Irish Whiskey

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - March 24, 2006
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While many people enjoy a taste of Ireland’s most famous stout, there are a couple of other impressive beverages that come from the old country.

Ireland lays claim to inventing whiskey; and yes, they spell it as the Americans do, with an “e.”

St. Patrick is credited with creating the method of distilling that turns barley, water and yeast into whiskey, and while the Scots may argue that their water of life was the first to tempt palates, there’s no denying the impressive history of distilling in Ireland, and no disputing the documentation that proves The Old Bushmills Distillery has been making whiskey since 1608.

Located in the town of Bushmills, the eponymous distillery blends some of the best whiskey in the world - principally in Black Bush. Bushmills the town is one of those villages in Northern Ireland that remain remarkably untouched by progress, and the town square looks much as it might have hundreds of years ago, with narrow streets and family-run businesses that have been handed down through generations.

Black Bush is really a benchmark for blended whiskey, and it demonstrates the powerful effects of cask aging in its use of oloroso sherry casks. It’s probably not a bad guess that some outstanding sherry precedes the whiskey in these wooden barrels (I have no idea where in Spain the casks are sourced), but the result is a magnificently balanced blend. The evidence of the sherry is apparent on the initial nose, but the remarkable thing about Black Bush is the depth beyond the initial fruit and sweetness. There are layers of intricate flavors at work, and the soft, smooth, somewhat peppery, spicy finish leads the drinker through a most pleasant journey. There are even a few floral notes that manage to peek through. If you don’t have a bottle of Black Bush in your collection, then you’re missing something that demonstrates the essence of a classically blended whiskey.

Bushmills 16-year-old is another whiskey worthy of a lingering look. I always think of this whiskey as one that bees would follow if they could. It has a lovely perfume on the nose; the more immediate aroma is nutty and spicy, but beyond that I always seem to find a light, flowery whisp of perfume that balances the nose so beautifully. There’s a lot of raisiny, chewy fruit on the palate, and most of that comes from the fact that this whiskey boasts a triple wood finish. Bourbon casks, sherry butts and port pipes are all used with great dexterity in the finishing of this very approachable blend. If you enjoy the complexity of blended whiskey, then Bushmills 16-year-old demonstrates a lovingly orchestrated work.

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