If you’ve never had Irish whiskey, you’re in for a smooth surprise!
Updated March 2009
Irish Whiskey: The Smoothest Whiskey In The World
Have A Tasting Party With The Recipes Below
CAPSULE REPORT: Ireland was once the world’s greatest whiskey-producing nation, exporting golden Irish whiskey all over the world. Today, whiskey-lovers have a choice of American, Canadian and Scotch whiskeys as well. All are stylistically different and have their dévotées. This month, with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, there’s no better reason to focus on smooth, clean-tasting Irish whiskey: the only triple-distilled whiskey in the world.
There are several distinct styles of whiskey in the world—American (rye and bourbon), Irish, Canadian and Scotch. While all are produced in a broadly similar way, there are substantial differences in the final product that are based on the choice of grains, the type of still, the number of distillations, the maturation period and the type of oak barrels in which the whiskey is matured. The end result is that each country’s whiskey has its own distinctive characteristics.
What makes Irish whiskey different?
- Barley. The main flavor of Irish whiskey comes from barley: unmalted barley, distilled with malted barley in a pot still. The key difference among brands lies in the proportions of raw and malted barley. There are three styles of blended Irish whiskey: flavorful pot still whiskey, lighter grain whiskey and the more flavorful malt whiskey. Irish whiskies are typically fragrant, with a roundness of body, as opposed to the smokier Scotches. This is because the malted barley used in Ireland is dried by indirect heat (enclosed kilns) over coal fires rather than being smoked over peat, as it’s done in Scotland.
As a point of difference, American bourbon is typically made from 70% corn, with the remainder wheat, rye and/or malted barley. Rye whiskey is made from at least 51% rye, with corn and barley comprising the remainder. Canadian whiskey is typically a blend that often includes rye and these other grains, but no specific grain is legally mandated.
- Triple-Distilled. Most Irish whiskies are distilled three times for greater purity and smoothness, while other countries distill their whiskies only twice. The extra distillation removes impurities which provide the harshness and “burn,” and provides a smoother taste.
- Large Pots. Irish pot stills are much larger than those used in Scotland, which affects the flavor of the whiskey.
- Blending. While the distinctive character of Irish whiskey comes from the distilling rather than blending, the skill of the blender is still important in creating the character of individual blends. The blender uses widely varying ratios of pot still whiskey, grain whiskey and malt whiskey; blends can range from full-bodied to mellow. Irish whiskey is aged at least three years in aromatic oak casks. Variations in flavor are also achieved through the use of old and young whiskies and different barrel types for maturation (for example, barrels previously used to age sherry or rum, which will impart their own special flavor).
If you haven’t enjoyed other types of whiskey because they’re too strong, try a good Irish whiskey. You’ll find it distinctively smooth and easy to sip.
Tullamore Dew, which has provided the cocktail recipes below, was first distilled in 1829 in the small town of Tullamore in County Offaly in the heart of Ireland. Tulach Mhór means “big hill.” While one is tempted to think of the name as evocative of the dewy, green, hilly countryside of the Emerald Isle, the initials of an early owner, Daniel E. Williams, were appended to the original name. However, the action was not without a double-entendre marketing intent: The slogan accompanying the renamed product was, “Give every man his Dew.”
The nose of Tullamore Dew is complex: Butterscotch and lemon predominate—it reminds us of a good pudding (keep going back and cinnamon and other pudding spices will appear). The mellow whiskey flavor on the palate delivers golden barley with charred wood undertones—a sign that the whiskey has been aged in fine quality oak casks. This is a delicious whiskey to drink straight up, although in the warm months, an ice cube might be in order.
We held a tasting party with Tullamore Dew (the
big bottle is in the background) and gave everyone a miniature bottle to take home.
Share the experience in an Irish whiskey tasting party, serving the whiskey neat, in Irish Coffee and in the cocktails below. For dessert, pour a jigger over a scoop of vanilla ice cream: If you haven’t tried this “trick” before, you’ll be surprised at how delicious it tastes (and it’s much more “gourmet” than traditional ice cream toppings). You can enjoy a shot of Irish whiskey with your ice cream too, of course.
If you don’t want to drink your Irish whiskey neat, here are two crowd-pleasing cocktails. And, of course, in Irish Coffee recipes, a couple ounces of Irish whiskey are de rigueur (we don’t know how to say that in Gaelic).
- 1-1/2 ounces Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
- 3/4 ounces Irish Mist*
- Serve in a rocks glass over ice.
*Irish Mist is an aged Irish whiskey blended with honey, herbs
and other spirits.
Combine equal parts of the following:
- Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
- Irish Mist
- Irish Cream liqueur (like Carolans or Bailey’s)
- Serve in a rocks glass over ice.
Ultimate Irish Coffee
Here’s how to make a good, hot cup of coffee taste even better. You can read the history of Irish Coffee and see variations on the basic recipe.
- Fill an Irish Coffee glass or a mug with very hot water to pre-heat, then discard the water. Pour hot coffee into the hot glass until it is about 3/4 full.
- Drop in 2 cocktail sugar cubes; stir until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Add a full jigger of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.
- Top with a collar of lightly whipped cream by pouring gently over a spoon. Serve it piping hot.