When I traveled to Ireland last year, my first visit to the land of my ancestors, I knew a little bit, or maybe less than a little bit, about Irish whiskey. Sure I had heard of Jameson, and maybe had some vague knowledge of Tullamore Dew and Bushmills, two other popular Irish whiskey brands, but that’s about it. What little I did know is that I liked whiskey, or is it whisky? I did not even know the difference between whisky with an “e” and whisky without an “e” – clearly my knowledge was limited! My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan, and I enjoy Scotch on the rocks, so when the lovely people at Brendan Vacations invited me to join an Irish whiskey tasting with my friend Lisa of We Said Go Travel, I happily accepted.
Lisa and I spent the afternoon on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Dublin, and it was a cold and wet afternoon (surprisingly, the only rainy day I experienced on my entire week-long visit!). We arrived at the tasting needing to warm up, and in short order we ordered some soup from the kitchen which helped rid us of our chill. Of course sampling some whiskey also warms the body!
I did not know what to expect, but in my head a tasting was a formal affair, with a group of people being led in a tasting by someone who would be at the front of a room lecturing us about whiskey. I was very wrong! The tasting took place in the Brooks Hotel’s Jasmine Bar, “Ireland’s First Great Whiskey Bar of the World.”
After arriving at our assigned table in the Jasmine Bar and ordering our soup, Jacek, Jasmine’s head bartender, joined us to teach us about Irish whiskey. Originally from Poland, Jacek is extremely knowledgeable about whiskey and eager to share his insights with us. As he explained, Irish whiskey is different from Scotch whisky in that it is triple distilled. This makes for a smoother finish. The whiskey does generally not have the smoky, peaty smell and taste that is often, but not always, associated with Scotch single malt whisky.
There was a selection of five whiskies for us to taste, and Jacek walked us through each one. I enjoyed them all. At one point, I started to ask about the price of a bottle of each whiskey, then decided I should wait until we were finished so that I could pick a favorite without regard to the price.
One of the great advantages at a tasting is that you can compare each whiskey to the others, sample one, and then perhaps circle back to another dram you sampled earlier. On their own, each whiskey had a lovely smell and taste, but tasting them in one sitting allowed us to differentiate between them and notice the subtle taste notes that are distinctive to each.
The whiskeys we sampled (detailed tasting notes are listed at the end of this post):
- Green Spot
- Bushmills 16 Year Old ‘Three Wood’ Single Malt Whiskey
- Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey
- Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection
- Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
As the tasting progressed, I only took a sip or two from each, as I wanted to return to my favorites at the end.
My favorite of all that we sampled was the Midleton Very Rare, which Jacek estimated to be about €150 per bottle! Lisa’s friend Enda joined us near the end of our tasting, and he was familiar with the Connemara that we sampled. He had purchased it as a wedding gift for a friend. It has a very smoky finish, and as a peated single malt, was very similar to the Scotch whiskies that were more familiar to me. While the Midleton was the most expensive, some of the whiskeys we drank were less than half that price. The beauty of tasting five whiskeys is that there is sure to be one to suit everyone’s taste – and price point.
I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting and the knowledge that Jacek shared with us. It was an excellent introduction to Irish whiskey. If you are visiting Ireland, I highly recommend adding a whiskey tasting to your itinerary – and Brendan Vacations can assist with planning your trip and scheduling a whiskey tasting.
I so enjoyed this tasting that later in my trip, I stopped at Dublin’s Celtic Whiskey Shop to purchase some Green Spot whiskey to bring home to share with family and friends.
(Notes from the printed sheet accompanying our whiskey drams)
Greenspot – made entirely from seven and eight year old Midleton Pure Pot Still, with 25% of the spirit having matured in sherry casks. Only 500 cases are made each year.
- Nose: Heavy barley is noticeable to the nose.
- Taste and finish: A good full body and sweet honey finish making this one of our favourite Whiskeys.
Bushmills 16 Year Old ‘Three Wood’ Single Malt Whiskey – The whiskey is aged for 15 years in 50% bourbon and 50% sherry casks. These are married in vat and recasked into port pipes for a year.
- Nose: An exquisite belt of exotic spices, cut with rich cigar smoke.
- Taste: A rich start sets off tangerines, cocoa and spicy port notes. This whiskey keeps unfolding as you hold it in the mouth. Later, nutty toffee and cocoa arrive.
- Finish: The port really makes itself felt here.
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey – Comprising of superior aged whiskeys from 12 up to 27 years of age. Midleton is soley matured in ex-bourbon casks which contribute to its wonderful honey, spice, vanilla and gingerbread flavour. A superb, complex and satisfying whiskey that reveals new hidden layers upon each sip.
Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection – The 18 year old master selection is a supreme example of the Jameson tradition of maturing whiskey in Spanish sweet oloroso sherry casks. Rich, complex and truly rare – only limited stocks of this exceptional whiskey are available. Each bottle is individually numbered to become a true collectors item over time.
- Nose: Soft, rich, juicy: apricot, dried fruits, orange, butterscotch, hazelnut butter. Water brings out sherry, becoming chocolate and bourbon biscuit.
- Taste: A luscious, oily sweetness with a crisp solidity on the palate, then a burst of dried fruits, spices and citrus fruits.
- Finish: Rich, soft and honeyed.
Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Connemara was the first peated malt whiskey produced by Cooley distillery. Once the malted barley has germinated it is dried over a peat fire, the smoke rising through the malted barley giving it a distinct peaty flavour and aroma.
- Nose: Pronounced smoke, rather than peat, though both evident.
- Taste: Syrupy. Sweet grass. Smoky, some drier hints of phenol. A suggestion of juicy wood extracts, or sherry, rounding out flavours.
- Finish: Smoky and emphatically grassy. Sweet grass, but also spicy dryness.
Read Lisa’s article from USA Today, “Whiskey Tasting in Dublin’s Distilleries and Bars,” which includes our experience at the Jasmine Bar.
Have you tasted Irish whiskey? Do you have a favorite or a whiskey you would recommend I sample? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
My whiskey tasting was arranged and paid for courtesy of Brendan Vacations, but the opinions about the tasting and the whiskey are entirely my own.