Irish Lost – The sad history of Irish distilling’s “Ambassador Brands.”

Take each of the better-known Irish whiskey brands: Jameson’s, Powers, Paddy’s, Tullamore Dew. Pour them into separate glasses, swirl them round and breathe in. You will immediately be engulfed in as much Irishness as a potato- and mutton-laden Irish stew.

All four whiskeys have markedly different characteristics as one would rightly expect from a land which, only a matter of 200 years ago, boasted some 2,000 legal and illegal distilleries. Yet these ambassador brands, Jameson’s, Powers, Paddy’s, and Tullamore Dew today come from the same stills of the same distillery in County Cork and mature in the same, massive warehouses. Of course, it was not always so.

No nation has been unluckier with its national spirit. The cruel way the forces of war and commerce ganged up on it over a 20 year period in the early part of this century is nearly unbelievable.

From a commercial perspective it was bad enough for Ireland’s legal distillers that their country’s communities had been thrown into turmoil in 1916 with the Irish War of Independence. But things worsened drastically when civil war racked Ireland between 1919 and 1921. To compound matters, the industry was brought mercilessly to its knees by the British Government’s Trade embargo with the new Irish Free State, which not only cut off their markets in England, Wales and Scotland but throughout the entire Empire as well.

Their only hope of expanding trade was with the new world, but at the very same time the U.S. Government had voted to impose the most draconian drinking legislation in the history of the first world with the Volstead Act. And just years after that was repealed, fate dealt yet another near-fatal blow, with trade slumping universally following Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Had not this extraordinary catalogue of horrors befallen a single industry there is little doubt the bottle of Jameson you see in your liquor store would still have been Dublin distilled, hailing from the opposite banks of the Liffey to Powers, just as it did a century ago. Tullamore would have thrived as one of Ireland’s centers of distilling. And Paddy’s would remain the only whiskey from Midleton in Ireland’s deep south.

Instead, by the 1960s the number of non-grain distilleries in all Ireland had been whittled down to four, each suffering from chronic under-funding, loss of confidence, and lack of development. They had seen blended Scotch whisky take an uncompromising hold of world markets. Woefully short of the financial resources to effectively battle their own corner, they decided to merge and fight together as one.

History dictates that when mergers take place, closures and redundancies follow. Irish whiskey proved no exception. And all this came at a time when the intermittent closures of distilleries were almost the accepted norm.

The second world war took its toll on one famous Dublin distillery, Jones Road, which shared with Mortlach in Scotland’s Speyside the unusual dual distinction of being built on the very site of a battlefield which had seen the monarch-led slaughter of an invading 11th century Danish army, and were purveyors of top-notch whisk(e)y to boot. In 1954, Tullamore Distillery shut down for good. North of the border distilleries had fared little better with the demise of Dunville’s (1951), Comber (1953), and Coleraine (1964) although grain distilling was carried out there for 14 more years.

So, when did Jameson and Powers really lose their once fiercely-fought individuality? The merger between those two with Cork Distilleries, owners of the Paddy’s brand, took place in 1966. The first casualty of the merger was John Jameson, whose enormous but aged Bow Street distillery closed in 1971. Production of their whiskey was transferred, with a wonderful touch of the Irish, across the bridge named after the country’s legendary temperance zealot, Father Mathew, to Powers’ John’s Lane distillery.

Four years later, the workers at the old Cork Distilleries’ Midleton plant went home from the ancient buildings holding the fermenters and stills and, the next morning, filed through the same gates to clock in at the purpose-built distillery next door. Within twelve months production likewise ceased at Powers and all distilling in the Republic was now carried out at Midleton.

It is a sad tale. The Jameson Distillery, for sheer size alone, was one of the wonders of Dublin. Its crumbling buildings still standing today give some idea why. Much of Powers, in the shadow of the imposing Christchurch cathedral, has been lost, although the front, the elegant Counting House, is now the city’s Art College. Just behind it, high on a pedestal, is the creation of copper that once constituted the great distillery. This is not a student’s sculpture: these are the tarnished green remains of the massive pot stills which once gurgled and hissed as a truly remarkable spirit gushed into the receivers.

