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Issue 69 - The Irish question

Whisky Magazine Issue 69
January 2008


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The Irish question

In part one of a three part series, Dave Broom looks at the changing face of Irish whiskey.

It used to be so simple. Irish whiskey, so we were told, was an unpeated, tripledistilled spirit. During the years, however, these certainties have been challenged. Today, Ireland has three distillers. All make Irish whiskey, yet they all do it differently. Blends, triple-distilled single malt, double-distilled malt, heavily peated malt and what for years was called “Irish whiskey”. It leads one to wonder, what is Irish whiskey?

“We can tell you what traditional Irish pot still whiskey is,” say David Quinn and Barry Crockett, two of Irish Distillers (IDL's) four masters of whiskey. Quinn is master of whiskey science, Crockett is master distiller.

They pour five glasses of Jameson and we start tasting.

If the standard Jameson is all fragrant fresh fruits and spices, the 12 Years Old has added layers of sultana and honey. The palate is juicier, but there's still that tingling finish though now it's changed from cumin to allspice. There's less dried fruit here, more coconut and vanilla. The 18 Years Old is more in line with the 12 Years Old but with extra weight. Linseed oil, raisin, honey and a chewy texture which crisps beautifully on the finish. Then there's the new boy, Rarest Vintage, a blend of an aged grain and a selection of pot still whiskeys, one of which has been matured in ex-Port casks. It's deep, sweet and exotic, softly flowing with a sloe berry and, yes, spicy finish. “We define traditional Irish pot still whiskey as being apple and spice,” says Ba...

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