How to drink them, and what to eat with them, too.
How to drink them, and what to eat with them, too.
I’m a late comer to whiskey, that’s for sure. But then, despite the cloak of heritage that is draped all over Irish Whiskey, very few can claim that title. Most are new kids on the block – and that’s OK too.
The last twenty years has seen an explosion in Irish whiskey. From where there were just four distilleries in Ireland for decades, as of 2021 there were 18 with more in the pipeline to come. Of course, there are more than 18 brands of Irish whiskey, and that’s because some are blended whiskeys created by brands who don’t distill but save their skills for the art of blending and balancing whiskeys of various ages and flavours to create a unique signature blend.
Rarer still are the whiskey bonders. In fact, at one time it was whiskey bonding – not distilling – that was the common enterprise in Ireland. Merchants would purchase new make spirit from distillers and place it in casks – sherry, rum, bourbon, virgin, etc – and age to build a library of flavours. These building blocks of flavour blended together to the requirements of each individual customer. In the 1930s, when the Irish whiskey industry was decimated by prohibition in the USA and trading blocks with the UK, whiskey bonding died away into the annals of history.
This lost art of whiskey bonding is being brought back to life by JJ Corry – the only dedicated whiskey bonders in Ireland today. At its helm is Louise McGuane, a veteran of the international spirits industry. Louise created a rack house on the family farm in West Clare after discovering the story of JJ Corry, a merchant who lived nearby and was a successful whiskey bonder. From this small farm, and with a small team, the work of JJ Corry is focused on creating a library of Irish whiskey flavours, produced by distillers big and small; some thriving, others long gone. As the whiskeys age, they are categorised into flavour blocks, and from this they develop their range of blended Irish whiskey.
It could be said that this practice of whiskey bonding has more skin in the heritage game than those who distill. Of course, the next generation is to create the truest expression of Irish whiskey possible: from heritage barley grown in Ireland, milled in Ireland, fermented, distilled, aged, and bottled in Ireland. Its happening already. So if you thought that we had reached peak Whiskey in Ireland – think again. Between farmers, distillers, bonders, blenders and bottlers, we are only just getting started!
This week is St Patrick’s Day – Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit! It’ll be my first St Patrick’s Day as a fully fledged Irish citizen – passport and all, so I thought I would mark it by giving you my guide to five of my favourite Irish whiskeys, how to drink them, and what to eat with them.
We start at JJ Corry…
JJ Corry – The Gael, €85
I tasted this whiskey for the first time at the recent Smokin’ Soul / John Relihan collab, Twe12ve Fires (learn about it here!). Eric, one of the blenders at JJ Corry, was on hand to lead us on a guided tasting of their premium whiskey The Gael.
This is great whiskey – one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time. Robust yet smooth and full of complexity, for me this is the whiskey you pour at the end of the week best beside the fireplace.
“A blend of Malt and Grain Whiskey, Gael is the perfect marriage of Irish Whiskey flavours. Comprised of some of the oldest whiskeys in our library of flavours, The Gael is the perfect representation of our fruit bomb house style with layers of complexity.”
Paddy Irish Whiskey – Paddy’s Share, €?
Paddy’s Share is the latest whiskey from Paddy Irish Whiskey. Triple distilled using malted and unmalted barley grain and aged in sherry barrels, this is an elegant whiskey with background raisin notes from the sherry, nutty woodiness from the cask, a slightly warming spice with a smooth and velvety mouthfeel. It’s a huge 47% but doesn’t taste it, such is the balance of the blend.
This is the perfect whiskey to pair with an elegant plate of food. I mused for a while on what it would be perfect with before I settled on Dublin Lawyer – lobster served with a whiskey cream. Perfection.
I tasted this whiskey as part of a Trinity Tasting of all three Paddy Whiskeys at The Shelbourne in Cork for the launch of Paddy’s Share. Despite asking and searching, so far I can’t locate anyone who is actually selling it or for what price, but when I do finally get that info, I’ll update this note. The important thing is: when it is available, get yourself a bottle. It’s a great whiskey from a great whiskey brand!
Black’s of Kinsale – Black OPS, €55
I stumbled across this whiskey back in 2019 at the Cork and Kerry Food Forum (which I very much hope will return this year). There was some pushing at the time of the 18 year old whiskey, but the Black OPS whiskey held my appeal far more.
This is what Black’s say:
“Black OPS is comprised of a careful blend of malt and grain whiskey. This blend was matured in extra deep charred bourbon oak barrels for an extra smooth, extra dark black whiskey. In keeping with our proven whiskey technique this blend is also non chill filtered and was bottled at 43%. On first inspection the nose reveals a layer of sweet malt followed by toffee, prunes and vanilla. Its complex second layer of aromas may catch you by surprise as hints of hay, oak, smoke and eucalyptus charm your senses. This is a medium bodied whiskey with initial hints of sweetness followed by nut and savoury notes. You will be left with a lengthy finish of lingering herbal notes in addition to light spice and floral flavours.”
This is my go-to whiskey for cocktails. Particularly whiskey sours. There’s a lot going on, and it is a great sipping whiskey, but with all those extra flavour notes and characters, I find it adds incredible punch to a really well made cocktail, so much so that you’ll find me opting for a whiskey based cocktail using Black OPS than I would for a gin or vodka based.
It is the bomb. It is also excellent value for money.
Clonakilty Distillery – Bordeaux Cask Finish, €49.50
Clonakilty Distillery is on a journey. The Scully family who founded the distillery are landowners farming barley for six generations overlooking the Atlantic ocean near Galley Head. While this whiskey is a cask aged blended whiskey, a couple of years ago they began ageing their own new make spirit, and on from that are on course to begin ageing new make spirit derived from the barley grown on their own land.
But back to this whiskey – it has always been my favourite whiskey from what is my local distillery! It’s rhubarb and custard, vanilla and raspberry, a slight wisp of spice and a notable creamy mouthfeel.
Given the ageing in Bordeaux barrels, my favourite way to drink this whiskey is neat and paired with 85% dark chocolate from beans that have sour cherry type flavour notes. Place a small bit of the chocolate on your tongue and allow to slowly melt with your body temperature. Let the whiskey then roll over the chocolate in your mouth – it’s special!
Dingle Whiskey – Single Malt Batch No. 6 – Cask Strength, €70
Mr Flavour purchased this one on a whim, and I’m hoping he gets more whims like this in the future because this is a really great whiskey too. I have a particular penchant for whiskey finished in wine casks – whether that’s wine, sherry or port. I love the richer, rounded flavours it imparts, tannins – sometimes, and also colour. I’m very much drawn to whiskeys that glow like gems.
“15,000 bottles of this whiskey has been produced with an all-Port maturation. The sixth release comprises malt whiskey matured exclusively in Tawny Port Casks, 46.5% and non chill filtered. Batch 6 is a great example of the interaction between Single Malt spirit and Fortified wine. A whiskey with multiple layers of sweetness and a well-balanced depth of flavour.”
What else would you have with port, but cheese? Blue cheese at that! Something with a tarter edge to it, Shepherd’s Store is from the same family that make Crozier Blue but with sheeps milk instead. One of my favourites. A classy cheese for a classy whiskey!
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