Monday, July 05, 2010

Father’s Day Whiskey Tasting Part 4: Irish Whiskey


Friday, June 18, 2010 concluded the final part of the Father’s Day Week Whiskey Tasting at Union Square Wines & Spirits with an offering of Irish Whiskey. 

The last session of the Father’s Day Whiskey Tasting was done in great style, with Cooleeney providing some outstanding Irish cheeses to accompany the Irish Whiskey we tasted on this evening. 

Although the first item on the list was Slane Castle (a blend), I skipped that one and went immediately to the next table, which started with Knappogue Castle Single Malt.  A 1995 vintage, it is one of the few Irish Single Malt Whiskeys distributed.  While good, it lacked much in the way of distinction.  I asked the representative if I could compare it to the other one she had on her table, the 1994 Master Distiller’s Private Collection, another Single Malt, but much more expensive; she declined, saying that this one would not be opened, which somewhat surprised me.  Ultimately, Tom, the Spirits Manager at the store who organized the tasting, objected and eventually opened the bottle himself.  By comparison, the pricier whiskey had a more watery start to it, but a much longer finish, compared to the 1995 vintage; supposedly, the price is due to its rarity – only about 3,000 bottles have been distributed worldwide. 

The next table contained an irresistible selection that had most of my attention for the evening.  Starting with Greenore Single Grain, a 15 year old from the Cooley distilleries, we toasted Bloomsday, which (I’m given to understand) is the Irish equivalent of our Thanksgiving Day.  The Greenore had a high flavor of corn, which you mostly taste in bourbons, that gave it a distinct sweetness; adding to that, there were certain hints of both honey and vanilla that contributed to its fine taste.

This was followed by Tyrconnell, which, at one time, was the best selling whiskey in the world.  Aged 8 years, it had a softer taste which was fruitier than the Greenore.  Next was Kilbeggan, which had the friendliest price of all the whiskies presented this evening.  Kilbeggan, I was told, takes longer to age due to its location.  Since it has a milder climate than Scotland, the Scotch whiskies age at a different rate.  Basically, the warmer the climate, the longer it takes to age; Kentucky, by comparison, has even warmer temperatures, so the aging processing takes even longer there for bourbon. 

Lastly was my favorite, Connemara – three different types, in fact.  Starting with the original, the enjoyment comes from the fact that this is one of the few Irish Whiskies that have a distinctive peaty taste to it, like Scotch (especially, the Islay – based ones).  I inquired from the distributor as to why this was so and he explained that during a 40 year period of time, peated Irish whiskey makers dropped from 2000 to one.  This was a tactical decision made by the manufacturers and today, there are only two other distillers now making peated Irish Whiskey. 

Next was the 120 proof Cask Strength, aged 5 years, which added a chocolaty flavor; I’m told this comes from the type of barrel that is used.  The final one was the 12 year old that was 80 proof.  This one was different because it had a most definite fruity flavor to it and its peatiness was slightly more subtle.  For those of you that like a splash of water to cut through a little bit of the peat, this 12 year old probably wouldn’t need the water – just pour a dram into a nosing glass and sip gently.   

It’s probably not going to come as too much of a surprise here, but my recommendation of this group would be the Connemara – any of them.  The original one is the version that I buy most often; the most expensive one – and the rarest one – is the 12 year old; if you can afford it (and find it), it would most definitely be worth the effort.