What perhaps makes this fall from grace all the more extraordinary was the fact that Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world outside rum. In the early 1870s brandy was in enormous demand. But when the Cognac region of France had been devastated by phylloxera in 1872, Irish distillers grabbed the chance to fill the gap. Irish whiskey was considered lighter and easier to handle on the palate than Scottish single malts. And for one brief, glorious period Irish whiskey was in demand in all four corners of the globe.

What set Irish apart was the fact that distillers did not exclusively use malted barley as was the case in Scotland. The mash was made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley with oats, wheat and rye also added. Nor by this time was the malt peat dried. The result was a mouthwateringly flavorsome whiskey, yet lighter than Highland by something to spare.

However, when Scottish blenders started mixing malt whisky with grain whisky made from wheat or corn and continuously distilled, Irish distillers began to feel the pinch. Unlike in Scotland where bottled whiskies had been made available early on, the tradition in Ireland, especially with John Jameson, was to sell by the barrel to merchants who then filled their own bottles and containers.

The trouble was, many had unscrupulously begun to doctor their whiskey with the cheaper grain spirit but without telling the customer. Irish distillers had long resented any grain spirit being called whiskey; loathed in particular the fact that they had no means of control over what happened to their whiskey once they had sold their casks, and refused point blank to have anything to do with producing their own blended whiskey. These merchants’ and innkeepers’ practices, increasingly giving Irish whiskey a bad name, were common throughout the British Isles. And even on the other side of the Atlantic it was all too easy to find “Irish” a long way removed from the delightful golden spirit maturing in Dublin warehouses.

One New York publisher even made a roaring trade issuing books on how to produce the stuff for minimum cost and maximum profit. The first, in 1885, showed Grade 1 Irish could be made by mixing 40 gallons of spirit with 5 gallons of Irish Whiskey, costing $1.40 for the lot. Grade 3 Irish was a straight cut of 22 1/2 gallons of spirit to 22 1/2 gallons of Irish whiskey, costing $2.75. If it was Scotch you were trying to create, then just add oil of birch cut with alcohol for phony smokiness. It was only a matter of a few years before an even cheaper Irish was on the market: 30 gallons of rectified whiskey, three quarts of paradise tincture, two ounces of catechu, ten drops of creosote and five gallons of water. Water of ammonia was optional. And only if you were going for the deluxe version.

But it was Irish distillers’ desire to guarantee the purity of their pure pot still whiskey which was to lead to their downfall. The Scots got on with marketing blended whisky, leaving Irish the heavier style and something of a dinosaur. By the 1950s some Irish distillers had switched their brands from pure pot still to blended, though many didn’t. Even Powers remained the real thing until they merged with their rivals and only then did it become a blend.

Today Jameson, Powers, Tullamore Dew and Paddy’s are each a blend. But at Midleton there are massive pot stills and finely tuned continuous grain stills to create a varying number of style of spirit. When blended together the differences can be quite startling.

For the international assault it was a matter of eggs and baskets. One basket was considered enough and the name they decided to promote was Jameson. If you are very lucky you might find their Crested Ten or 1780, the first supremely delicate, the second sherry rich and exuding a mustiness similar to the old Jameson of Bow Street days. Sadly, though, they have pitched safely with the ordinary Jameson brand designed to display an Irish lightness with definite, but controlled, pot still character unique to Ireland. Lighter, still are Paddy’s and Tullamore Dew.

But Powers is a quite different matter. It radiates the cut-glass clarity but brittleness of traditional Irish pot still. This is because only 30% of it is grain whiskey and of the pot still 60% of the barley used is unmalted. Other grains like oats and rye are no longer part of the recipe. The result, however, is an Irish blend in an echelon of its own. The bad news is that it is so difficult to find outside Ireland, where it stubbornly remains the country’s most popular whiskey.

Irish Distillers do produce a 100% pure unblended pot still whiskey called Redbreast, a 12-year-old which would find its way into the top dozen of any whiskey connoisseur in the world. But again, it is one Irish Distillers prefer to keep quiet about.

You cannot totally blame them for such a policy. Once, and not that long ago, Irish pot still whiskey, whether in blend or straight, was a spirit on the verge of international extinction. Like some story line from Star Trek, a dying race jumped upon the mothership Midleton to take them to a new colony to start afresh. They knew the journey would be a long one and whether they liked it or not they had to adapt to their new world.

The plan appears to have worked. Now let us hope the truly indigenous species, like Redbreast and Powers, will be allowed to flourish as well.

