Lockdown has been bad for a lot of things, but the word from off-licences is that whiskey sales have been booming. Maybe it's a comforting drink (sales go up in winter), maybe we feel we have a little bit more time to contemplate its complexity, or perhaps, our new-found love for making cocktails at home has seen the spirit gain even more fans.
Not only are sales up, but there are also an increasing number of interesting Irish whiskeys coming on to the market, and as tomorrow is Father's Day, it is worth considering one as a special present. One of the great things about whiskey is that, unlike wine, you can have a few bottles open, and it doesn't go off. This means you can try a few different ones against each other, which I always find adds to the appeal.
There is much that distinguishes one whiskey from another, from the differences between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey - which in simple terms generally means that there is a percentage of unmalted barley in Irish whiskey, it is triple distilled, and a pot still is used - to whether the whiskey is made in a single distillery or is blended. Then there is the very complex area of finishing, and that's where whiskey, which starts out as a clear spirit, gets its colour and additional layers of spice and complexity. And of course, its cost.
With finishing, not only are you talking about different barrels and the aromas and flavours they impart, you are also talking about age. On a recent Teeling's tasting hosted by Stephen Teeling and master distiller Alex Chasco, held via a Zoom call, I had a chance to taste samples of their two newly released single malt whiskeys - the Teeling 28 Year Old Single Malt and the Teeling Brabazon 3 Single Malt.
Stephen explained that whiskey has over 3,000 different flavour components, and while there has been an increasing interest among aficionados in whiskeys bottled at a strength higher than 40pc, which is traditional for Irish whiskey, there's a fine line between full flavour and the aggressive nature of the alcohol. Some whiskeys are improved by adding a drop of water to them, otherwise your tongue becomes numb and your palate over stimulated.
The Teeling 28 Year Old Single Malt is super premium, limited to just 4,000 bottles and retailing at €500. It was initially aged in Bourbon casks and then finished for eight years in Sauternes casks, which brings an extraordinary flavour profile - floral notes blend with creamy peach and apricot sweetness, wild honey, marzipan, and a touch of pepper, with a really long finish.
While it is unlikely that many of us will be investing in a €500 whiskey, you might consider the Teeling Brabazon 3.
Any of these five recently released whiskeys, or other old favourites such as the Redbreast 12 Year Old, would make a great Father's Day present for that special whiskey drinker in your life.
Currach Single Malt Whiskey
€55, 46pc, from Celtic Whiskey Shop, Mulligan’s, Bradley’s, Ardkeen, World Wide Wines and irishmalts.com
This is a fascinating whiskey. Whereas barrels are often charred to add a toastiness to aromas, here, after the spirit has been matured in bourbon barrels, it is finished in barrels that have been smoked with Irish kombu seaweed. It is a whiskey that will appeal to lovers of Laphroaig and similar scotches, with a pronounced smokiness, and an earthy, umami flavour with savoury notes of koji.
Teeling Brabazon Series 3, 14 Year Old
€95, 19.5pc, from Celtic Whiskey Shop, Teeling Whiskey Distillery, and select independents
Limited to 10,000 bottles, this has been aged in Bourbon casks and finished for three years in old Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks. Rich, smooth and raisined, with fig and fruit spice, dried orange peel, toast and caramel.
Velvet Cap Triple Cask
€39.95, 40pc, from L Mulligan, Blackrock Cellar, Ardkeen, Number 21 and independents
A blend of 50pc malt and 50pc grain whiskeys, this has a buttery fudge creaminess with flavours of honey, tropical fruit, citrus and vanilla.
Grace O’Malley Rum Cask
Grace O’Malley Rum Cask €64.99, 42pc, from Celtic Whiskey Shop, Irishmalts.com, WineOnline.ie and leading independents
This blend of malt and grain whiskeys is aged in rum barrels, bringing opulent flavours of pineapple, butterscotch, ripe banana and lemon.
Matt D’Arcy 10 Year Old
€67 or €109 in special presentation box, 46pc, from Celtic Whiskey Shop
A 10-year-old grain whiskey blended with 17-year-old single malt finished in Port casks, this has flavours of white pepper, dried orange peel, barley sugar, confit lemon, wild honey and a touch of spice from the oak.
For a Father’s Day treat, check out The Shelbourne’s Redbreast whiskey flight — 50ml serves of Redbreast 12 Year Old, Lustau and 15 Year Old along with the famous Shelbourne Bullet Glass. Includes a private Zoom tasting. €70, including delivery.
Also doing online whiskey tastings are The Irish Whiskey Museum and L Mulligan Grocer.