What's New in Irish Whiskey
Are you drinking more Irish whiskey these days? Someone definitely is: the category had an astounding 18% increase in sales last year—it's up nearly 400% since 2002. While much of this growth has come from well-established brands, we're eagerly awaiting whiskeys from a new wave of craft Irish distilleries which are just starting to become available.
Today we'll take a look at some of the latest whiskeys from the Emerald Isle to land on our shores. Have you tried these bottles?
Founded by Kieran Folliard, an Irish transplant to Minneapolis, 2 Gingers started out as a young, unpretentious company seeking to make whiskey drinkers out of everyone. Kieran's mother and aunt lent their faces to the bottle (and inspiration to the name). With distribution initially limited to Minnesota, 2 Gingers quickly became the second best selling Irish whiskey behind Jameson. Originally contract-distilled at the Cooley distillery, the brand was purchased in late 2012 by Beam, Inc., shortly after they purchased the Cooley distillery (and renamed it the Kilbeggan distillery). The easy-going whiskey is now available nationwide.
Double distilled and aged four years (a year over the minimum required for Irish whiskey), it's not the most complex or assertive of whiskeys. There's a grainy freshness to the smell, with hints of vanilla and peach. The flavor's a bit unstructured, with spices and citrus clashing for attention. It finishes sweet with a slight bite. Overall, 2 Gingers is the cream soda of Irish whiskeys. While it isn't the best for sipping straight, it blends insanely well with—you guessed it—ginger ale.
Available in most major markets and online for about $20 per 750 mL bottle.
Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
Is it possible to be both an upstart and a traditionalist? If so, the leading contender in the Irish whiskey world must certainly be the Teeling Whiskey Company. The brainchild of Jack Teeling (son of John Teeling, founder of the Cooley Distillery), the TWC is an effort to bring Dublin whiskey back to the world. With roots tracing back to 1782, they're currently deep in the process of getting their Dublin distillery online. In the meantime, they've been able to come out with a handful of independent bottlings and limited releases. The Teeling Small Batch is the first to be available stateside, and it's a whopper of a whiskey.
The Small Batch is a blended whiskey, made with 35% malt whiskey (100% malted barley) and 65% grain whiskey (95% maize and 5% malted barley). It's released without an age statement, but Teeling says the casks usually fall between 4 to 7 years old. After blending, the whiskey gets aged in casks formerly used for Flor de Caña rum for 4 to 6 months. Ever seen Irish whiskey aged in rum casks before? We're pretty sure it's a first.
Bottled without chill filtration at a robust 92 proof, Teeling Small Batch is a standout. Sweet caramel, cinnamon, and a whiff of rummy molasses take the lead. You might have a moment of confusion: Is this really Irish whiskey? But before long, the grain asserts itself. Finishing with a touch of citrus and snappy spices, it's compellingly spicy, creamy, and Irish in the end. This is a meticulously crafted whiskey that's beguiling in its subtle new twist. If this release is any indication of things to come, we can expect great things from the TWC.
Available April 1 in major markets at around $40 per 750 mL bottle.
A legendary (and famously difficult to find) whiskey, the Green Spot probably needs no introduction. With a history dating back almost a century, it is, for many, the textbook Irish whiskey. There's no age statement, but it's purportedly vatted from 7 to 10 year old 100% single pot still whiskeys, then aged in bourbon and sherry casks. We're thrilled to have this stunner finally available in the US.
Fresh, fruity, impossibly smooth, with a hint of nuttiness from the sherry casks, it rolls over the tongue like liquid gold. Although not bold, smoky, or overly assertive, it's a ray of sunshine in a glass. This release comes none too soon, as the bottle I was barely able to track down on my last Irish sojourn has run dry. Race to the store to get yours!
Available March 1 in most major markets at around $50 per 750 mL bottle.
One of the latest releases from the Irish Distillers out of the Midleton distillery, the Redbreast 21 has a high end pedigree. Like the other releases in the Redbreast line (12 year, 12 year cask strength, and 15 year), this is a triple-distilled single pot still whiskey: a blend of malted and unmalted barley mash distilled in a pot still. It's bottled at 92 proof and not chill filtered, but unlike its younger brethren, the 21 is rumored to include some seriously ancient stocks of whiskey (up to 28 years old.)
The flavor profile is close to its relatives: an intensely fruity scent (think apples, dates, and bananas), and oaky vanilla flavor on the palate. What really stands out from the younger expressions is the expertly balanced sherry influence, and the huge, oily body. Complex but crowd-pleasing, this was the winner of Whisky Advocate's Irish Whiskey of the Year for a reason.
Available March 1 in most major markets at about $250 per 750 mL bottle.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films as an independent producer in Brooklyn.
Tasting samples provided for review consideration.