Embarking on a Whiskey Journey – A multi-sensory discovery of what the Island of Ireland’s finest Uisce Beatha has to offer
Whiskey as we have known it is no longer, for decades it has been the drink of choice for the generations past. As of recently, the scales have tipped and we have seen an unprecedented demand for our precious golden liquid across the globe. The category of whiskey that we previously knew has changed. It has been rejuvenated, revived and one could say it has seen a resurgence in the last number of years.
There are many driving factors behind the revival of this spirit category, of course the historic and well established brands have played an instrumental part in this success story. They are not the only element, the new generations of consumers who have embraced the whiskey culture and brought it to the modern day have played a crucial part.
Whiskey is everywhere right now! A buzzword that seems to crop up in conversation every time we step into a bar or restaurant. What strikes me most is the demographic I find myself tangled in conversation with and how young these people that seem to be very eager to educate themselves in all things Uisce Beatha are.
As a very active member of the Irish Whiskey community, I have seen this shift first hand as each year has gone by. If you walked into a bar in Ireland 10 years ago, it would be rare to see anyone between the age of 19-24 drinking whiskey. They would also have been very restricted in their choice, with Powers, Paddy, Jameson and Bushmills making up the inventory on most back bars.
These days I very often find myself sharing a bar counter with a number of young people, discussing Pot Still to Single Grain and all things in between. The enthusiasm and genuine interest on display from young people recently installs great confidence in me that this is not a fad or a trend, this new-found passion in fact is here to stay!
One instance in particular I find myself talking about regularly is when I was working at a whiskey bar for Slane Whiskey at Electric Picnic in 2018. A group of 19-20 year olds approached the bar, ordered their whiskeys minus the ginger, paid for the drinks and then proceeded to chat through the aromas, palate and finish in the middle of a field on a rainy Portlaoise Sunday morning. Unreal!
The first encounter with anything new can be quite daunting, this is why it’s imperative that our bartenders and whiskey industry professionals are equipped with the right knowledge. The introduction into the whiskey world can seem very complex and intimidating at times. Starting your whiskey journey can be a tricky one and I always feel that the incorrect first step on the ladder can be a downfall that sets you back. Even thinking you have to go immediately to the neat whiskey occasion is a common initial mistake. We are blessed now that we can visit world-class cocktail bars in Ireland, such as 1661 or Cask in Cork, and this is where I feel the journey should begin.
Possibly a Whiskey Sour is your first tipple- appreciating the lovely base spirit while the cushion is the sweet and sour balance of the drink. A more booze forward option might be the Old Fashioned, where the whiskey comes to the fore and increases how much you can appreciate the spirit used in its building.
Before long the sensory overload of a neat sip of whiskey won’t blow you away! I always like to visit nice approachable blended whiskeys when I can’t make up my mind on what to sip. Blended Irish Whiskey is a blend (of course) of two or more different whiskey styles from the pot still, grain or malt varieties. Blended for consistency, it allows the distillery or blender to reach the required specific taste profile. Blended whiskey accounts for the majority of production in Ireland- Jameson of course the Trojan Horse followed up by the other big hitters such as Tullamore Dew, Powers and Bushmills. Thanks to all these guys we have great variance in taste and profile, broadening what’s on offer at generally good prices and availability.
Irish whiskey blends are generally the first port of call for a new whiskey drinker. It makes perfect sense as they are affordable, widely available and generally a little more easy to drink. Ironically it’s for these same reasons that people will use them as the go-to or safety nets when staring into the drinks cabinet!
Home bartending since lockdown seems to have become commonplace in entertaining and these whiskeys lend themselves well to mixing up a sour or whiskey ginger for guests in the comfort of the home setting.
I have selected my five go-to blended whiskeys that generally I have stocked on my shelf. I feel these guys are great for someone about to ascend the whiskey ladder.
