Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Irish Whiskey

Looking for a classier way to drink on St. Patrick's Day? Sip, don't shoot, Irish Whiskey.

I will admit up front: I am not very familiar with Irish Whiskey. This is not for any particular reason other than concern that picking up another drink would cause additional damage to my liver. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to pick up a bottle and try it out to see what's up. 

Before even trying the whiskey, I did a bit of research to get my bearings. First of all, there are a lot of similarities between Irish and Scottish Whiskey. There are less regulation on what can be called Irish Whisky. I have laid out the requirements below.

Whiskey must be distilled and aged within Ireland or Northern Ireland.
The spirits must be distilled to 94.8% AVB from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains.
Must be aged for at least 3 years in wooden casks. 
If the spirit is a blend of at least 2 distillates, then it is referred to as "blended whiskey"

If you are familiar with the regulations on Scotch Whisky, these are a little more relaxed. 

I went with a Jameson 12 year at the suggestion of the guy at the liquor store. It is reasonably priced, and I wanted to go with something other than basic Jameson. Personally, I like higher quality scotch and the most well known whisky is "eh" to me. I wanted to give Irish Whiskey its fair shake, so I went with a level above the norm. 

First of all, like most whiskies, it looks virtually indistinguishable from other whisk(e)y varieties in the glass. It is a beautiful pale amber color, which is really common in the whiskey world. The nose could almost be a Speyside whisky(I love Speysides), although there are some distinct differences. First of all, no peat is detected at all. The nose is sweet and a little boozy with a distinct grainy scent. I'm sure that I would have some difficulty picking it out by nose alone if I were doing a blind taste, but I am sure I will improve with time. For now, I do know that it smells delicious. 

The taste is smooth and sweet with very little burn (if any). This surprised me, as my previous experiences with Irish Whiskey were generally much harsher. Granted, this is mostly because this is a better whiskey. I taste a little of some sort of smoke upfront and quickly, but that slowly mellows as it sits on your tongue.  It has strong vanilla flavors and a creamy mouthfeel, both of which are partially a result of the sherry casks used to age the whiskey. This is something you might want to look at before you buy a whiskey. The cask that ages the whiskey will have a huge effect on the resulting whiskey.
Try a few and figure out what you like.

Overall, I was very impressed with Jameson 12 year. Easy to drink, yet full of complex flavor. Not only does it give a good name to Irish Whiskey, but also to blended whiskies. I consider myself more of a single malt fan, but between this and the Johnny Walker Double Black, I am certainly warming to the idea of blended whiskey. If you like Irish Whiskey (or even if you aren't familiar) I would give the Jameson 12 year a shot. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think. 

Common Misconceptions:
Irish Whiskey must be distilled 3 times, whereas Scotch Whisky is distilled twice. 
Actually, these are more of common trends than regulations. You can find triple distilled scotch and double distilled Irish Whiskey. 

Peated malt is not used in Irish Whiskey. 
This is, again, a trend, not a rule. Irish Whiskey can use peated malt, though most do not.  

Personal Hint: Drink whiskey (that you are trying to taste) in very small sips. This will let you get the full flavor without the burn. Take a big sip and you can guarantee a hell of a lot of burn.

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