Three Irish Whiskeys that Aren't Jameson March 14 2019, 13 Comments
Nothing against Jameson - it's great - but Ireland makes other whiskeys, too, and in the interests of exploration and fairness, you owe it to yourself - and the Irish people - to try a few others. Here's what I've got on my Irish Whiskey shelf at the moment.
Redbreast 12-Year, Cask Strength
Okay, so Redbreast isn't actually Jameson, but it is made in the same facility (Irish Distillers in County Cork). The two differ in ways that are illustrative of some key concepts in Irish Whiskey.
- Distillation process: Redbreast is a single pot still Irish whiskey, while Jameson is a blend of of both pot-distilled malt whiskey and column-distilled grain whiskey. Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is a legal designation in Ireland which requires the whiskey in question be made of at least 30% malted barley and 30% un-malted barley and made in a traditional pot still, while some of the whiskey blend in Jameson is made in newer, more efficient column stills.
- Mash Bill: Redbreast is 100% made from barley, although the mix of malted vs. un-malted is unknown. Single malt Scotch whisky is made of 100% malted barley, but the Irish for a variety of reasons use a portion of un-malted whiskey in their recipes, which gives these spirits a full, creamy mouthfeel. Jameson uses other grains (corn, wheat, etc) as part of their recipe, in addition to the use of both malted and un-malted barley. This mix of grain and malt is what defines Jameson as a blended Irish whiskey.
- Age: Redbreast makes a variety of expressions, but the one I have is the 12-year old. They make a 15- and a 21-year-old, both of which are highly rated. Jameson's Original doesn't have an age listed on its label, but it's generally thought to be a blend of whiskeys that spent at least 4 years in a barrel.
- Alcohol: Standard Redbreast 12 is 40% alcohol by volume (abv); the bottle on my shelf is 57.7% abv, considerably stronger and undiluted, aka "cask strength." Before bottling, many mainstream whiskeys (Jameson, for example) are diluted with water to a standard alcoholic content of 40% abv. Whiskey nerds such as myself prefer to dilute whiskey to taste with a few drops of water just before serving.
I've had this particular bottle open for awhile ... probably because it's not my favorite. It's rich and sweet and full of interesting flavors of golden grapes and raisins and toffee, but the alcoholic flavor is overwhelming, even when diluted with water. I prefer the standard Redbreast 12 year for this reason. It just feels a little bit more rounded and harmonious.
Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
This whiskey is a product of the first distillery to open in Dublin in more than 50 years, opened in 2015 by the namesake Teeling family, whose ancestor opened the first incarnation way back in 1782. The original closed sometime in the early 20th century. The Teeling family have a more recent history with Irish whiskey, having opened the Cooley distillery (makers of Tyrconnell, see below) in 1989. They sold that brand in 2011 to Beam (now Beam Suntory), but were allowed to keep 16,000 casks of whiskey from the Cooley warehouse. It's not known how much of that is in today's Teeling Whiskey, but it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to guess at least some of that Cooley whiskey is being incorporated into today's Teeling - not too many new distilleries are able to supply the global market within 4 years of opening their doors!
Teeling's flagship whiskey, the Small Batch, has a unique flavor derived from spending the last six months before bottling in Central American rum casks. It's got some unique banana flavors that nicely complement the traditional vanilla/sweet notes from the former bourbon casks it spent the first few years of its life in.
It's also a blended whiskey, composed of approximately three parts grain whiskey to one part malt whiskey. For me, it's a really unique and very drinkable blended whiskey, perfect for sipping, even in warm weather.
Tyrconnell Single Malt
According to the Tyrconnell web site, “Before Prohibition, The Tyrconnell was claimed to be the best selling Irish whiskey.” Kind of a weird way of making a non-claim claim but this is a personal favorite whiskey of mine. It's unique in the Irish whiskey world for being distilled only twice (vs. the traditional triple-distillation process). Theoretically, this leaves more flavor in the spirit, which certainly holds true in this whiskey. It's aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and bottled at a somewhat diluted 43% abv, but punches way above its weight class in terms of flavor. Really cool and interesting tropical fruit flavors from dried mango to ripe cantaloupe. As a single malt, it's also made from 100% malted whiskey (vs. Redbreast's mix of malted and un-malted, and Teeling's combination of malt and grain), more like the Scotch whiskies I drink most often. Definitely worth picking up a bottle of this one.
Getting into Whiskey?
The best way to improve your palate is by taking notes. My pocket whiskey journal has helped tens of thousands of people get more out of their whiskey tasting experiences. Give it a try!