On the rocks.
There are so many ways to enjoy whiskey nowadays, not to mention an ever-growing array of whiskeys to choose from. Thanks to the recent Irish whiskey revival, amazing new distilleries and drams have arrived onto the international spirits scene, with quality that lives up impressively to that of their predecessors. With new distilleries, moreover, have come new methods and ideas, in turn leading to revolutionary flavours and aromas, ready to be tasted by Irish whiskey fans the world over.
Understandably, many connoisseurs would argue that the best way to sample these new marvels of the Irish spirit market is in their purest form: no ice, no water, just a simple, golden dram, brimming with the full, unadulterated essence of the casks and distillates. There is, undeniably, a great deal of logic to this, and many whiskeys can – and should – be enjoyed neat. On the other hand, is there a case to be made for branching out and experimenting with extra elements? This is a debate that has been particularly divisive in the world of Scottish whiskey, where one side argues that on no account should ice or water be added, and the other hails the virtues of the subtle notes of flavour that are highlighted with the addition of even a few drops of water.
Whiskey cocktails, too, can be a controversial subject between traditionalists and experimentalists. After all, if water and ice are a no-no for some people, what sort of heinous blasphemies are ginger ale? Soda water? Orange juice? Elderflower liqueur? In fairness, some Irish whiskeys are better suited to mixing than others – some Bourbons and Scotches are produced specifically for mixing, in fact – and some are considered to be of far too fine a quality to have their rich, delicate flavours masked by others. With that, we’ve decided to throw our voice, and our recommendations, into the mix (pun very much intended).
Let’s start with neat whiskey. What could be more perfect than a warming dram, sipped slowly from the comfort of your favourite chair, on a cold evening? What could be more pleasing than to savour the deep notes of sweetness, spiciness or smokiness on the nose and palate? The classic, neat dram allows the taster to explore the true soul of the whiskey, allowing a full appreciation of the characteristics imparted by each distillery and each cask. Even if you do decide to mix these whiskeys out of personal taste, sampling a neat dram first is highly recommended, and can better inform how much you mix and what with. Outstanding neat drams from Irish Spirit include:
- Jameson Method & Madness Virgin Hungarian Oak Single Pot Still, lightly spiced and offering warming notes of toffee and smooth oak;
- Bushmills Sherry Cask Steamship, a rare and rich celebration of the 125th anniversary of the SS Bushmills’ maiden voyage;
- The Whistler 7 Year Old Blue Note, an award-winning, limited edition collector’s treasure, with a well-balanced, complex layering of flavours.
What exactly happens when water is added to whiskey? Purists say that it dilutes the dram, and weakens the flavour, but this is not necessarily the case. A few drops of water can help to underscore subtler notes of flavour that are often hidden, and in the case of cask strength whiskey, can help to soften the burn of alcohol on the palate and throat. Irish whiskeys that mix best with a little water are:
- Gathering First Bottling Single Malt, bottled at cask strength 53% and full of rich, autumnal fruit notes with a hint of menthol;
- Tyrconnell Sherry Finish, pleasantly powerful at 58.5% ABV and bottled to celebrate the inaugural Whisky Live Dublin Festival;
- Connemara Peated Irish Single Malt – this whiskey can be enjoyed neat for well-rounded smokiness, or with a little water to accentuate the fruitier notes.
Possibly even more divisive than water, ice should only be added to whiskey if the drinker specifically asks for it, or so someone in a bar once pronounced. Serving whiskey “on the rocks”, while certainly more refreshing than a dram at room temperature, can lack depth to many, as the ice lowers the temperature and suppresses the flavour and fragrance. Similar to adding water, ice helps to reduce the intensity of the alcohol in higher strength expressions, but has a greater impact on the overall taste and feel of the whiskey. One helpful workaround to this is “sipping stones”: simply chill these in the freezer before adding to your whiskey for a well-chilled dram without the inevitable dilution of melting ice. Fans of an ice-cold Irish dram may enjoy:
- Tullamore Dew, a smooth, lightly golden blended whiskey that makes for a delicious summer cooler when ice is added;
- Jameson Gold Reserve, a classic staple for Irish whiskey fans everywhere, and enjoyed as much neat as it is with water or ice;
- St Patrick’s Cask Strength Irish Whiskey, matured in bourbon barrels to give a rich colour and flavour, and bottled at cask strength to deliver an intense dram. It can be easily softened with ice without compromising heavily on taste.
Last, but by no means least, we come to the Irish whiskey cocktail; a category of recipes as new, exciting and ever-expanding as the whiskeys used to create them. Not every whiskey is suited for mixing with bolder flavours, but there are plenty of subtle and more versatile expressions out there that make for a solid and delicious cocktail foundation. Whether there are two, three or seven ingredients going into your Irish whiskey cocktail, the best starting points can be found in the following bottlings:
- Jameson Irish Whiskey, a simple but effective Irish bestseller all over the world. Its smooth, subtle flavour allows it to mix well with cola, ginger ale, and just about any flavoured liqueur you fancy;
- Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt, a deliciously delicate whiskey with citrus and floral notes perfect for a refreshing summer dram, mixed with either a little water or lemon and elderflower mixers for a fabulous cocktail;
- Powers Gold Label, matured in select American oak barrels and a popular choice for making hot cocktails, with cinnamon, citrus or honey added for those really cold nights.
However you take your whiskey – neat, on the rocks, or in a martini glass – there is an Irish whiskey to accommodate every taste, so that fans everywhere can sit down and debate their preferences amongst each other.