan and the peated Connemara.

Irish Whiskeys Worth The Hunt

Bushmills 10-Year — Of the Irish whiskeys I sampled for this article, this may be the single best value of the bunch. This spirit has a lovely balance. It smells of tropical fruit and has a delicious honey and heather flavor, with brighter citrus fruit to give some lift to its sweetness. Jameson 12-Year — Noticeably sweet and smooth, this whiskey shows a pronounced note of vanilla oakiness in its nose and delivers the same on the palate. This is a very woodsy, winey malt. Tyrconnell — Wonderfully flowery and tropical. This reminded me of a top white wine magically transformed into whiskey. Delicious flavors of peach and apricot and wonderful smoothness. Redbreast 12-Year — This pot still packs a real punch. Of the recommended spirits, this is far and away the least sweet and the most intense in flavor. This has complex fruit, honey and heather notes, and a little burn on the finish. A scotch drinker’s Irish whiskey. Midleton Very Rare — An example of where the most expensive is genuinely the best. Crème brulee leaps from the glass. The flavors here are ripe, rich and remarkably layered. Seville orange and almond cookie flavors. Stains the palate with flavor. Wow!


Categories: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Food