Devotees of Irish whiskey know that the breadth and quality of Old Sod spirits offered in the United States has been on a steady incline in recent memory. Expect that level to ratchet up even a few more notches this year with alluring entries from the volume leaders Bushmills and Jameson.
For the 400th anniversary of the first license to distill whiskey in the village of Bushmills in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, that maker has created Bushmills 1608 (92 proof, $100) for distribution through the end of 2008. The new whiskey introduces "crystal malt"—the barley is germinated while it is moist, creating a crystallized appearance—to a blend of its standard triple-distilled malt and a small portion of grain whiskey. The product is very much the familiar floral Bushmills, but sweeter and bigger. Its appearance is amber with strong legs. The nose is olive oil, meaty fruit and honey. On the palate, the honey turns to hard candy, cheese and toffee. The honey returns on the finish with a strong woodiness.
Jameson blended its new Rarest Vintage Reserve (92 proof, $250) as a collaboration of its four whiskey masters. The masters represent 131 years of experience, covering distillation, maturation, blending and whiskey science. The non-chill-filtered whiskey was crafted from what master distiller Barry Crockett calls "muscular stock" and is the first in a planned series of limited releases. The blend includes grain whiskey, traditional pot still whiskeys and spirits aged in Port barrels. While it appears light and slightly green, the whiskey is unmistakably full and round from the first sniff. The nose comes right out with chunky vanilla, nuts, butter rum and cheese. The Jameson hits the tip of the tongue with spice and licorice notes that transform to flowery, hard candy as it moves through the palate. The finish is pungent and chewy.
Either whiskey will make St. Patrick's Day—or anytime when you are feeling Irish—a date to remember.
Visit www.bushmills.com and www.jamesonwhiskey.com.