The Myths and Realities of Irish Whiskey

“I went to Ireland for the holidays. I love Tullamore Dew and went to visit the distillery in Tullamore, but I couldn’t find it. Where is it located?”

I’m often asked questions like this, and I can certainly understand the confusion. After all, the bottle of 12 year old Tullamore Dew I recently purchased in a Duty Free shop states the following on the label: “Distilled and bottled in Ireland, Tullamore Dew Company Ltd., Tullamore, County Offaly.”

You can imagine the look on their faces when I tell them that Tullamore Dew is produced in Midleton, County Cork, along with dozens of other whiskeys. It’s just one of the many common misconceptions about Irish whiskey.

I have made an attempt to clarify some of the most significant misconceptions below. Hopefully, the next time you drink an Irish whiskey, you won’t be viewing it through shamrock-colored glasses.

Belief: There are dozens of Irish distilleries.

Reality: There are only three distilleries—Bushmills Distillery in the North, and the Midleton and Cooley Distilleries in the Republic of Ireland.

Most of what the Bushmills Distillery produces is sold as Bushmills whiskey. However, they have produced the occasional whiskey under a different name (e.g. Coleraine).

The Cooley Distillery near Dundalk, Ireland’s only independent distillery, has been in operation since 1989. It produces many different whiskeys, including single malts and blends. The distillery bottlings are Tyrconnel (single malt), Kilbeggan (blend), and Connemara (peated-smoked single malt). It also produces a myriad of branded whiskeys of varying quality, with one of the best examples being the subtly complex Knappogue Castle single malt (1990, 1991 & 1992 vintages).

The Midleton Distillery in County Cork, the biggest of the three, produces many of the internationally-famous whiskey brands, including Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Tullamore Dew, Murphy’s and Dunphy’s, along with many other lesser known brands.

There once were dozens of distilleries in Ireland, each making its own whiskey. For example, Tullamore Dew was produced at the B. Daly Distillery in Tullamore, Jameson was produced at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, and Powers was produced at the John’s Lane Distillery in Dublin. Economic conditions along with other factors led to consolidation in the industry, leading to production of the whiskey at the current Midleton distillery in 1975.

Belief: I’m Catholic, and therefore won’t drink Bushmills. (Alternatively, I’m Protestant, and therefore won’t drink Jameson).

Reality: The same company owns The Bushmills Distillery and Midleton Distillery (where Jameson is produced).

I don’t want to get into politics, so I’ll keep this one brief. But I must say something, because I hear these kinds of comments all the time.

The Bushmills Distillery and the Midleton Distillery are both owned by Irish Distillers. Where do you think the grain whiskey component for the Bushmills blends comes from? Not the Bushmills Distillery. Bushmills only makes malt whiskey. The grain whiskey for the Bushmills blends comes from the Midleton distillery in County Cork—the same place where Jameson, Power’s and Paddy is produced.

If you were wondering, the opposite is not true. According to Barry Crockett, Midleton Distillery Manager, malt whiskey from Bushmills doesn’t go into any of the whiskeys produced at Midleton.

Finally, Irish Distillers is owned by Pernod-Ricard, of France. But there’s no need to worry; I was just at both distilleries and they were still making whiskey, not brandy.

Belief: Irish whiskey is unique in that it is triple-distilled and is made from smoke-free malt (paralleling the belief that Scotch whisky is only distilled twice and always produced with peat-smoked malt).

Reality: What makes Irish whiskey unique is the practice of using both unmalted and malted barley in their pot stills.

Yes, it is true that most Irish whiskey is made from malt containing no peat smoke. But Connemara single malt, produced at the Cooley distillery, is made from peat-smoked malt. And while the whiskey produced at Bushmills is triple-distilled, the whiskey produced at Cooley is only distilled twice. What happens at the Midleton distillery depends on the whiskey being produced. In fact, one could argue that—given the production techniques and flavor profile common to many of their whiskeys—the Cooley distillery is essentially a single malt Scotch distillery located in Ireland, although I doubt that analogy will please anyone.

Realize also that there are Scotch whiskies, like Glengoyne, produced with unpeated barley, and some Scotch whiskies, like Auchentoshan, are triple-distilled. In fact, Frank McHardy, Distillery Manager of Scotland’s Springbank Distillery is making a peat-free, triple-distilled whisky at Springbank called Hazelburn. No surprise to me—Frank’s previous Distillery Manager position was at Bushmills.

