The saying goes that “Everyone’s Irish on St Patty’s Day,” and this certainly rings true for me. It may be due to the fact that I’m 1/8 Irish, but more likely it’s because I was married on St Patrick’s Day. Whatever the reason, I do feel an affinity for all things Irish on March 17. One notable extension is that my love for the Emerald Isle’s contribution to the world of whiskey extends throughout the year.
And why not? Newsflash: it seems the whiskey-drinking world is with me, as the last decade has seen Irish whiskey sales and consumption skyrocket as a proliferation of Irish whiskey labels come to market. Be they from large conglomerate-owned distilleries like Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers, makers of Jameson, Redbreast, Midleton, the two Spots (Green and Yellow); or Beam-Suntory’s Cooley Distillery, makers of Kilbeggan, Connemara and The Tyrconnell – or the growing number of independents that include Teeling Whiskey and Waterford Whisky among them, all are doing their part to elevate Ireland’s stance in the lexicon of global whiskey production.
This is a long way from the dearth we experienced in the 20th century when one could count on two fingers the number of Irish whiskies available in the U.S. market – those being Bushmills and Jameson. (I was a Bushmills fan back then, and still am). So, let’s take a look at some current standouts in Irish whisky currently available in the U.S. marketplace from big distillers and small, along with a couple of standouts from “sourcers” who buy barrels and make their own blends.
The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey. https://www.thetyrconnellwhiskey.com/ This uncompromising single malt is a standout among Irish whiskies and is made at the Cooley Distillery in County Louth. Named for a legendary racehorse from the 1870s, The Tyrconnell is double distilled, giving it a somewhat delicate flavor profile accented with citrus and honey, while maintaining a good viscosity and creaminess on the palate. 43% ABV, $45.
While the above bottling of The Tyrconnell presents no age statement, The distilling team also produces a line of 10-year-old whiskies which are finished in Sherry, Port, and Madeira casks. All are worth seeking out. Average ABV: 46%. $75.
Waterford Single Malt Whisky. https://waterfordwhisky.com/ Waterford is a new company founded on the premise of Terroir – the wine term that proffers to explain that, basically put, where the ingredient (in this case Barley) is grown and what the microclimate contributes to its individual makeup has as much to do with the flavor and end result as does how the whisky is made. Get that? Good.
To that end, Waterford works only with specific farms to make their line of “Barley-Forward – Terroir-Driven” whiskies, which all are designated as Single Farm Origin while actually naming the farm from which the barley originates on the bottle, which also includes a QR code for further details if one wants to really geek-out. A fascinating exercise, at the least, and no two bottlings are alike, which makes for a wealth of potential conversation over a dram or two. These whiskies are top-notch and worth hunting for. Average ABV: 50%. Average price $90.
Teeling Whiskey. www.teelingwhiskey.com Started by the Teeling Family, who founded Cooley and ultimately sold it but not before taking their reserves with them to start their new eponymous distillery in Dublin. Teeling represents the best of the new generation of distilleries in Ireland. While Teeling makes a full line of whiskeys, two that resonated for this article include the Single Pot Still Whiskey ($65), crafted using a blend of 50% malted barley and 50% unmalted barley, and the new Blackpitts Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($86), triple-distilled from barley dried over peat fires and then matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sauternes casks. A truly unique bottling for the Irish whiskey-curious scotch drinker. Both whiskies are non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% ABV.
J.J. Corry’s The Gael Irish Whiskey. https://www.jjcorry.com/ Hand selected and bottled by Louise McGuane, Ireland’s first female bonder – one who sources whisky from distilleries to age, blend, and bottle under their own label. The Gael is aged and bottled within view of the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare on Ireland’s western coast. Light in color and rich in complexity, this whisky is a testament to innovation envisioned to help save the family farm – coupled with some serious blending prowess. Made from 40% grain and 60% malted barley lots ranging in age from 4-28 years old and bottled at 46% ABV. $80.
Proclamation Blended Irish Whiskey. www.proclamationwhiskey.com. A blended whiskey that pays tribute to the Forógra na Poblachta (Ireland’s 1916 Proclamation of the Republic, akin to our Declaration of Independence). Triple-distilled, aged in New American Oak and matured in ex-bourbon casks, Proclamation is a product for those seeking to get their tastebuds wetted on Irish whiskey’s capabilities and seek out more brands to try. Pear, brioche, spice, and a bit of heat all make for a very mixable whiskey. 40.7% ABV. $30.