Welcome back to week two of breaking down the many faces of Whisk(e)y. Today’s focus: Ireland!
With the discovery of perfume distillation 500 some odd years ago, you, me and everyone we know have the Irish monks to thank for turning their noses up at perfume and eyeballing instead those yummy looking ferment hungry grains. The Emerald Isles’ traditional spirit experienced some serious ups and downs in the years between 1890 and 1990. Between an increasing appetite for Scotch across the board and effectively being cut off from major markets due to a less than friendly relationship with England, Irish whiskey went from the hot ticket to the kid with cooties with relative swiftness. Fast forward through the popularity nose dive and it wasn’t until about the 1980s that attention turned back to Éire and her beautiful Uisce Beatha (again meaning ‘Water of Life’, only this time in Irish). Indeed, the increased interest in this Irish beauty is certainly palpable. Nowadays it’s a product you can see more and more of on retail shelves not only in the states but all over the world.
Commonly triple distilled, generally unpeated (but not always!) and made from malted and unmalted barley and other grains. For Whiskey producers unmalted barley and grains like corn offer a nice price break considering both are less expensive than malted barley. Like Scotch, Irish Whiskey must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. When enjoying a nice glass of Irish Whiskey, you’ll more often than not find it to be on the lighter side than others. With notes of cereal grain, honey and flowers Ireland offers a strikingly different spirit when compared to Scotch, especially Scotch from the Islay region. The key noticeable difference for my palate when comparing Irish Whiskey and Scotch comes from the triple distillation process which creates a lighter distillate with much more subtlety. Irish Whiskey on the whole is more liquid poetry than anything. Light, friendly, approachable, it does not demand that you acquire a taste for it but rather it asks for you to just simply listen and enjoy the song it has to sing.
Here at vomFASS MOA we carry four expressions of Irish Whiskey from one producer in Dublin as well as their Single Malt Moonshine. “Against the Grain” is a corn mash Irish Whiskey aged 5 years in Bourbon barrels and Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. This is a beautiful expression of a Single Grain Irish Whiskey, one of the most approachable spirits in the store and a personal favorite. “Stephen’s Choice” and “Jack’s Choice” are 5 and 11 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskies, respectively. The former being a more traditional approach and the latter actually being finished in Sauternes casks, Stephen’s Choice and Jack’s Choice are not to be missed. At 14 years, “Brother’s In Arms” is the oldest Irish Whiskey in our store. This expression shows off a wonderfully complex Sherry cask influence through notes of fruit, spice and more gourmand hits of toffee and caramel. While not technically a Whiskey but rather an unaged Irish spirit, our Single Malt Irish “Moonshine” shows an array of explosive herbs, pepper and a rich, crisp backbone. Surprisingly easy going for it’s 55.5% abv. Drop on in sometime and let us pour you a sample or two!
Before you go, let us discuss Whiskey v. Whisky. What is the deal with that seemingly complicated parenthetical ‘e’? The Irish call it whiskey and the Scots call it whisky and stateside we mostly call it Whiskey with the exception of some (I’m looking at you, Maker’s Mark). It seems to be a remnant of translation and here in the U S of A, it stems from the melding of cultures. That little ‘e’ seems to have been brought over by the Irish during their influx into the great American melting pot. It also found wide spread use in American spirits due to the shrewd attempt at associating American spirits with the, at that time, more expensive and exotic Irish spirits. Today, the ‘e’ finds it’s home in Irish and most American whiskies. Whisky sans ‘e’ can be found of course in Scotland (as it is the law) but also in Japan, Australia and literally every other Whisky producing region in the world.
Will O’Reilly likes to talk at length about the world of Alcohol. Come chat with him at vomFASS in The Mall of America.