The first decent bottle of whiskey I ever drank was a 12 year old Jameson, I drank it on Christmas day on an oil tanker, about 500 miles from land in the middle of the Indian Ocean, on that day I’d never felt further from home and yet there was something familiar in the taste of that bottle, something reassuring. I had nothing to drink it with, no coke, no ginger, no 7-up, so I drank it straight and I never looked back. Think of a whiskey like an accent many whiskies are expressions of the tradition in a singular region, for someone who knows it can be easy to tell super peaty Islay malt from a spicy Irish pot still, I had no idea of that at the time but I knew it tasted like home.
Now I can almost feel your scepticism, whiskey is a drink for men over 50, or maybe you like whiskey with some ginger or a diet coke and that’s fine because the best way to enjoy a whiskey is exactly how you want to, but there’s so much more to explore out there. I want you to care about whiskey because we are in the midst of a revolution in whiskey, with Ireland at the center.
I love whiskey, you might not love whiskey yet, but you will, you might think you don’t like whiskey, but you just haven’t met the right bottle, there’s a wealth of choice and variety. Between Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, American Bourbons, Canadian rye, Japanese and Taiwanese malts, etc there are endless differences. There are so many potential factors which decide the taste of a whiskey, from the barrel, to where it’s stored, to how long it’s stored for it makes the possible flavour combination as numerous as the stars in the sky. There are bottles that are aged at sea for extra flavours, those placed in beer casks, wine casks, sherry casks, white whiskeys and whiskeys from unexpected parts of the globe like India, Sweden and Australia which are receiving great reviews. The bottom line is that I believe there’s enough variety out there that no matter what your tastes are that there’s a bottle you’ll love and I’m determined to help you find it.
There are no fewer than 32 new or planned distilleries in Ireland, with one in Wicklow, one in Kilkenny and three in Waterford. Carlow’s new distillery has recently begun production, Walsh distillery, which produces the writer’s tears and Irishman brands you might be familiar with. Unfortunately Wexford has not yet followed the lead of its neighbours, if you’re desperate for a taste of home you can pick up a bottle of Wexford strawberry gin from Waterford’s Blackwater distillery (the strawberries are grown in Enniscorthy). Whiskey is the fastest growing spirit in the world, Ireland alone exports more than €330 million of the amber spirit, so what’s all the fuss about?
From an economic point of view the benefits are obvious, our exports are set to double by 2020 and double again by 2030, but that’s not the exciting part, that’s the part for the accountants.
We’re so lucky in Ireland to be surrounded by some of the world’s greatest distilleries, which produce some of the world’s finest whiskies. Every time I walk into an off license I scan the shelves, there’s always something new, and there’s always a new speciality bottle emerging into stores, some new twist on an old classic, a different barrel type, a new blend or now, as happens regularly, a totally new whiskey brand emerging from the various corners of Ireland. Many of the new brands are very active on social media, eager to show off their wares, Teelings have built a top of the range visitor center in Dublin, which is quickly becoming a must visit attraction in the city.
I feel like I’m making a shameful revelation sometimes, I’m Michael I’m 26 and I like whiskey. I feel like we’re not as knowledgeable as our Scottish cousins, like for all our pride in our wares we’ve forgotten why we’re so proud, but that’s ok, it’s not our fault. We were never taught these things, when teachers were explaining to us the difference between the aimsir chaite and the aimsir láithreach they should have been adding in the difference between a pot still and a column still because as an Irish person it’s as much a part of our heritage as anything else.
I love whiskey. I love the taste of it, I love the smell of it, I love watching it drip down along the side of the glass as I swirl it around, I love going into a good off license and staring at the startling variety of bottles and brands, I love whiskey and I want you to love it as well.