But there is one production process unique to Irish whiskey; more specifically, to the Midleton Distillery. Whiskey produced at Midleton (therefore, the majority of the whiskey produced in Ireland) has some component of it produced in a pot still using both malted and unmalted barley. This is different than all the other whiskies produced from a pot still in Scotland (and the other two distilleries in Ireland), since they produce single malt whiskey utilizing 100% malted barley—no unmalted barley.

Using both malted and unmalted barley in the Midleton pot stills is what, to me, gives Irish whiskey its Irish-ness. And when they produce a whiskey entirely in a pot still using both malted and unmalted barley, it can’t be called a single malt. Rather, the whiskey is referred to as a “pure pot still” whiskey. There are only three pure pot still whiskeys produced at the Midleton distillery and sold on the market. The rest of the whiskeys are “blends” and contain just a portion of pot still whiskey.

Belief: All Irish whiskeys tastes the same.

Reality: The majority of Irish whiskeys are distinctly different from each other.

I understand why you might initially think that all Irish whiskey tastes the same. One of the reasons for this is that most of the whiskey drinkers whom I know haven’t ventured much beyond the standard Jameson and Bushmills bottlings. Part of this lack of consumer awareness I believe must lie directly on the shoulders of Irish Distillers and their parent company Pernod-Ricard. While the Scotch whisky companies have been more than willing over the past ten years to satisfy the demands of a growing consumer base wanting more variety and a better selection of premium products, many of the outstanding whiskeys produced in Ireland have been Ireland’s best kept secrets.

For example, Redbreast and Green Spot have been on the market for many years. They are outstanding whiskeys, but how many of you have even heard of them before, let alone tried them? They’re nearly impossible to find—even in Ireland! Only now is Irish Distillers beginning to show off its talents and potential by exporting Jameson Gold, Jameson Pure Pot Still 15 year old, and Bushmills 16 year old “Three Wood” to the U.S.

Another reason for the confusion might lie with the fact that so many of the whiskey brands are made at the Midleton distillery. Is Irish Distillers just making the same whiskey and selling it under different names? I can understand why you might think this way. But the whiskeys are indeed completely different from each other. A simple taste test of the different products proves this point.

But how can this be? How can one distillery produce so many completely different whiskeys? Well, to begin with, the distillery is unique in that it has both pot stills and column stills under one roof. Therefore, it can produce a single malt whiskey in a pot still, it can produce a pure pot still whiskey that is not a single malt because it contains both malted and unmalted barley (examples include Redbreast, Green Spot, and the new Jameson 15 year old), or it can produce blended whiskeys made in a combination of pot stills and column stills (e.g. Jameson Gold, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Paddy’s, Murphy’s, and Dunphy).

Master Distiller Barry Crockett can differentiate even further. He can select different degrees of malted barley vs. unmalted barley to produce different types of pure pot still whiskeys, and different percentages of grain whiskey vs. malt whiskey to produce different types of blended whiskeys. If that’s not enough, he can take it one step further. He can take different “cuts” from the pot still spirit and different fractions of spirit from the column stills to produce completely different whiskeys. Finally, the spirit can then be matured in different types of casks (e.g. sherry vs. bourbon), and bottled at different ages and strengths.

Once you see all the different possibilities that this distillery has in making whiskey, it is almost surprising that they don’t make more whiskeys than they already do.

Belief: Irish whiskey isn’t as good as Scotch whisky.

Reality: Just like Scotch whiskies, some Irish whiskeys are outstanding while others are not.

When I told a Scotch whisky distillery manager that I was going to Ireland, his reply was (tongue-in-cheek), “I didn’t know they made whisky in Ireland.” The truth is that Scotland, Ireland, the United States, and Canada make some great whiskies, and they also make some not-so-great whiskies.

Unfortunately, I encounter many single malt scotch drinkers who don’t drink Irish whiskey and aren’t willing to even try it. Given that the flavor gap between Irish and Scotch whisky is narrowing, combined with the recent release of outstanding, high-quality Irish whiskeys, if you adopt such a myopic view you will miss out.

To prove this point, I often slip in a good Irish whiskey during my single malt scotch tastings events; you would be surprised by the overwhelming favorable response.

Belief: Only Bushmills makes a single malt Irish whiskey.

