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A Primer on Irish Whiskey

After exploring bourbon and then the other whiskeys of North America, and because it seems like the supposed apex (Scotch) of this branch of alcohol should be saved until last, this essay will be all about Irish whiskey.

I suppose I knew that Irish whiskey existed in the realm of whiskeys, but I think that The Wire brought it to the forefront of my thoughts with this simple exchange:

Det. James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty: Can I get a Jameson?
Bartender: Bushmills OK?
Det. James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty: That’s Protestant whiskey.

With just those few words, you get a decent amount of information about the major brands of Irish whiskey. As you would imagine, to be labeled Irish whiskey, it has to be made in Ireland and the religion label tells you the location of the two major Irish distilleries.

New Midleton Distillery

Some of your choices

The New Midleton Distillery is located in County Cork in the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is almost 87% Catholic. So, that means that Jameson is a “Catholic whiskey.”

On the Jameson site you can find out many things like Jameson is gluten free and contains 72 calories per shot. While the Jameson is no longer made in Dublin, you can tour the grounds of the original distillery for eight euros and enjoy a Jameson drink at the end. If you venture out into the country, tours are also available at the Midleton location where you can have a comparison tasting of Jameson with a Scotch whiskey and an American whiskey. Then again, you can just watch this video, do a little setup and taste from the comfort of your own home. (Just listening to Dave Quinn, Master of Whiskey Science, makes me want to start drinking all those whiskeys now.)

Old Bushmills Distillery

The Old Bushmills Distillery is located in Northern Ireland. Whereas the Republic of Ireland is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, less than half the population in Northern Ireland (40%) is Catholic, while over 45% is Protestant. As a “Protestant whiskey,” and of course by the name, we know that this is the distillery for Bushmills.

Bushmills offers tours of its distillery and offer a “wee taster.” The five whiskeys detailed on the site offer every flavor from crème brulee to Christmas cake to milk chocolate. (I think drinking Bushmills would make me hungry for dessert.) First licensed in 1608, those that like superlatives and records have considered Bushmills the oldest licensed distillery in the world.

Other Irish Distilleries

Cooley Distillery, a little over an hour north of Dublin, makes Connemara, Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan and Greenore Irish whiskeys. Greenore is a corn whiskey matured in ex-bourbon casks, giving an Irish take on the U.S. bourbon label. Tyrconnell is made from malted barley and has a strong citrus flavor. If you watched the Jameson tasting video, you’ll see a resemblance between Connemara Irish Whiskey and its Scotch brethren, as its barley is dried over peat fires to give it a smoky flavor.

Although owned by Cooley, Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey is made at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery, about an hour and fifteen minutes west of Dublin. There you can take a tour for seven euros and enjoy a taste of Kilbeggan with its creamy vanilla and toasty wood finish at the end of the tour.

With that said, it’s the end of this tour of Irish whiskeys. Tip one up for me, next time you order at your local drinking establishment.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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