I don’t really need St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to indulge in a spot of Irish whiskey. It’s just as good the other 364 days of the year as it is on St. Patrick’s Day. I find, however, that the older I get, the more I tend to appreciate Irish whiskey'but the less I drink. Gone are the days of thinking that whiskey, Irish or otherwise, was good for my writing. Still, there are times when nothing in this world seems better than a pint of Guinness and a jigger of Jameson, John Power or Tullamore Dew alongside.
Just as Champagne proper only comes from Champagne, France, so Irish whiskey only comes from Ireland. That’s probably obvious. But there are whiskeys produced elsewhere in the Irish “style” that aren’t really Irish. There’s a saying that “The Irish invented whiskey but the Scots perfected it.” I will not, as they say, “go there.” I will say this, however'there are differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch, and I tend to enjoy each because of those differences.
The most obvious difference, and probably the least important, between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey is the spelling: “Scotch whisky” versus “Irish whiskey.” Second, there are far fewer whiskey distilleries currently operating in Ireland (only three) than in Scotland, and only Cooley’s is Irish-owned. However, the other Irish distilleries produce a number of different whiskeys under various brand names.
In terms of flavor, the biggest factor distinguishing Scotch whisky from Irish whiskey is that peat is used in the production of Scotch whisky but not Irish whiskey. Therefore, Scotch whisky tends to have smoky flavors and aromas that go great with cigars, while Irish whiskey is a little less earthy and more smooth and sweeter. I’m inclined to think that Irish whiskey is probably a better choice for first-time whiskey drinkers and whiskey rookies, whereas Scotch whisky is a tad more of an acquired taste.
Here in Utah, there are eight different Irish whiskeys available for retail purchase, ranging in price from John Power Irish Whiskey ($17.95) to the super-premium Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey ($137.80). This is the most exclusive Irish whiskey in production today and, due to budgetary constraints like having to pay the rent, I’ve never tasted Midleton. Only 50 casks of Midleton are produced each year and every bottle is individually signed and numbered by Barry Crockett, Midleton’s master distiller.
Priced at $22.95, Tullamore Dew is a good baseline Irish whiskey, although I prefer the Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old, which isn’t available in the state. The 12 Year Tullamore has a luxurious, soft taste that you don’t quite get with the regular Tullamore. Likewise, I prefer Jameson 12 Year 1780 Irish Whiskey ($32.95) over regular Jameson ($24.95). You get a lot of flavor bang for the extra $8 that the 1780 Jameson costs. On the other hand, I can’t imagine anything other than good old standard Jameson Irish Whiskey in an Irish Coffee; it blends so smoothly.
Rounding out the Irish whiskeys found in Utah stores are Bushmills Irish Whiskey ($25.95), Bushmills 10 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($35.95), and Black Bush Irish Whiskey ($36.95), also made by Bushmills. Black Bush is made at the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery, the Old Bushmills Distillery, which was licensed in 1608. The whiskey itself is aged in sherry oak casks from nine to 11 years, and it’s full-bodied and brimming with rich molasses and cocoa flavors. To me, the smokiness of Black Bush makes it a good bridge between most Irish whiskeys and Scotch.
Now that I think about it, maybe St. Paddy’s Day is a good day for an Irish whiskey tasting. Erin go braugh!