St. Patrick’s Day may have come and gone. But Irish whiskey is forever.
As my good friends know, I’m not the kind of person who waits until the week of March 17 to start appreciating the amber gems from the Emerald Isle. And while there are steadfast brands that I continually seek out—Jameson, Teeling, Tyrconnell, and Tullamore D.E.W—I’m always in search of new distilleries and new expressions. After all, finding (or even rediscovering) whiskeys is one of the most thrilling things about covering the spirits beat.
So here are some of my latest favorites: Two are relatively new (Knappogue and Red Spot) while J.J. Corry “The Gael” is from last year (its second expression, The Fintlock, is launching soon). And because I love all things peaty, I wanted to keep Connemara top of mind despite the fact that it’s been around for a while.
I’ve never had a Knappogue expression I didn’t like. But this one, which was just launched in the American market, is extra special. The 92-proof limited-release starts out as a regular 12-year whiskey matured in ex-bourbon barrels for at least 12 years—before being finished in Marco de Bartoli Marsala casks. And let me tell you, it was fantastic. So much so that I had three drams the night I first tried it. It was smooth, deep, and surprisingly sweet in a subtly fruit-forward way. I appreciated that it was far from aggressive on the palate. (In my opinion, the Marsala cask tasted even better than the Château Pichon Baron finish—Knappogue’s other new release.) The finish may not have lingered but it was stellar nonetheless.
One thing to note: This expression was discontinued around 50 years ago. So there’s been a lot of excitement around its reimagined comeback. The much-anticipated return of Midleton’s Red Spot first made whiskey news in the UK last November, but the triple cask expression finally made its way to the United States just this month. And it’s certainly unlike most Irish whiskeys. It’s bolder, spicier, fuller, and infinitely more robust. So if you’re partial to rye, you’re likely to love Red Spot—there are strong multi-layered peppery notes to it. Bottled at 46% ABV (92 proof), the whiskey was based on an old recipe from the archives. And this new iteration was triple-distilled (much like most Irish whiskeys) before being matured for at least 15 years in three different kinds of casks: ex-bourbon, oloroso Sherry, and Marsala. So the only real question I had was: How did a whiskey that spent time in Sherry and Marsala casks end up this peppery? I may never know or understand the scientific answer to that. But all I can tell you is that it’s damn good.
Connemara Peated Single Malt is not new, but I’ve noticed that when people (from within the spirits industry and out) talk about Irish whiskey, Connemara is almost always left out of the conversation. But that shouldn’t be the case. The whiskey is at once complex and smooth and balanced. It’s also unmistakably peaty—but not in the way Islay Scotches are. Connemara’s peatiness is bold but a little less aggressive, with a very faint hint of honey-like sweetness on the palate. Less iodine and more earth. All in all, I do think that Connemara ought to be a staple in every liquor cabinet. And with an SRP of just $75, why the hell not?
J.J. Corry is the “newest” one in the lot, in the sense that it doesn’t have the benefit of being made by distillers who have been around for eons. Instead, the whiskey is a product of Ireland’s first modern whiskey bonder—Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey. Louise McGuane founded the company four years ago and purchases new make Irish whiskey to mature in the Rackhouses in the McGuane family farm. But enough about that. Let’s talk about the whiskey. It’s comprised of 5 percent 26-year-old single malt, 27.5 percent 11-year-old single malt, 27.5 percent 15-year-old single malt, and 40 percent seven-year-old single grain whiskey. And it’s infinitely drinkable—smooth, easy, barley-tastic, and with the kind of rounded mouthfeel I wouldn’t have expected of such a spirit. And if you find yourself liking it as much as I do, move fast. There are only 7,500 bottles of The Gael.