Sunday 16 March, 2014

Do St. Patrick’s Day Right: Try A New Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

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I’ve been waiting for the right time (read: procrastinating) to post about a recent Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey tasting I got to sit in on with Mr. Brian Nation, Master Distiller of the New Midleton Distillery a few weeks back during the impressive Golden State of Cocktails event in Los Angeles–and if St. Patrick’s […]




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I've been waiting for the right time (read: procrastinating) to post about a recent Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey tasting I got to sit in on with Mr. Brian Nation, Master Distiller of the New Midleton Distillery a few weeks back during the impressive Golden State of Cocktails event in Los Angeles--and if St. Patrick's Day isn't the right time, I don't know what is.

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While most people tend to celebrate St. Pat's by focusing on quantity, I'd like to make a polite but impassioned plea to focus on quality instead. Ever since I wrote a story a couple years back following around and tasting with an ambassador for Nation's company (technically the Irish Distillers unit of Pernod-Ricard, but best known as the makers of Jameson's), I've been increasingly impressed with the refinement and expression available in Irish Whiskies, which have been rather underappreciated arguably ever since the Scots began dominating the brown spirits category in the 1960s (if not even prior to that, when inferior bootleg "Irish" whiskey degraded the reputation during Prohibition, and then Canadian blends and others using the Coffey column still promoted consistency over depth in the '50s).

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At long last, the 2000s have seen a serious uptick in Irish appreciation (particularly in regard to Jameson's) which has made them a bit of a "new" product to many. And even while I have enjoyed Jameson's with Irish friends for years, I confess I never went much farther beyond 12 Year myself--partially because very little else was widely available in the US. Now, Jameson's makers have smartly begun responding to the popularity with new bottlings that are more than novelties or collector-bait.

Nation's tasting focused on a range of newly released--or new to the US--Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys, a recent classification (previously known as Pure Pot Still Whiskey--US authorities apparently squeamish of that word 'Pure') that should not be confused with the Scots term "Single Malt." SPS whiskeys are uniquely Irish, and almost uniquely made under the imprimatur of Nation, who took over last year from Barry Crockett, the near-legendary long time distiller at Midleton, "Instrumental in maintaining the pot still heritage," as Nation says. Rather than made from a single malt, in fact they are made from a recipe of malted and unmalted "green" barley, which contributes a creamy, silky mouthfeel and a variety of spicy and cereal-like notes. Historically, the style first rose in the 18th century when malt was what was taxed by the English government (hence, half-malted whiskey was cheaper to produce) and continued through the 19th, keeping the traditional copper stills until the Jameson's brand finally adopted column still blending. Not that there's anything wrong with that--blending rescued the nearly defunct Irish whiskey industry (which still maintained its tradition of triple distillation)--but for years, it was only the Redbreast 12 year (originally a Gilbey's brand) and obscure Green Spot (originally marketed by a Dublin whiskey broker) that maintained the pure pot still tradition.

Now, Nation is able to share Powers John's Lane, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, a much increased capacity Green Spot, and Redbreast 21 years, produced in newly hand-hammered 75,000 litre specially designed stills.

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Powers John's Lane is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels, which are classified by how many times they are refilled (1, 2, 3), contributing strong vanilla and toasted wood notes as one would suspect, and a little in sherry casks, then non-chill filtered. This results in an earthy, leathery vanilla-chocolate nose, and a bold mouth of spicebox, cinnamon, treacle and a very long smooth honey finish. A bit of water brings more floral notes, warmth and wood.

Midleton Barry Crockett, paying tribute to its maker, builds on the values of Midleton Rare (for my money, the single finest Irish Whiskey, and well worth its cost), combining three styles of distillate, aged for 10-20 years in B1 Bourbon barrels, and a bit in virgin oak for some extra bite. I didn't get much of a nose on this, though the official notes offer an "elegant aroma of vanilla and toasted oak...lime...pears," etc. However the mouth was a lovely melange of soft green pepper, milky caramel-canela and cloved orange peel with a long vegetal finish.

Green Spot, just re-launched last month, is the most impressive and best value of the bunch, if for no other reason than its unique qualities. This is like no other whiskey I've experienced. A blend of whiskies aged 6-10 years in B1, B2 and sherry casks, Green Spot offers a surprising nose of dried apricots, figs and raisins as well as a whiff of cider, giving way to a mouth of apples and orchard fruits, caramel, green pepper and bits of rosehip and chocolate. Water smooths out the profile while bringing the pepper forward. Arresting.

Redbreast 21 years is actually a blend of 21-28 year old whiskies aged again in B1 and sherry casks, following the success of the limited 15 years release. This is a big bouncy, very full bodied blend with a nose of nuts and dried fruits, cherry in particular, and a funky mouth of spices, savory herbs, caraway and a long woody-sweet finish. Water brings the dried fruit notes into center stage, and accents a creamy caramel feel.

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Nation tells us that his company plans to release two new expressions and/or brands every year until 2021. Crazy? We'll see. Quality like this should certainly sell itself.

SinglePotStill.com


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