Reality: Single malt whiskeys from both the Cooley and Midleton distilleries are currently on the market.

Single malt whiskeys from the Cooley distillery include Tyrconnel, Knappogue Castle, and Connemara. A single malt produced by the Midleton distillery (but not sanctioned by Irish Distillers) has been sold in the United States under the “Erin go Bragh” label.

Finally, after all this talk about Irish whiskey, you might have worked up a thirst for one.

Do The Irish Still Drink Whiskey

An Irish barometer… The bottle of whiskey! Upside-down, opticated, one golden eye glowing… right side up, in the home shadows, acutely reflecting human change.

Do the Irish still drink whiskey was the question.

Do the Irish still breathe is the answer!

The barometric image is accurate. We celebrate our births with whiskey. We toast our marriages with whiskey. We mourn our deaths with it, salute our heroes with it, brace ourselves against life’s slings and arrows with it, warm our old bones with it, wrap it around the warpings of our lives. Remember its true name; where it springs from. The Gaelic word—uisce beatha—the water of life.

Our barometer. It occupies a special place.

If I try to explain that special place I think it is best emphasized by this: there are very few houses indeed throughout Ireland which do not have a bottle of whiskey sitting quietly in some corner—usually out of sight. The other side of that coin is that there are many hundreds of thousands of homes where there is no other alcoholic drink of any kind under the roof but that bottle of whiskey.

There it sits, in its special place, the true spirit of this island in every sense of the word, the Irish barometer. The bottle of Paddy or Powers or Bushmills. The label does not really matter as long as it is good strong whiskey.

In this land of the pub culture, where two out of every three drinks are consumed in Ireland’s thousands of pubs, the social centers of a merry land, I believe it is the solitary presence of the bottle of whiskey in so many homes which most strongly hallmarks the special niche we have for uisce beatha, for the water of life… and death.

And in a pub culture, especially the rural pub culture, so heavily dominated by the pint of Guinness that it is usual enough to enter a bar and see nothing else being consumed, then the continuing usage of whiskey as a special drink for special occasions—and we have so many of these!—is guaranteed, now, into the forever of the years ahead.

When you see that opticated golden eye blurring and blinking rapidly in a country pub you can be certain that it is not an ordinary day, not an ordinary occasion. Maybe it is to celebrate the sale of a farm, the return home from the fields of emigration of a local son or daughter. Maybe it is to mark a great sporting win in Gaelic football or hurling (the best small ball game in the whole world!). If the sporting win, or any other triumph, for example, is such that it brings a silver trophy into the bar then that cup is always filled to the brim… not with beer… but with golden whiskey, even if it takes two bottles. And if some man has fathered a new son, or lost one, or has married, or is mourning a death, then that is always done, too, with whiskey. And whiskey alone.

The special place—our real barometer.

We have a phrase which, in many ways, says it all. We say, on the great occasions which are being celebrated publicly—pub-licly indeed!—that it is an occasion for “the top shelf. ” It was upon the top shelves of the older pubs, you see, far above the porter kegs and beer taps, that the bottles of whiskey stood in rigid ranks and files, overlooking all. In the undisturbed few pubs that survive to the lip of the millennium they still stand there, spare, superior, elitist more than a little, awaiting those tides in the affairs of the mortalities below which are high enough to alter their levels and their equilibrium.

Our barometer….
My father died in the seventies, in his time and season. We gave him the traditional old-time wake—already going out of fashion even here then—laid out in his best suit in his own bedroom in his own bed and the aroma of whiskey as close as the mutteration of prayers and sympathy. He was waked the way his father was waked, and those before him. I am the eldest son. I had several special duties in that role.

Probably the most important and ritualistic of these was to take two bottles of whiskey by the neck, on the morning after he died, and bring them to the Arney cemetery where his grave was being rudely crafted through the earth of the Mac Connells that have always been buried there. And stand at the edge of that grave and talk to the neighbors turned gravediggers by tradition and ritual. My great-grandfather’s huge dome of a skull turned up once again in the digging, yellowed and eternal, as it will turn up also when I am being buried. They had set it up once again on the lip of the new grave and even mentioned that strange man’s name—stuttering Mickie Mac Connell—as I spoke the ritual elder son’s words to them. But that is another story of course. What was required was done as, please God, a long time from now, my own eldest son Cuan will do it. And, in an almost Victorian quirk, neither I nor he will ever see that grave whiskey being swallowed direct from the bottle by those who dig the Irish graves.