The flagship from the Kilbeggan Distilling Company. One of my favourite distilleries, it really is where old meets new with the historic building now producing their very own releases once again – a very special place with a great team! Kilbeggan is a very approachable, delicate blend with a beautiful sweetness, a blend of grain and malt at 40% ABV. The end result is a light soft confectionary aroma, think apple flavoured boiled sweet leading to a smooth delicate palate of citrus and pear with a distinct malty backbone.
- Powers Gold Label
With the very recognisable diamond P now fronting the bottle, this is always a crowd pleaser. Standing the test of time, the brand is over 230 years old and excitingly is seeing a breath of fresh air with new marketing campaigns recently. Powers is a blend of grain and pot still whiskey at 40% ABV matured in ex-bourbon barrels produced in the Midleton distillery. Gold label is renowned for having in or around 70% pot still in its build. Spicy white pepper notes with honeyed orchard fruit leading to a silky smooth palate with tonnes of pot still character- this is a classic!
- Slane Triple Casked
Slane rocks and so does this beautiful blend. Without question, the most aesthetic distillery on the Island with this great blended whiskey as its flagship. Alcohol giants Brown-Forman are co-founders along with Slane Castle resident Alex Conyngham. Together they have transformed the 250 year old stable blocks on the castle grounds to a magnificent working distillery in picturesque Slane Village. This blend of malt, grain and pot still is matured in 3 different barrel types. Virgin oak, seasoned oak and ex sherry butts. A bouquet on the nose with layers of sweetness from butterscotch and cracked cinnamon spice leads to a wonderfully sweet and balanced palate of dried dark fruit and an abundance of spice.
- Foxes Bow Irish Whiskey
This is a new kid on the block that makes a splash from the minute you see the beautiful bottle. The ALT liquor company is pushing inclusivity into whiskey and doing so really well with this gem. You can’t miss this bottle on the shelf, founders Tony and Alice came to the conclusion that back bars were swamped with a historic sea of black and green bottles. What’s inside matches the slick exterior. Foxes Bow is a really nice blend that has spent time in both sherry and bourbon casks followed up by a stint in ex-rye barrels. With fruity sherry notes on the nose, spice is sent in waves with a nice touch of vanilla sweetness. A distinct orange peel and dryness on the palate make this a lovely, approachable, balanced blend.
- Roe & Co
The distillery nestled in the old Guinness PowerStation, these guys are back home on James Street Dublin with the coolest and most unique distillery offering around. Think food, cocktail pairings and one of the most beautiful bars wrapped in the old industrial setting of this monster building. Head Distiller Lora Hemy is laser focused on Roe & Co making innovative moves with releases to come in the future. The current Roe & Co flagship is a blend of malt and grain whiskey matured in ex-bourbon and bottled at a slightly higher than normal 45% alcohol content. This extra kick of ABV allows this whiskey to remain the star of the show in cocktails. Fragrant and vibrant on the nose and leading into a palate of all spice and pears, its dessert-like nature reminds me of sticky tarte tatin.
Derek has worked in the traditional Irish bar scene for many years and holds a huge passion for Irish pub culture. His time has been served as a bartender, bar manager and proprietor of pubs and music venues. He has spent time working in many different countries including Australia and Canada broadening his understanding of how alcohol and bar culture differs from country to country.
Derek has gained broad whiskey knowledge through in-depth whiskey training events, whiskey tastings, masterclasses and multiple Midleton Academies. The majority of this exposure was gained during his role as Global Brand Ambassador for Powers Irish whiskey with Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard
The love for whiskey and distilling became his career focus when he was part of the start up team at Slane Distillery (owned by Brown Forman/Jack Daniels). Derek was part of the commercial and operational management of the day to day running of the visitor centre, which was located on the grounds of the iconic Slane Castle. POWERS whiskey called next… Derek took the brand by the reigns travelling as their global spokesperson telling the most historic and rich brand histories of all the whiskey stories out there. Now through the establishment of Experience Irish Whiskey, Derek is ready to spread the good word of Irish whiskey with specialised whiskey tasting experiences throughout the four corners of Ireland.