Whisky Advocate

Will 2008 be a “breakout” year for Irish whiskey?

January 20th, 2008

Not much has being going on in the Irish whiskey category over the past few years (particularly here in the U.S.). But, as Grace Slick said at Woodstock, “It’s a new dawn!” The stars are aligning properly to make 2008 the most exciting year this decade.

All the new whiskeys I mention below have already been reviewed for publication in Malt Advocate magazine’s Buyer’s Guide later this year and all have ratings of 90 or higher. The quality of these new whiskeys, from all three distilleries, is very high.

I mentioned most of these new whiskeys in my blog last year, but the time has come for them to finally start showing up on our retailers’ shelves. So it’s a good time to recap.

To start with, Bushmills, now comfortably under the Diageo umbrella, will be introducing to the U.S., in February, Bushmills 1608, a premium blend to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the Bushmills area (not the distillery) being granted a license to distill back in 1608. The unique selling point for this whiskey is that it was made with a portion of crystal malt, rather than the standard malt used by distillers.  Brewers will tell you that crystal malt adds some caramelized sweetness and color to their beer. Cost? About $100.

Not to be outdone by Bushmills, the Jameson brand, distilled at the Midleton distillery, has introduced Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. As I mentioned in my blog back in October when I visited the distillery, this is a new whiskey which completes the newly organized Jameson portfolio (12 year old Special Reserve, Gold Reserve, 18 year old Limited Reserve, and now Rarest Vintage Reserve).

Side note: those of you who have been drinking Irish whiskey for a decade will notice that they’ve brought back Jameson Gold, a great whiskey (part of which is aged in new American oak) that was available in the U.S. back in the late ’90s, but was then limited to Travel Retail (a.k.a. Duty Free).

In brief, the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve is a blend, like the other Jameson whiskeys, consisting of older grain whiskeys in addition to pure pot still whiskey (containing both malted and unmalted barley), some of which was aged entirely in ruby port casks (with the rest matured in second fill bourbon casks). I was told that the grain whiskey is 23-24 years old, with the pot still component being slightly younger. The whiskey is bottled at 46% and is not chill-filtered! Expect to pay around $250 for the Rarest Vintage Reserve and about $60 for the Gold Reserve.

Then there’s the Cooley distillery, with whiskey on the market finally reaching 15 years old. For years, the whiskey at Cooley has been good at best, because of young stocks and limited supply of stocks. The peated Connemara releases a few years back hinted at their potential greatness. Now the distillery has some amazing whiskeys of the non-peated variety too!

They are the Tyrconnell 10 year old Port Cask Finish and the 10 year old Madeira Cask Finish, both bottled at 46%. I was blown away by the quality of these whiskeys, especially the Madeira Cask Finish. I don’t have a price for them yet, but I can’t imagine they will be too expensive, given their relatively young age.

There are more Irish whiskeys coming out too, which I will elaborate on at a future date. But these five new/reintroduced whiskeys (Bushmills 1608, Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, Jameson Gold Reserve, Tyrconnell 10 year old Port Wood Finish, and Tyrconnell 10 year old Madeira Wood Finish) should help bring Irish whiskey out of the mothballs in 2008.

9 Responses to “Will 2008 be a “breakout” year for Irish whiskey?”

  1. Jack Teeling says:

    Thanks John for your entry on Irish whiskey.

    The US market is now officially the largest market in the world for Irish whiskey. However Irish whiskey still only accounts for a very small percentage of the overall whiskey market giving itself plenty of room for further growth.

    What has been lacking in the Irish whiskey segment has been choice. Cooley, as the only Independent Irish whiskey distillery, has been focusing on creating unique offerings within the segment to give consumers more choice but also to revive old Irish distilling techniques that were no longer in use. An example of this has been the re-introduction of Peat in the distilling process for our Connemara range of whiskeys (Reg, Cask Strength and 12 Year Old) as well as the Greenore range of Single Grain Irish whiskeys that will be launched in the US in 2008.

    We are very excited by the trade and consumer reaction to our experimental Tyrconnell Single Malt Wood Finishes. Jim Murray choose the Madeira Finish as the “Best Irish Whiskey” in his 2008 Whiskey Bible and the internet whiskey community of choose our Tyrconnell Sherry Finish as the “Best Irish Whiskey” in their 2007 Awards.

    2008 is our 21st birthday and we hope that our new whiskeys will give American whiskey consumers a welcome addition to their Irish whiskey collections.

  2. John Hansell says:

    Thanks Jack for the update. 21 years old. How time flies!

  3. Wayne Hartunian says:

    John, yes it has evolved into a very dynamic category and it is exciting to see all of the activity.

    Personally, I think Irish Whiskey has been having some “consecutive breakout years” as it continues to be far and away the fastest growing spirits category in the U.S., which clearly signals that popularity with consumers is growing at a fast pace.

  4. John Hansell says:

    Thanks Wayne. It’s always nice to hear a Pernod perspective. And you have a good point. I was thinking of new brand line extension rather than growth.

    No doubt your new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve will help to keep the momentum going.

  5. John Hansell says:

    I just heard from the brand manager for Cooley whiskeys and she informed me that the price of the Tyrconnell wood finish whiskeys will be about $70. Money well spent.

  6. Noel Sweeney says:

    Hi John, for a whiskey enthuiast like me its great to see the category expand, and I am looking forward to presenting our range at a Master Class at Whiskey fest in San Francisco in October 08.

  7. Martin Duffy says:

    Greetings John!

    I am also happy that we at Diageo will be celebrating Bushmills’ anniversary this year with a Master Class of the three single malts, as well as the Original, Black Bush and featuring the 1608 for the crowds at Whiskeyfest Chicago! Looking forward to seeing you then!

  8. John Hansell says:

    Noel, Marty,

    It will be an honor to have both of you sharing your Irish whiskey knowledge with us. The time is right. — John

  9. Patrick Scanlan says:

    Hola Esteemed Whiskey Catadors,
    To give you an idea of the come back of Irish Whiskey here in Spain.Seven years ago i opened my Irish bar Scanlan´s Tavern Gernika,specializing in Irish Whiskey,i now only stock Irish as that is what my customers want with Jameson being the house dram and Connemara being my signature Malt.I have since created what i believe to be the worlds largest”Pub”collection of Irish Malt Whiskie´s(150 approx).I am just one of many business around the world proving the Quality and saleability of Irish Malt Whiskey.Adios y Slainte !!

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