It’s hard to believe that Irish whiskey was a declining category at one time and rarely used in cocktails besides an Irish Coffee. Irish whiskey is now the fastest-growing distilled spirit category in the U.S., showing double-digit growth for more than 10 years.
It was once thought that all we needed to know about Irish whiskey could be summed up in wee dram to accompany a pint of Guinness. But there’s much more to understand about the spirit. These are the basic styles of Irish whiskey.
Blended: Two or more different malted-barley whiskies blended together, often combining milder, column-distilled grain whiskey with more intense pot-still whiskey.
Single pot still: A single whiskey made from both malted barley and unmalted barley, distilled in a pot still.
Single malt: A single malted-barley whiskey distilled in a pot still.
Single grain: A single whiskey made from just one grain, as opposed to a blend of grains.
Distilleries today are turning out beautifully produced blends, single malts, single-pot-still and single-grain whiskies. As you can see from the samples tasted below, the Irish whiskey category is diverse in its many offerings: all unique and wonderful—and all terrific in an Irish Coffee. Sláinte!
Peated Single Malt
Ireland’s only peated Irish whiskey is a blend of 4, 6 and 8 year old whiskies.
Nose: Initial smokiness giving way to a heather, floral quality, leading to a honey and toffee sweetness with notes of dark chocolate.
Palate: The smoke (peat) is there up front, with a slight brine/sea/medicinal character revealing a caramel, vanilla—crème brûlée—rich sweetness.
Finish: Long and memorable; when the smoke clears, you are left with this beautiful honey, chocolate, pot-de-crème reminder that goes on and on.
Single pot still
Malted and unmalted barley
Nose: Spice—sweet vanilla and allspice, herbaceous, dried mint—ripe tropical fruits, barley malt, confectionary sweetness, baked apple and toasted oak.
Palate: Rich, viscous mouthfeel, revealing caramel and toffee sweetness, baking spices—vanilla, clove and cinnamon—baked green apple and toasted oak.
Finish: Long with lingering notes of spice, grain and oak.
8 Year Old
Made predominantly from corn
Nose: Corn mash—corn bread, vanilla and honey, melting into caramel, toasted oak and tropical fruits, with a nod of lemon citrus.
Palate: Here the corn shows sweetness that is somewhat bourbon-like, with big vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and toasted oak with notes of ripe peaches and tropical fruits—coconut and Bananas Foster.
Finish: Medium in length, with a passing reminder of vanilla, milk chocolate and candied pecans.
JAMESON BLACK BARREL
Blended, pot-still and grain whiskies
Sherry and specially selected toasted and charred used bourbon barrels.
Nose: Rich floral notes —honeysuckle, fresh-cut grass—orange marmalade, light spice, toasted oak, stewed fruits—nectarines, apricots and tropical fruits such as papaya.
Palate: Nice texture, well-balanced, ripe tree fruits—peach and apricot, toasted nuts, sweet sherry, caramel sweetness and a touch of vanilla followed by toasty oak and malty grain.
Finish: Long in length with a pleasant spice, toasted oak and fruit reminder and a touch of honey sweetness.
Blended, malt and grain whiskies
Nose: An earthy, green vegetal note, followed closely by sweet sherry, stewed prunes, lemon zest, toasted oak and malty grain.
Palate: Big vanilla, custard, cocoa and caramel sweetness, followed by ripe peaches and an almond nuttiness.
Finish: Medium in length, dry with a sweet nougat and oak reminder.
MIDLETON VERY RARE
Whiskies range from 12 to 25 years in age; just 50 casks are released each year.
Nose: Big and complex, notes of spice, bright citrus—lemon and lemon zest—floral, herbal, toasted oak, grainy cereal mash.
Palate: Rich, full and creamy revealing honey, toffee, butterscotch sweetness, lush, ripe summer tree fruits, white pepper spice, with a hint of vanilla and toasted almonds.
Finish: Very long, with a sweet/spicy reminder.
Single Pot Still
Malted and unmalted barley
Nose: Complex with fruity aromas of stewed cherries and plums, citrus peels, sweet orange, big spice—clove and white pepper—toasted oak, sweet sherry.
Palate: Lovely, creamy texture, rich honey sweetness, ripe tree fruit—peaches, bright orange citrus notes, raisins, custard, toasted nuts and marzipan.
Finish: Long, with all of the flavors continuing to linger in beautiful harmony.
Small batch, blend of malt and grain whiskies
Malt is double distilled; grain is triple distilled
Finished in used rum casks for 6 months and bottled at 46%.
Nose: A slight malty note, followed by baked apple, vanilla, baking spices, sweet rum and a floral bouquet of orange blossom.
Palate: Medium bodied with a pleasant blast of spice—ground cinnamon and vanilla—lemon curd, blackberries, toasted wood and dried fruits.
Finish: Medium in length, with a sweet caramel and dried herbal reminder.
Triple blend of grain, pot and malt whiskies
Nose: Nose: Fresh-baked biscuits and malted grain leading to big citrus peel of both lemon and orange, ripe tree fruit—apricot and peach—and toffee sweetness.
Palate: A rich mouthfeel, honey sweetness, vanilla, sweet sherry, toasted grains and cream soda.
Finish: Medium to long with a lingering memory of toasted nuts and caramel sweetness.
Nose: A nice balance of malted grain, ripe tree fruits, bright citrus and bold spice, with just the slightest waft of brine.
Palate: Rich, almost oily, malty grain, citrus zest— orange and lemon—slight note of pipe tobacco, toasted hazelnuts and burnt-sugar sweetness.
Finish: Medium in length with a lingering of malted grains, toasted oak and honey.
Tony Abou-Ganim is the founder of Las Vegas-based cocktail consultancy The Modern Mixologist and the author of The Modern Mixologist—Contemporary Classic Cocktails and Vodka Distilled.