A Tipple or Six: Ireland's Best New Spirits
If there is one thing the Irish know, it's drink. Irish pubs are pretty much universally acknowledged to be the best on the planet. Guinness, the frothy dry stout that's been brewed in Dublin since 1759, is the only beer in the world that actually promises "it's good for you." (It is too -- a pint a day helps reduce the risk of heart attacks.)
And Irish whiskey? It's the stuff of legend: loved by kings and poets alike, renowned for its smooth finish and able to claim the oldest licensed distillery in the world, Bushmills, which dates back to 1608.
Although Irish whiskey fell into decline in the early and mid-20th century, it is currently riding a serious resurgence, with 16 distilleries now in operation and 13 in planning stages (up from just four in 2013). By 2030, production of Irish whiskey is projected to reach a staggering 24 million cases annually, more than three times the amount shipped in 2015.
With Paddy's Day almost upon us, there's no better time to raise a glass to -- or with -- the following stellar new Irish spirits. Sláinte!
The first newly licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in 125 years, Echlinville launched Dunville's PX Single Malt Whiskey ($46.99) in America last year. "Anyone with an interest in Irish whiskey heritage will know of Dunville, 'The Spirit of Belfast,'" says Echlinville Distillery owner Shane Braniff. "It was once among the world's best known whiskeys, but prohibition and the loss of U.S. sales contributed to the closure of the Royal Belfast Distillery in 1936.
Until recently, the only place you could buy a bottle of Dunville's whiskey was at auction. We are proud to be the custodian of the historic Belfast brand, bringing it to a new generation of whiskey enthusiasts."
Keep an eye out later this year for Dunville's Three Crowns, Dunville's Three Crowns Peated and Echlinville Single Estate Irish Pot Still Gin.
HYDE Irish Whiskey
Tavern owners in West Cork, Ireland, for nearly 300 years, the Hyde family knows Irish whiskey. While their pub closed in 1962, Conor and Alan Hyde are still in the spirit business as producers of the eponymous HYDE Irish Whiskey. "Double matured" in two casks, HYDE is also non-chill filtered, which means you may notice a "whiskey haze" or cloudiness in the bottle but ultimately a more definitive flavor profile.
HYDE Whiskey No. 1 and No. 2 ($69.99), 10-year single malts, and No. 3 ($49.99), a single grain, were released in the United States about 18 months ago. Due out this summer are HYDE No. 4, a six-year-old single malt with a rum cask finish; HYDE No. 5, a six-year-old single grain with a Burgundy cask finish; and HYDE No. 6, a blend of 18-year-old single malt and eight-year-old single grain whiskeys that are "married" in a sherry cask before bottling.
"It's all about the wood," explains Conor. "Our whiskeys' unique character develops as it ages and interacts with our carefully selected oak casks from around the world. We hand-pick our vintage casks and ship them, fully assembled, with some of their original rum, sherry or burgundy inside to keep them moist and in perfect condition during transportation."
It's not Paddy's Day without poitín (pronounced "potcheen"), the ancient Irish spirit that almost died out due to a more than three-century-long ban in its homeland. Happily, Intrepid Spirits has brought the traditional beverage back with Mad March Hare Poitín ($24.99). Launched in the U.S. a year ago, Mad March Hare snared a Double Gold at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition the same month as its debut.
Distilled in copper pots from locally sourced malted barley, Mad March Hare Poitín is said by its makers to be as flavorful as a barrel-aged brown spirit but as versatile as a white spirit. With a malt aroma, silken texture and honey-sweet finish, it can be served in everything from martinis to Bloody Marys.
The historic Midleton Distillery, part of the massive Irish Distillers group, introduced a singular product to the American market last autumn: Redbreast Lustau Edition ($69.99).
A member of the Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey family, Lustau is finished for one year in hand-selected, first-fill sherry butts from the Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. The bold, rich flavors of the Olorosa sherry and the distinctive notes of Spanish oak combine beautifully with the iconic Redbreast spices. With a nose of dark fruits, prunes and marzipan, this luxurious, creamy-textured whiskey offers a pleasingly long, sweet finish.
West Cork Distillers
Small, independent West Cork Distillers has been consistently producing some of Ireland's best whiskey, including its first two limited release whiskies: Black Reserve ($40) and Barrel Proof ($55), which debuted last fall. Just out is the West Cork Cask Collection, a trio of 12-year single malts that are finished in rum, sherry or port casks ($65 each).
The only Emerald Isle distillery to malt its own Irish grains, the venture takes a true craft approach to its whiskey production and benefits from its bucolic environment. "West Cork Distillers is located in a very remote part of Ireland," notes co-founder John O'Connell, "which enjoys a mesothermal microclimate ideal for the maturation of Irish whiskey. This -- coupled with the accessibility of superb, locally grown grain and the cleanest spring water -- allows us to bring the very best of Ireland together in our whiskeys."
Man cannot live by Irish whiskey alone, when by definition it must be allowed at least three years to mature. While waiting for the fermented grain mash to come of age, many whiskey producers offer up spirits with a sprightlier turnaround time, like gin.
Shed Distillery, which calls County Leitrim home, is debuting Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin ($36.99) this month in the U.S. Slow-distilled in a medieval copper pot with botanicals like star anise, cardamom and locally foraged meadowsweet, the gin is also vapor-infused with Oriental grapefruit (a hybrid of Indonesian pomelo and Jamaican sweet orange), Chinese lemon and gunpowder tea (a green tea with a slightly spicy flavor). The resulting spirit offers fresh notes of citrus up front followed by hints of juniper and the bold, bright gunpowder tea.