A quick quiz: Which of the following whiskeys is best?
a) single malt
b) pure pot still
If you answered “all of the above”, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine called Redbreast.
For years, I had been a Single Malt Scotch man. Then, I had the good fortune to visit Ireland and the Midleton Distillery in Cork. Midleton is owned by Irish Distillers, makers of the Jameson range, the super-premium (and mind-blowing) Midleton Very Rare, and Redbreast. Triple-distilled in pure pot stills and aged for 12 years, the result is an unblended masterpiece of flavor and smoothness.
As much as I still love my Scottish single malts, the Scots typically only distill twice. Scientifically, I can’t tell you what difference the third distillation makes, but I can certainly taste it. Of course, much of that taste also comes from the pure pot still process (the only way to go) and the aging for 12 years in sherry casks and bourbon barrels. The result is a whiskey that is both smooth enough to never be too harsh in a drink and assertive enough to never lose itself to the other ingredients.
Here’s a bit from About.com’s Lance Mayhew that I think captures the wonders of Irish whiskey so well that I can’t think of how to say it better:
“By the 18th Century, Czar Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) declared, “Of all the wines of the world, Irish spirit is the best”. By 1755, Samuel Johnson had put the word whiskey in his dictionary, commenting, “the Irish sort is particularly distinguished for its pleasant and mild flavour”. In the 19th Century, Irish whiskey took its place as the most popular whiskey in the world, and, in the 1880s, after phylloxera had devastated the cognac crop in France, Irish whiskey became the world’s most popular spirit.” Yes, it’s that good.
Over the past century, however, Irish whiskey has been struggling. Before the Great Famine in Ireland, before Ireland’s War of Independence, before Prohibition and the Great Depression in America, Irish Whiskey was a mainstay of U.S. drinking. Today, whiskeys from the Emerald Isle trail in sales behind their Bourbon, Scottish, and Canadian cousins. Oddly enough, one of the leading contributors to the decline of the product was the Irish’s stubborn love for the pot still. By no measure is pot distillation the quickest, most economical method available for producing spirits. It is, however, the most flavorful. In a competitive post-Prohibition market flooded with inferior products, the Irish pot stills just couldn’t keep up. Fortunately, not all hope is lost. Today, Irish whiskeys are one of the fastest growing spirit segments, with brands like Redbreast and the phenomenal Green Spot now reaching the U.S. market. As Green Spot can be near impossible to find, I chose Redbreast, which has a much larger footprint. If, by some chance, you do stumble upon a bottle of Green Spot — buy it without hesitation.
As we’ll come to see, there’s a lot more to Irish whiskey than the Irish Coffee (although, we’ll whip those up too). With its one-two punch of extreme smoothness and bold flavor, Redbreast will do your bar proud.
Interested in other Irish Whiskeys, here’s a great round-up.
Esoterica: While visiting the Midleton Distillery in Cork, Ireland, I learned how the proof was tested in the whiskey barrels. A wick was inserted into a container of whiskey and lit aflame. If the whiskey put out the flame, the proof was too low. If the whiskey exploded, the proof was too high. If it burned steadily, the proof was just right.