St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner – how are you celebrating? If your plan is to get into the spirit with one of the earliest distilled drinks in Europe, this blog post is for you. Here we’re sharing our Spirits Team’s Irish whiskey picks for St. Patrick’s Day. The list is composed of different varieties of Irish whiskey – a single pot still, two single malts (including the only Irish peated single malt whiskey), and two blended Irish whiskeys. These five fine Irish whiskeys are at various price points which is great if you’re a newbie or well practiced looking for something new to try.
Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Bourbon Cask Matured Single Malt Irish Whiskey
“Knappogue Castle 12 year old, our signature expression, is an exceptional single malt made exclusively from malted barley. Triple distilled one batch at a time in traditional, onion-shaped copper pot stills, the whiskey is then aged in bourbon oak casks for twelve years. The delicate distillation process, along with the moist and temperate climate, yields the distinctive flavor of this remarkable Irish single malt.” – Knappogue Castle
Nose: Rich and biscuity with notes of peppery spice
Taste: Mellow and well-balanced with a bright, elegant fruitiness and mild spice flavors
Finish: Medium, clean, and smooth
Irish single malt whiskey must be distilled from a mash of nothing other than malted barley at a single distillery. Malted means the barley has been moistened for a few days to fool the grain into germination and then had its growth halted by heat. I’ll use Knappogue’s process as our guide:
Knappogue Castle Single Malt is made with pure Irish spring water and malted barley. The malted barley is dried in ovens without the use of peat (unlike Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey – see below). This process enables the crisp, clean flavor of malted barley to come through without smoky overtones. The dried malt is then ground and mixed with hot water to extract the sugars. This liquid, called “wort”, is cooled to room temperature. Yeast is added, converting the sugars to alcohol and transforming the wort into a liquid called “wash,” with an alcohol level of 15-20 proof.
The “wash” is distilled one batch at a time in onion-shaped copper pot stills – a centuries-old tradition. The first output of distillation is 40 proof. These “low wines” are distilled a second time to increase strength and purity with the center cut of the second distillation used to make single malt. The “heads” and “tails” are removed to enhance the quality. The center cut is then distilled a third and final time, ensuring unparalleled smoothness. After the final distillation process, the spirit is colorless and about 130 proof.
The spirit is then placed in bourbon oak casks, stored at a relatively consistent temperature, and in Knappogue Castle 12 Year’s case, aged for at least 12 years until the right balance of flavors and mellow appeal is achieved. An expert “noser” samples and selects casks of the finest quality and distinct flavor profile. The whiskey is then adjusted with pure Irish water to the desired proof (80 proof for Knappogue 12 Year).
Did you know? Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey is named after the 15th century castle in Ireland which inspired it, but the word itself has a meaning of its own. Knappogue (pronounced Nah’ Pogue) translates to ‘hill of the kiss’ in Gaelic.
Yellow Spot 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
“Inspired by the original Yellow Spot whiskey (last seen in Ireland in the mid to late ’60s) Yellow Spot 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Whiskey has been matured for not less than 12 years in a combination of American bourbon, Spanish sherry and Spanish Malaga casks. Drawing from the Mitchell family tradition of importing fortified wines, full term maturation in ex Malaga casks contributes exotic sweet characteristics to the whiskey.” – Spot Whiskey
Nose: Mown hay and cracked black pepper. Red bell peppers, nutmeg, clove oil and green tea. Sweet honey and peaches from the Malaga casks
Taste: Honey sweetness with pot still spices. Flavors of fresh coffee, creamy milk chocolate and Crème Brûlée. Notes of red apples and toasted oak
Finish: Sophisticated and complex. Sweetness throughout with a mix of red grape and dry barley upon exit
Single pot still whiskey is a style of Irish whiskey made by a single distillery from a mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley then triple distilled in traditional copper pot stills. This inclusion of unmalted raw barley in the mash in addition to malt is what makes this style different than single malt whiskey. This unmalted component is said to give single pot whiskey a “spicier bristle” and “thicker texture” than single malt whiskeys. Small amounts of other cereals such as oats or rye may also be used if required. As of 2016, there are only a handful of single pot still whiskeys on the market.
Did you know? When the Mitchell family entered the whiskey bonding business in 1887, it was at the peak of the Victorian whiskey boom and pot still Irish whiskey was at its summit. The ‘Spot’ brand name originated from the family’s practice of marking casks of different ages with a daub or spot of colored paint with each color representing a particular age.
Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
“Unique among Irish whiskeys, Connemara is the only Irish peated single malt whiskey in existence today. Inspired by the 18th century art of drying malting barley over peat fires, Connemara possesses a distinct peaty flavor and aroma, instilling a delicate smokiness and smooth, sweet taste.” – Connemara
Nose: Smokey peatiness balanced by heather floralness with hints of honey and oak
Taste: Silky smooth with a honey sweet start, followed by more complex aromas of malt and fruit giving way to the intensifying full bodied peat. A well-balanced yet complex taste with vanilla oak notes
Finish: A long and glorious finish with golden honey notes and deep peat spreading across the mouth and palate. Hints of chocolate vanilla and oak leave a mouth-watering taste
While most Irish whiskeys are tripled distilled, Connemara is actually double distilled to maintain the peat characteristics.
Did you know? Connemara is named after the area in Ireland.
Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey Classic Blend
“Clontarf 1014 is a bold and smooth Irish whiskey, triple distilled, aged in bourbon barrels and blended to perfection.” – Clontarf 1014
Nose: Some grain notes and faint honey and lemon rind
Taste: Sweet, mildly grainy, and peppery; lemongrass and grain features
Finish: Nice citrus fruit notes
Irish blended whiskey is as a blend of two or more different whiskey types, and its production usually includes Irish grain whiskey. Grain whiskey in Ireland is distilled from one or more of the following: corn, wheat, rye and barley. Barley and corn are used to give Clontarf its aroma and flavor.
Did you know? Clontarf 1014 hails its name from the Battle of Clontarf. At the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, High King Brian Boru sent viking invaders tumbling back into the sea and gave his life to achieve a remarkable victory for the Irish over the fearsome vikings.
2 Gingers Irish Whiskey
“Smooth, malty, and slightly sweet to start, with a tingle of honey and citrus. 2 GINGERS is a blended Irish whiskey, distilled twice and aged four years in the mild climate at the Cooley Distillery.” – 2 Gingers
Nose: Lightly malty nose with some fruit
Taste: A touch of orange, some honey, vanilla, nuts and spice
Finish: The charred oak of the bourbon barrel gives a smooth vanilla and caramel finish
In order to label a spirit “Irish whiskey”, it must be aged three years. 2 Gingers and Clontarf 1014 are aged just slightly past that at four years.
Did you know? The two redheads who grace the 2 Gingers bottle are the founder’s mother and aunt. 2 Gingers trademarked cocktail is called the BIG GINGER made up of two parts 2 GINGERS Irish whiskey, ginger ale, lemon wedge and lime wedge. We’ve used 2 Gingers in a few recipes of ourselves!
Hopefully we’ve provided some insight into the world of Irish whiskey for the novices and for those unfamiliar with these brands. Molly’s has many Irish whiskeys to chose from. You can find them all in Spirits Lane #1. Our staff will gladly help you find the perfect Irish whiskey for you!
All prices limited to stock on hand. Molly’s Spirits reserves the right to limit quantities. Prices are subject to change.