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Whiskies of the emerald isle.

It's hard to believe that Irish whiskey was a declining category at one time and rarely used in cocktails besides an Irish Coffee. Irish whiskey is now the fastest-growing distilled spirit category in the U.S., showing double-digit growth for more than 10 years.

It was once thought that all we needed to know about Irish whiskey could be summed up in wee dram to accompany a pint of Guinness. But there's much more to understand about the spirit. These are the basic styles of Irish whiskey.

Blended: Two or more different malted-barley whiskies blended together, often combining milder, column-distilled grain whiskey with more intense pot-still whiskey.

Single pot still: A single whiskey made from both malted barley and un-malted barley, distilled in a pot still.

Single malt: A single malted-barley whiskey distilled in a pot still.

Single grain: A single whiskey made from just one grain, as opposed to a blend of grains.

Distilleries today are turning out beautifully produced blends, single malts, single-pot-still and single-grain whiskies. As you can see from the samples tasted below, the Irish whiskey category is diverse in its many offerings: all unique and wonderful-and all terrific in an Irish Coffee. Slainte!


Peated Single Malt

Cooley Distillery

Double distilled

Ireland's only peated

Irish whiskey is a blend of 4, 6 and 8 year old whiskies.

Nose: Initial smokiness giving way to a heather, floral quality, leading to a honey and toffee sweetness with notes of dark chocolate.

Palate: The smoke (peat) is there up front, with a slight brine/sea/medicinal character revealing a caramel, vanilla--creme brulee--rich sweetness.

Finish: Long and memorable; when the smoke clears, you are left with this beautiful honey, chocolate, pot-de-creme reminder that goes on and on.


Single pot still

Malted and unmalted barley

Midleton Distillery

Triple distilled

Nose: Spice--sweet vanilla and allspice, herbaceous, dried mint--ripe tropical fruits, barley malt, confectionary sweetness, baked apple and toasted oak.

Palate: Rich, viscous mouthfeel, revealing caramel and toffee sweetness, baking spices--vanilla, clove and cinnamon--baked green apple and toasted oak.

Finish: Long with lingering notes of spice, grain and oak.


Single Grain

8 Year Old

Cooley Distillery

Made predominantly from corn

Nose: Corn mash--corn bread, vanilla and honey, melting into caramel, toasted oak and tropical fruits, with a nod of lemon citrus.

Palate: Here the corn shows sweetness that is somewhat bourbon-like, with big vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and toasted oak with notes of ripe peaches and tropical fruits--coconut and Bananas Foster.

Finish: Medium in length, with a passing reminder of vanilla, milk chocolate and candied pecans.


Blended, pot-still and grain whiskies

Midleton Distillery

Triple distilled

Sherry and specially selected toasted and charred used bourbon barrels.

Nose: Rich floral notes --honeysuckle, fresh-cut grass--orange marmalade, light spice, toasted oak, stewed fruits--nectarines, apricots and tropical fruits such as papaya.

Palate: Nice texture, well-balanced, ripe tree fruits--peach and apricot, toasted nuts, sweet sherry, caramel sweetness and a touch of vanilla followed by toasty oak and malty grain.

Finish: Long in length with a pleasant spice, toasted oak and fruit reminder and a touch of honey sweetness.


Blended, malt and grain whiskies

Cooley Distillery

Double distilled

Nose: An earthy, green vegetal note, followed closely by sweet sherry, stewed prunes, lemon zest, toasted oak and malty grain.

Palate: Big vanilla, custard, cocoa and caramel sweetness, followed by ripe peaches and an almond nuttiness.

Finish: Medium in length, dry with a sweet nougat and oak reminder.



Midleton Distillery

Triple distilled

Whiskies range from 12 to 25 years in age; just 50 casks are released each year.

Nose: Big and complex, notes of spice, bright citrus--lemon and lemon zest--floral, herbal, toasted oak, grainy cereal mash.

Palate: Rich, full and creamy revealing honey, toffee, butterscotch sweetness, lush, ripe summer tree fruits, white pepper spice, with a hint of vanilla and toasted almonds.

Finish: Very long, with a sweet/spicy reminder.


Single Pot Still

Malted and unmalted barley

12 Years

Midleton Distillery

Triple distilled

Nose: Complex with fruity aromas of stewed cherries and plums, citrus peels, sweet orange, big spice--clove and white pepper--toasted oak, sweet sherry.

Palate: Lovely, creamy texture, rich honey sweetness, ripe tree fruit--peaches, bright orange citrus notes, raisins, custard, toasted nuts and marzipan.

Finish: Long, with all of the flavors continuing to linger in beautiful harmony.


Small batch, blend of malt and grain whiskies

Teeling Distillery

Malt is double distilled; grain is triple distilled

Finished in used rum casks for 6 months and bottled at 46%.

Nose: A slight malty note, followed by baked apple, vanilla, baking spices, sweet rum and a floral bouquet of orange blossom.

Palate: Medium bodied with a pleasant blast of spice--ground cinnamon and vanilla--lemon curd, blackberries, toasted wood and dried fruits.

Finish: Medium in length, with a sweet caramel and dried herbal reminder.


Triple blend of grain, pot and malt whiskies

Tullamore Distillery

Triple distilled

Nose: Fresh-baked biscuits and malted grain leading to big citrus peel of both lemon and orange, ripe tree fruit--apricot and peach--and toffee sweetness.

Palate: A rich mouthfeel, honey sweetness, vanilla, sweet sherry, toasted grains and cream soda.

Finish: Medium to long with a lingering memory of toasted nuts and caramel sweetness.


Single Malt

Cooley Distillery

Double distilled

Nose: A nice balance of malted grain, ripe tree fruits, bright citrus and bold spice, with just the slightest waft of brine.

Palate: Rich, almost oily, malty grain, citrus zest--orange and lemon--slight note of pipe tobacco, toasted hazelnuts and burnt-sugar sweetness.

Finish: Medium in length with a lingering of malted grains, toasted oak and honey.

Tony Abou-Ganim is the funder of Las Vegas-based cocktail consultancy The Modern Mixologist and the author of The Modern Mixologist-Contemporary Classic Cocktails and Vodka Distilled.
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Title Annotation:Cheers SPIRIT TASTING
Author:Abou-Ganim, Tony
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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