I drank whiskey then. With my father’s old friends, and with his enemies too, coming in shyly from the shadows, enemies in the petty sense of being divided from him by politics or by sporting affairs. An enmity drowned in wake whiskey. And I drank whiskey for my mother, in her time and season, and, Lord love her, for my dear wife Ann, taken long before her time and season by a destiny whose twistings and turnings, beyond our ken, so often require us to stiffen our courages from those shadowy kitchen-pressed bottles of whiskey, waiting there for just such moments.

And I drank whiskey, more than my share, when each of my children were born, and born healthy. And my brothers’ children. And the children of my friends. And for the deaths and marriages of all those who I know and love. Sweet whiskey, sour whiskey, always the same taste, mark you, but flavored by the occasion that is in it.

The Irish barometer. . . the bottle of whiskey. . . . . solitary in so many homes. To be mixtured with boiling water and cloved lemons for the colds and chestiness of the old. To be egg-spooned into the dental cavity of the child that cries in the night when the dentist is sleeping. To put color into the shocked white faces of the bad occasions, to add more color to the ruddied cheeks of our joys. To seal deals, pacts, and promises, to say farewell and to say welcome home. The supreme spirit to punctuate the fluctuations of the Irish lives of both yesterday and today. And tomorrow.

Since the time of stuttering Mickie Mac Connell, who was a genius, and who was able to billet rats from one farm to another, always sending them from the farms of his Catholic neighbors to the farms of Protestants, by way of some kind of black art, until he was stopped by the clergymen of three churches. But sure that’s another story altogether and, to tell it right, with a sense of occasion, both ye and I would have to reach for the top shelf.

Do the Irish still drink whiskey?

This was the question?

Does the barometer ever stop a-rising and a-falling?

That, my friends, is the answer.


Irish Whiskey

There are some scandalous misconceptions about Irish whiskey—that they essentially all taste the same and are inferior to single malt scotch—that are mostly held by single malt scotch drinkers. The truth is that Irish whiskeys are distinctly different from each other—even those produced at the same distillery—and some of the best whiskeys in the world are produced in Ireland.

I’ve listed what I feel are the ten best whiskeys produced in Ireland that are currently available. Some are easy to find and inexpensive (Powers), while others are very rare and justifiably expensive (Knappogue Castle 1951).

Six of the ten are produced at Midleton, Ireland’s biggest distillery, which is located in the County Cork far to the south. Three are from Northern Ireland’s Bushmills distillery. One whiskey—Knappogue Castle 1951 Vintage—is from the defunct B. Daly distillery, where Tullamore Dew was once produced. The only other operating distillery not getting a nod is the Cooley distillery, which has only been operating for about ten years. However, the whiskies from Cooley improve every year and will no doubt break the top ten barrier in due time.

It is also worth noting that only two of the ten whiskeys are single malts. Four are pure pot still whiskeys (whiskeys that are produced exclusively from pot stills, but using both malted and unmalted barley). The remainders are blends, being produced from pot stills and column stills. You might be initially surprised that only two of the ten are single malts. There’s a general impression that single malt whiskeys are superior to blends. But, as I mentioned in a recent issue of Malt Advocate, a large part of what makes Irish whiskey taste differently is its unique method of producing pot still whiskey. All four of the currently available pure pot still whiskeys are on this top ten list, and deservingly so.

Here are the whiskeys, listed alphabetically, along with brief tasting notes and other pertinent information. Join me in celebrating what are not just Ireland’s best, but rather some of the finest whiskeys in the world.

Bushmills 16 yr. “Three Wood” Single Malt Available in the U.S. and other markets for about $55, it is unique among the whiskies on this list—the whiskey is finished off in port pipes after being matured in bourbon and sherry casks, contributing richness not found in Irish whiskeys. It is rich, smooth, gently sweet in flavor, and loaded with fruity notes. Fans of sherried single malt Scotch whiskies will find this whiskey very attractive.
Bushmills 12 yr. Distillery Reserve

