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Irish Whiskey takes steps forward, worth keeping an eye on

04/01/2014 2:37 PM

04/01/2014 2:37 PM

Have you checked out the Irish Whiskey selection in your liquor store lately? I hadn’t.

In fact, as a nearly exclusive wine drinker, I have to admit that I was not up to speed on the latest liquor offerings from the Emerald Isle.

I knew that both Bushmills and Jamesons, the two best known Irish Whiskey producers, were offering a much wider range of bottlings including single malts.

But, I was not prepared for the incredible line-up of Irish Whiskeys that accompanied the invitation I received to a tasting at The Dubliner in the Power Light District.

Check out the offerings:

• 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey

• Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

• Greenore Single Grain

• Tyrconnell Single Malt

• Connemara Cask Strength

• Connemara Peated Single Malt

• Connemara 12 Year Old Peated

All of the whiskeys come from the Kilbeggan distillery, the oldest licensed distiller in Ireland, dating back to 1757.

The distillery is located outside Dublin, and has had a long and rich history, a history that almost came to an end in 1954 when production ceased and the distillery closed.

The shutdown lasted a quarter century until, with the distillery falling into a state of disrepair, the community of Kilbeggan restored the property and opened it to the public as a whiskey distillery museum.

Cooley Distillery bought the license to produce Kilbeggan and Lockes Whiskey and later took over the museum and opened a new working distillery in Kilbeggan.

Today, the distillery is known as the Kilbeggan Distillery and includes a restaurant and a 19th century waterwheel in working condition.

The original whitewashed walls, weathered slate roof, brick chimney stack and creaking timber waterwheel remain intact thanks to a labor of love from the locals.

One of the two copper pot stills used in Kilbeggan was made in the early 1800s. It’s considered the oldest whiskey-producing pot still in the world today. Whiskey production recommenced in 2007, the year in which the distillery celebrated its 250th Anniversary.

So much for history. Let’s get going with the product being offered today. First up in the tasting was the 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey.

A lot of hopes are hanging on 2 Gingers. They’ve even trademarked a signature cocktail for the four-year aged whiskey, “The Big Ginger.”

I’ve not had one, but I came up with the following guidance on-line should you wish to try for yourself:

The Big Ginger Recipe 2 ounces (about a 1/4 cup) of 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey 1 cup of ginger ale Wedge of lime and lemon for garnish Ice

Fill a collins — tall, narrow — glass with ice and pour whiskey over it. Add the ginger ale, garnish with the lemon and lime

On its own, 2 Gingers is a bit oaky for my palette, yet sweet and balanced. Overall, I’d say it’s better suited to cocktails, but you could do a lot worse than a dram of 2 Gingers with a cube of ice to mellow it out.

Next came the signature Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey. With more malt in the blend and some extra aging, the Kilbeggan was easy going and approachable. They like to consider it an entry point into Irish Whiskeys, but with 250-years of heritage, Kilbeggan offers a lot more than that.

The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey followed the Kilbeggan. Tyrconnell dates back to the Andrew Walt Distillery, which was established in 1762. It was named after a famous horse that won the Irish Derby at odds of 100-to-1. Full-bodied with fruity aromas and a citrus spiciness, the Tyrconnell is definitely a step up, both sweeter and more complex.

Before we headed into the peated whiskeys, they served up one more unpeated, the Greenore single Grain Irish Whiskey.

The only Irish single grain whiskey in the world, distilled from corn in column stills and matured for eight years in ex-bourbon casks, the Greenore was by far my favorite unpeated Irish Whiskey of the night. Soft, sweet and rich it was a pleasure to sip on its own and would make an excellent base for a wide range of cocktails.

The evening finished with three bottlings under the Connemara label: a Peated Single Malt, a Cask Strength and a 12-year-old Peated Single Malt.

The Peated Single Malt was a little too peaty for my palette. The Cask Strength, which clocks in at nearly 120-proof, is also too strong for my tastes.

But at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, the 12-year-old Peated Single Malt was “just right,” with the influence but not dominance of peat, agile balance and deep, full flavors and aromas. For my money, I’d say this was the winner of the night.

I’m going to be keeping a much closer eye on Irish Whiskeys moving forward and that should provide even more palate pleasures.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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