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