St. Patrick's Day is March 17th, so instead of heading to the local dive for a green beer, consider these fine Irish whiskey and beer choices.
Why does it seem like Irish whiskey lurks in the shadow of its nearby whiskey-producing Gaelic cousin? For starters, Scotland has over 125 distilleries; Ireland has just a handful. The years of American Prohibition didn’t help either; lack of demand, among other things, made the bottles run dry. But things are looking up for the brown spirits of the Emerald Isle.
From our seemingly endless thirst for Jameson (which produces nearly 4 million cases annually) to new, rarefied bottlings, the following libations illustrate the range and appeal of proud-to-be-Irish potables.
For more than 60 years the Kilbeggan Distillery sat unused until the owners of Jim Beam (Beam Global) bought out the owner (Cooley Distillery), remodeled the old digs, and put the bottles back in action. Spicy and citrusy, a little grainy, and with undertones of honey and cracked pepper, Kilbeggan is a good choice for sipping on the rocks or mixing into a gingery toddy.
A blend of 80 percent malted barley and 20 percent grain-based whiskies, Bushmills Blackbush gets its fruit-full nose from aging 8 to 10 years in Oloroso sherry casks.
The spirit has an unexpected but pleasingly “slippery” mouthfeel and flavors of brown sugar, apple, and caramel, as well as a spicy, lingering finish.
(See also: Strangest beers in America)
Those in the know seek out this offering from the Cooley Distillery for its clover-like aromas, gentle lemon-honey flavors, and mellowness – qualities that make it oh-so easy to sip when having more than one.
Bushmills 10-Year Single Malt($40)
The whiskies in this sweet Northern Ireland sipper have spent a minimum of 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels (plus some time in sherry casks).
The result: a full, rich mouthfeel that leaves you with the sensation of having consumed a juicy pear (just, you know, one that’s been doused in whiskey).
Connemara Peated Single Malt ($45)
While not at all Ireland is known for peating its whiskies, this unusual entry from Connemara (owned by Cooley Distillery) combines a rounded, soft-and-sweet fruitiness with a smoky bit of bonfire character. It’s the best of both Gaelic worlds.
Jameson 12 Year Special Reserve ($50)
A big step up in complexity from your basic shot-and-a-can Jameson, this velvety-smooth sipper boasts cinnamon spice and pine nut flavors with a toasty, orange-peel finish.
Savor this one instead of tossing it back with a chaser.
Powers John’s Lane ($70)
This single pot still Irish whiskey hits our shores just in time for St. Patrick’s Day this year. Maturation in both seasoned sherry and bourbon casks add caramel and nutty notes, as well as an unexpected earthy quality of heather, wood, and spice that gives this offering from Midleton Distillery some depth.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength ($82)
If the bigger-is-better trend in high-alcohol spirits is your bag, then the cask-strength version (57.7 ABV) of this Irish champion should please your palate. Add a tiny bit of water and its heady, warm honey-cake aromas will rise to the surface. You may sense a little sweetness on the tongue at first, followed by notes of allspice, orange peel, and hard-candy.
Jameson 18-Year Limited Edition ($115)
We’re not sure if this is the ultimate whiskey for the true Jameson fan or the one that will win over folks who’ve been avoiding Irish whiskey altogether. Either way, it’s silky and rich from start to finish, with intensely fruity apricot-pear flavors and a toffee nose, giving it a decadent, dessert-like quality.
Barry Crockett Legacy ($250)
Mr. Crockett, the soon to retire master distiller from Midleton Distillery, began setting aside barrels to cement his liquid legacy several years ago, and the result – a blend of his favorite single pot still whiskies – is worth stamping his name on. The booze has spent over 20 years in seasoned bourbon barrels, giving this creamy, layered whiskey the aromas of vanilla and caramel, with luscious notes of tangerine, apple, and raspberry.
-Written by Amy Zavatto
Read on to see the best Irish beers for St. Patrick's Day
Guinness has had a good run (since 1769), but the dark, creamy stout’s reign could not last forever. This St. Patrick’s Day, skip the Irish standby in lieu of these five dark-horse contenders to the stout sovereignty.
Bar Harbor Brewing Company: Cadillac Mountain Stout (Maine, USA)
In recent years, the Maine brewery has expanded distribution for its rich flagship stout, which is regularly rated one of the best in America. One taste, and you’ll understand the accolades: Cadillac Mountain drinks smooth and velvety, like a cup of cocoa made with half-and-half. A touch of coffee-like bitterness and caramel keep each sip interesting.
Brooklyn Brewery: Dry Irish Stout (Brooklyn, USA)
This year marks the first time that the long-running Brooklyn outfit has bottled this gently carbonated, unfiltered Irish stout. It’s packed with flavors of java and chocolate, which are matched by earthy East Kent Golding hops (from England) and a lustrous head.
At just 4.7 percent ABV, Dry Irish Stout can be an all-day drinker.
Starr Hill: Dark Starr Stout (Virginia, USA)
A Southeast favorite for more than a decade, this Virginia brewery offers a velvety Irish stout with hints of pumpernickel bread. The key to the inky elixir’s lively, robust profile lies in using a blend of roasted barley and caramel and chocolate malts, which provide lovely touches of light-roast coffee and bittersweet chocolate. Wheat adds an appealing smoothness.
The Porterhouse Brewing Company: Wrasslers XXXX Stout (Dublin, Ireland)
Yes, you can still get a great stout in Ireland—even if it’s not from Guinness. One of the Emerald Isle’s finest craft breweries is the Dublin-born Porterhouse, which has a deft hand with hoppy pale ales, lagers, and stouts like the roasty Wrasslers.
The dry, balanced obsidian jewel has an assertive bitterness that’s complemented by flavors of ground espresso and baker’s chocolate.
- Written by Joshua M. Bernstein (@JoshMBernstein) is a Brooklyn-based journalist and author of Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Brewing Revolution.
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