This single malt is sold only at Bushmills, so now you have an excuse to visit the distillery. It’s only two years older than that standard Bushmills Malt 10 year old, but what a difference two years makes. Smooth and malty like the 10 year old, but with a richness of flavor and maturity that makes it taste more like a 15 year old. It goes to show that age and maturity is not a linear relationship. If you have friends going to the distillery, tell them to forget about the T-shirt and buy the Distillery Reserve. Or better yet, buy two.
Bushmills 12 yr. “1608” If you can’t make it to the Bushmills distillery, don’t worry. This historically “Duty Free only” item is a real gem. While it isn’t a single malt, one taste will tell you that it is not far from it. It is a very malty whiskey with a dazzling array of sherried fruit, subtle spice notes, and all very well balanced. Limit your airport purchases to this whiskey or Redbreast (see below). Let me rephrase that—this whiskey and Redbreast.
Green Spot

I struggle to find another whiskey in the world that is so smooth and so drinkable, yet just as delicious and flavorful. This pure pot still whiskey is in the Jameson family and produced at the Midleton distillery, but the label is owned and marketed by Mitchell & Sons of Dublin. Apart from their wine & spirits shop on Kildare Street, it is nearly impossible to find. I bring at least one bottle back with me every time I visit Dublin. If you find it, it will cost you less than $30 and will guarantee you an endless supply of friends.
Jameson Gold A stunningly huge-flavored Irish whiskey—especially considering it is a blend. All of you Speyside single malt scotch drinkers who think Irish whiskey is light and wimpy must try this one. This whisky’s selling point is that a portion of it is aged in new oak. (Scotch and Irish whiskey are usually aged in barrels that previously contained bourbon or sherry). It seems that the new oak aging has given the whiskey a remarkable boost in oak flavor, which has been balanced with just the proper proportion of sherry-aged whiskey. That, combined with a good dose of pot still character, has made this a very big and masculine whiskey indeed. It’s available in the U.S., so all of you U.S. subscribers have no excuse for not owning a bottle, which will set you back about $55
Jameson 15 yr. Pure Pot Still Millennium Its flavor is as long as its name. While Jameson Gold is big and unafraid of flexing its muscles, this new Jameson Pure Pot Still 15 year old teases and seduces with charm and finesse. Its flavors are complex and perfectly balanced, and it expresses a balance of maturity and youth seldom found in a whiskey. This whiskey was just recently released and in limited quantities. Save up $100, then go out and buy a bottle. It’s a lot of money, but I’m sure you can find it somewhere. Skip lunches. Don’t get a haircut. Just do it!
Knappogue Castle 1951

It is nearly impossible to find whiskey from the old B. Daly distillery in Tullamore that stopped producing in 1954 (where the original Tullamore Dew whiskey was produced). Fortunately, the owners of the casks had the wisdom to bottle this whiskey at 36 years of age, more than ten years ago, rather than let it sit and age longer in oak. Had they done that, the whiskey would surely taste too woody by now. It expresses a wonderful balance of maturity and Irishness, with just the proper amount of sherry to balance the oak. This whiskey is a piece of history, and history has a price: about $600.
Midleton Very Rare

Each year this “experiment” in quality changes a little, and each release is vintage dated. It’s not as big and bold as its sibling Jameson brands listed above. One thing you can count on is that it will always be elegant, impeccably balanced, and perilously drinkable. Distillery Manager Barry Crockett wouldn’t put his signature on every bottle if he didn’t think so. Another thing you can count on is its price: more than $100.
Powers The biggest selling Irish whiskey in the Republic of Ireland, and the least expensive of the whiskeys on this list. Don’t let its commonplace demeanor fool you. It has a rich pot still character and is mature enough to drink neat. Its flavors are clear, distinctive, and never boring. And its mid-$20s price tag means there is no reason why you shouldn’t own one.

Like Green Spot, this one is a pure pot still whiskey produced at Midleton. It is older, more mature, bolder, and slightly more expensive than Green Spot. It, too, is hard to find. I occasionally find it in Ireland’s major airports when I’m traveling. Since it is not sold in the U.S., this is one whiskey to pick up overseas and bring back home.
Shortly after this article was written, Bushmills Millennium was released to the few hundred people who purchased casks of this 1975 vintage gem. The whisky was offered—by cask only—in the mid-1990s to be released for the new Millennium. The result? An incredibly mature, richly-flavored whisky of great balance. It may be the best whiskey ever from Bushmills and deserves to be on this list. Rumor has it that Park Avenue Liquors in New York City and The Cannery in San Francisco may have a few bottles. Going price: over $100.