The days and weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day always bring back memories of my trip to Ireland. Two of the most memorable experiences on my trip was the Irish Whiskey tastings I had in Dublin and Killarney. While I like Scotch, and Scotch or bourbon-based cocktails, I was unfamiliar with Irish Whiskey until I traveled to Ireland. And now, I am a big fan and have a small collection of Irish whiskeys on hand at home – always ready to mix a drink or pour a dram to savor on its own.
I first learned about Irish Whiskey at a tasting in Dublin at the Jasmine Bar at the Brooks Hotel. Brendan Vacations arranged the tasting for for me and my friend Lisa Niver of We Said Go Travel. You can read what I wrote about that experience here, and what Lisa had to say here.
I so enjoyed the tasting in Dublin that when I traveled to Killarney later in my trip, Brendan Vacations arranged for me to have a another tasting at my hotel, The Malton. This tasting put me over the top, and I fell head over heels for Irish Whiskey and whiskey in general. Now when I travel, either locally to a bar for a cocktail, or overseas for a vacation, I want to peruse the whisky/whiskey menu, see what is on offer, and sample something new.
Similar to my experience in Dublin, the tasting was at the hotel bar. I was introduced to Jerry, who asked which tasting I would like. There were several options on their bar menu, and as whiskey was still new to me, I asked him for his advice. Eventually, he poured these three whiskies to try: Greenore Single Grain, Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt, and Knappogue Castle Sherry Finish 16 Year Old Single Malt.
As Jerry and I talked during the tasting (the bar was not very busy), he explained how the aging in different barrels changes the taste of the whiskey. And to prove his point, showed me these bottles from Tyrconnell.
The same whiskey is aged in casks that previously aged madeira, port, or sherry. The whiskey on the left was aged fourteen years in a single cask. Jerry shared micro-pours of these so I could compare how aging in the different casks produced different tastes in each one. I also learned that Tyrconnell is the name of a horse, and the distillery was founded in 1762 (as noted on the bottle).
Another whiskey Jerry introduced to me was Red Breast. Known as the “priest’s whiskey,” it is so called because it is more expensive, so only priests could afford it (I believe this was decades if not a century in the past when the people of Ireland were so poor that life as a priest provided a stable income – or at least enough to purchase Red Breast).
Here the difference was not the type of casks that aged the whiskey, but the length of time that the whiskey was aged. I really enjoyed the Red Breast whiskey – it is very smooth (and I might have purchased some at the Duty Free in the Dublin airport on my way home).
I asked Jerry about the difference between bourbon, Scotch whisky, and Irish whiskey, and he challenged me to a blind taste test – to see if I could tell the difference. I surprised myself by correctly identifying each one – there are distinct taste notes to each. And while my preference now is for Irish Whiskey, I still appreciate bourbon and Scotch whisky – I think it is safe to say they are all in the same spirit family!
After I finished the tastings and micro-tastings of the whiskeys, Jerry prepared this cocktail for me – the Lembuca. He created it and said it won an award at a cocktail competition. It features my other favorite spirit – gin!
I thoroughly enjoyed this Irish whiskey tasting and all that I learned from Jerry. If you can see the display cases behind us, I barely scratched the surface – there are so many different whiskeys to sample. The bar also included an excellent selection of Scotch whisky’s, so there is something there to suit everyone’s taste. And, if you are not sure of what to order, or what you like, ask the bartender. Jerry was a wealth of knowledge, and he was more than happy to answer my questions.
I highly recommend an Irish whiskey tasting on your trip to Ireland. Even if there is not a “formal” menu for this, you can easily create your own tasting by ordering a few drams at a bar and comparing them as you sample each. You might be surprised by what you like!
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.
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!