Irish Whiskey

Show your pride on St. Patrick's Day this year by avoiding the oceans of green beer that flow in pubs, and instead sip the Emerald Isle's venerable whiskey. With its five centuries of history, the spirit is enjoying a resurgence marked by new expressions that include single malts, pure malts, exquisite blends, interesting combinations of wood aging and even peated spirits. We tasted a few of the best in anticipation of March 17:

Bushmills 21-Year-Old Single Malt Madeira Finish ($150—$165) builds its character through a three-wood aging process (Bourbon, Sherry and Madeira casks). Nose: vanilla; palate: maple, toffee and raisins; finish: Sherry and Madeira. (Old Bushmills Distillery, County Antrim)

Connemara Pure Pot Still Peated Single Malt ($48) distinguishes itself with peat and double distillation (not the typical triple). Nose: a peat explosion; palate: hard candy flavors, toasted bread and anise take over; finish: peat. (Cooley Distillery, County Louth)

Jameson's 18-Year-Old Master Selection ($65) combines pot still whiskeys aged in Sherry and Port casks with light grains and is finished in American oak. Nose: elegantly flowery, with hints of vanilla and tobacco; palate: tea roses, spice, vanilla and Sherry; finish: savory leather. (Midleton Distillery, County Cork)

Knappogue Castle 1994 Single Malt ($34) is a branded whiskey sold on a vintage basis (this version was bottled in 2004). Nose: bright with citrus; palate: nutty, with notes of candy and marmalade; finish: wisps of oil and cheddar cheese. (Cooley)

Midleton Very Rare Blend, Bottled 2002 ($110—$150) is an example of what the art of blending can achieve. Nose: perfumed and floral; palate: flowery and bready; finish: long and candied, smacks of honey. (Midleton)

Redbreast Pure Pot 12 Year Old ($40—$50) isn't a single malt because it mixes malted with unmalted barley, but the method is an Irish classic. Nose: flowers, honey and orange; palate: licorice, maple and praline; finish: honey, brown sugar and cream. (Midleton)

Tullamore Dew 12-year-old ($45) carries a long-established name in Irish whiskey and a very mellow taste. Nose: vanilla and bread; palate: hard candy; finish: Christmas pudding. (Midleton)

Tyrconnell Single Malt ($60) is double distilled, like Connemara, but not peated. Nose: bright with apples; palate: caramel and maple sugar; finish: a short drop of fusel oil. (Cooley)

Whiskey
"I wish Midleton was in my price range because it is by far the best-tasting, most complex and satisfying Irish whiskey that my admittedly not "connoisseur-level" taste buds have sampled. It probably didn't hurt that I sampled it in a bar in a hotel in the middle of Ireland! The Knappogue Castle is a revelation, and Bushmill's 10-year-old single malt is very satisfying! I can only imagine what the 21-year-old is like! (wink) I can't really tolerate the phenolic taste on the finish of so many Scotch whiskys, so I've really migrated to Irish with no plans to turn back! Jump in!" —October 26, 2012 23:09 PM

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