As 2018 draws to a close it has been the most remarkable year for Irish Whiskey in, truthfully, over 200 years. Sales have rocketed, up by 14% , to around 10.5 million cases, that’s 126,000,000 bottles a year, or around 170 bottles a minute. It is hard to believe that only a few years ago sales languished around the 2 million cases mark and that the number of, Whiskey producing, distilleries could be counted on the fingers of just one hand. Irish Whiskey has been saved from the brink of extinction to come back to healthy population but just as one might talk about an animal species, say the Wolf, there are nay-sayers. Talk of bubbles and market forces etc give an impression that there is not much room for Irish brown spirit, and with the recent announcement that the planned “Quietman distillery” in Derry won’t be going ahead it adds fuel to the fire but a quick look at the competition puts things in perspective.
Irish Whiskey is a minnow at present. Scotland sells as much spirit to France alone as Ireland does to all the world put together. India, by far the largest Whiskey consumers in the world, guzzle down more in three weeks than Ireland export in a year. So I would suggest that much of the caution and doom and gloom is unfounded, there will be projects that don’t work out, brands that wont set the world alight but in a year when a three year old “Proper twelve” Whiskey can sell out in days (granted with the aid of a one man, verbal, wrecking machine) and the year in which Dublin produced Whiskey returned, lets go into 2019 full of cheer, optimism and most importantly Whiskey.
The man above (Mr. Ed of the Sunday Life, not THE Big fella) has asked me to give a few suggestions for Christmas presents, in various price brackets, for that special someone along with my Whiskey of the year. Often I get asked where people can purchase these drinks, well, two wonderful purveyors, and as I always like to keep things local, are www.winepig.co.uk in Castledawson and the rather excellent www.lighthousewines.co.uk in Whiteabbey, both do mail order but please feel free to go and ask your local independent off license, if they don’t have it on the shelf they can usually order it.
There are a few bottles in this price range that stand head and shoulders above the rest, if I am honest. Black bush is utterly wonderful, top drawer and I would never be disappointed in getting this under the tree. Redbreast 12 can be picked up for this money and an excellent dark night dram it is. To try something a little more unusual, Slane triple casked, from the makers at the castle is really good and might bring back fond memories for some who went to festivals back in the day. One thing I have got to mention, as an aside, Lidl’s own brand Islay scotch “Ben Bracken” whoever does their cask selection is a genius.
Proper Twelve, by Connor McGregor sits in this category but if anyone buys me it for the big day then please also get me the boxing gloves and gum shield, there may be trouble ahead. The Quietman 12 yo Sherry Cask would be a good drink with your Turkey, sweet and light with enough spice to give a little kick. Quite a few of the Teeling range sit in this range, including the new Dublin Pot still (although it would be easier to find someone who isn’t sick hearing about Brexit ) so opt for the beautiful Single grain. Pearse Lyons Founders choice ticks all the right boxes for me, fabulous bottling.
£80 and upwards
Bushmills Acacia wood finish, gives a whole new dimension to the “Oldest licensed distillery’s” brand and very very welcome it is. Exciting, new, and tasty it is exactly what was needed and a tribute to the wonderful Helen Mulholland, who has just been selected as the first woman to enter Whisky magazines hall of fame, many congratulations and thoroughly deserved. Method and Madness, from the experimental Still down in Midleton, Single pot still matured in Sherry, ex-bourbon and finished in French Chestnut. The eagle eyed will notice that these two have something in common, both finished in different woods other than Oak. Yes, currently Irish Whiskey doesn’t have enough of a flavor profile range in its base spirit and using different casks, different woods broadens the horizon and gives a lot more choice.
A welcome return was made, a few weeks back, of Mitchell and son’s Red spot. After an absence of over 50 years it has made a return and it is back with a bang. This fifteen-year-old is made from Five-year-old Bourbon cask-matured single pot still Irish whiskey, put into the Marsala wine casks from Italy in 2004. This liquid was then blended with ex-Bourbon cask and ex-Sherry cask whiskeys. With its rich fruit and spiciness, it would go down a treat with the Christmas pudding.
Whiskey of the year 2018
Having to pick a Whiskey of the year is hard. There have been some superb new releases, old favorites always tug on the heart strings and some great experiences skew the decision-making process but if you take an amalgamation of all the indicators, parameters, yardsticks etc then this year I am going to choose Pearse Lyons Founders choice. As a drink it moves through so many levels that you can find something different in it every time.
My first taste of Founders choice was in the, truly breath taking, distillery, a converted church not far from St. Jame’s gate, in Dublin. A blue glass spire, a cemetery, Whiskey themed stained-glass windows and tiny little wooden mash tuns, make it the best distillery to visit in Ireland and the guide that day was great as well. The still sits up on the altar like a divine presence lording it over the worshipers. At the end of the tour you get a trio of half-uns and they are all good but the Founders choice, for me, is the most interesting.
The founder himself, Thomas Pearse Lyons, was originally from Dundalk but moved to the Kentucy in the US where he founded the giant Alltech corporation. A Phd in bio-chemistry he worked making beers, animal feeds and finally Irish Whiskey. Alas Dr. Lyons passed away a few months ago but his legacy lives on, not least in his charitable trust which he founded with the “Greatest” himself Muhammad Ali. To even have an association with the greatest sportsman of all time impresses me no end. So taking all that into account the experience of the Whiskey, on top of its seemingly never ending levels make this 12yo an amazing bottle.
Nose -Light, fresh green apples, grapes. The, always there, Vanilla. 2.5/3
Palate- Honeyed, spices starting to come in during the delivery. Herbal note of sweetness moving on to Oak. Spices pushing through even more and Citrus lurking around. 2.5/3
Finish- Long and developing. Spices move away to bring in a luxury coffee and dark chocolate, even a hint of menthol. Little kick of Nutmeg.3/3
Value for Money- 1/1
The total experience is just amazing, let down ever so slightly, by the mouth feel which could have been a little more oily, luxurious but that’s a minor thing in comparison to the depth of flavours and tastes from this bottle. If this is a sign of things to come then the little church distillery will be around for eternity.