St. Patrick’s Day is most properly celebrated in America by wearing something green and drinking something brown. And the most proper brown drink, of course, would be Irish Whiskey.
But what is Irish Whiskey, anyway?
Irish Whiskey is more than simply a bottle that says “Jameson” on the label. While Irish Whiskey has a long history, it was not until 2016 that precise regulations for labeling were promulgated. Currently, to be properly labeled as “Irish Whiskey,” it must be: 1) distilled in Ireland; 2) using a mash of cereal grain; 3) distilled to no more than 189.6 proof; 4) aged in Ireland in a wooden cask for at least 3 years; and 5) bottled at no less than 80 proof.
Within these regulations are many potential variants. For example, while many of the most popular Irish Whiskey brands are single post still whiskeys, being pot stilled is not a legal requirement. In fact, many of Bushmills’ products are column still whiskeys. Additionally, at one of our past tasting events, we enjoyed samples of four Irish Single Malts, with varying finishes.
Generally speaking, Irish Whiskeys, whether blended, pot still, or column still, share at least two common attributes. First, most whiskey drinkers’ initial impression of Irish Whiskey is that is very smooth. This is in part due to the high distillation proof (bourbon is to be distilled to no higher than 160 proof, in comparison to Irish Whiskey’s nearly 190 proof). But also, Irish Whiskey is more often than not bottled at a lower proof (80 to 90 proof) as compared to Bourbon and Scotch.
Second, Irish Whiskey is known for its bright and fruity flavor profile. Irish Whiskey does not use peat, which imparts the smoky and earthy flavors associated with some Scotches. And, Irish Whiskey does not share Bourbon’s requirements for aging in new American oak. The Irish regulation’s wording of “wooden cask” is very broad, and includes containers smaller than a regulation barrel and previously used containers.
If you’re looking to properly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here are some Flight Club recommended Irish Whiskeys that are available locally. Though they are all actually distilled at the same distillery, they also stand on their own as representatives of some of the best that Irish Whiskey has to offer:
- Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition. If you’re going to stick with Jameson for St. Patrick’s Day, then at least try a bottle from their unique “Caskmates” line. Meeting the basic requirements for Irish Whiskey, this bottle is then finished in a barrel previously containing Irish Stout Beer. This imparts some dark chocolate and cocoa flavors that would otherwise be absent in an Irish Whiskey, but are quite complimentary.
- Green Spot and Yellow Spot. These single pot still whiskeys are distilled and aged at the same distillery (Irish Distillers) as Jameson. The whiskey, however, is exclusively produced for, and marketed by, Mitchell & Son of Dublin. These two premium whiskeys are elegant and refined, representing some of the best of what Irish Whiskey has to offer.
- Redbreast. Another product of Irish Distillers, the Redbreast lineup features a 12 year, sherry cask finish, 12 year cask strength, 15 year, and 21 year. The 21 year captured the Second Best Overall Whisky in the World in Jim Murray’s 2018 Whisky Bible. More affordable, and available, however, is the 12 year cask strength. As mentioned before, most Irish Whiskey is bottled at 80 – 90 proof. This cask strength version gives a different twist by cranking up the heat and flavor, with terrific results.