THE LIGHT MUSIC OF WHISKEY

Power's Gold Label with its three swallows. As my grandad would have known it.

Everybody knows by now that Irish whiskey is on a roll and serious money – making and maturing the stuff is not cheap – is being put into new distilleries all over the country. But I’d like to pay tribute to Irish Distillers for the faith they have consistently shown in our very own uisce beatha over the years.

The fact is that Irish whiskey nearly died out in the 1960s; the only market was domestic and Scotch had taken the US by storm after World War II. Things were so desperate that all the surviving distillers amalgamated in 1966 and this combined company was bought by the French global drinks empire Pernod-Ricard in the late 1980s.

Since then, they have backed Irish whiskey with such force that it’s now the fastest growing spirit on the planet, largely thanks to Jameson.

But Irish Distillers is not just about Jameson. For years I couldn’t figure out why they had chosen that brand to spearhed the sector; I thought they should have gone with Power’s but now I realise my mistake. Jameson has the style that weans people off other drinks; Power’s with its delicious pot still character is more complex and perhaps, therefore, a bit more demanding.

Irish Distillers were very single-minded about Jameson for many years but now they are impressively innovative, the latest manifestation of this being the Method and Madness whiskeys which have just been bottled.

Here are some fabulous whiskeys to try – from the entry level Power’s to a connoisseur’s collectable. All will produce what James Joyce (a Jameson drinker) referred to as “the light music of whiskey falling into glasses. An agreeable interlude”. That’s from his story “Grace” in Dubliners, an agreeable read.
 

Power’s Gold Label Irish Whiskey
€26 to €33, very widely available

This was my grandfather’s favourite whiskey, always consumed with a Sweet Afton. For years I thought of it as an oul’ fella’s whiskey, rough enough to compete with untipped smokes. And then I tasted it one day in Bow Street. It was a revelation. A toffeeish sweetness from the Bourbon casks, a peachy, distinctly pot still character despite being a grain/malt blend, and a terrific length. I was an immediate convert and have never looked back.
 

Catch it while you can...

Power’s 1817 10 Year Old Single Pot Still Whiskey
Pubs only

he first Mr Power was an inn keeper so it seems appropriate that Irish Distillers are marking the bicentenary of the LVA with this special release, limited to 5,000 bottles and available through pubs only, while it lasts. The obvious thing it has in common with the entry level Power’s is that wonderful sweet vanilla and there’s clear pot still character there too, less peach and more ripe apple. Irish Distillers themselves refer to spices like nutmeg and black pepper, which I get, but there’s also a lovely touch of toasted marshmallow!
 

Method and Madness Single Grain Whiskey
€49, independents

From the microdistillery in Midleton this is Irish Distillers’s first ever single grain (as against single malt) whiskey and it has been finished in virgin Spanish oak, adding further layers of spice to the vanilla of the Bourbon casks in which it has spent most of its maturation. The distillery has just had its first qualified cooper graduate in over forty years and I suspect that he – Killian O’Mahony – had quite a hand in the new casks here. Lovely smokey character.

 

Method and Madness Single Pot Still Whiskey
€69, independents

Like the single grain version, this whiskey has been non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% abv. It started life in a mixture of former Oloroso sherry casks and Bourbon casks (which are filled only once with Bourbon, hence the strong oaky influence). In a world first, the whiskey is then finished in French chestnut casks that have deepened the colour and, according to the distiller, lightens the mouthfeel while deepening the flavour. It’s certainly very woody but there’s also a lighter side: herbs and tropical fruit.

 

Method and Madness Single Malt Irish Whiskey
€79, independents

Another first for Irish Distillers who have always in the past shied away from the idea of single malts. It started in all Bourbon casks and then a proportion of it was finished in new Limousin oak casks, the sort favoured by the great winemakers of France. It has lovely Bourbon sweetness and spice, the French oak imparting a certain unexpected delicacy. I love the faint aroma of malted milk biscuits and the suggestion of childhood barley sugar.

 

Method and Madness 31 Year Old, Single Cask Single Malt Whiskey
€1500, from April 2017

I have to confess that I didn’t get to taste it as this very rare whiskey – from just one cask! – is not available yet. But I have notes from Irish Distiller’s Billy Leighton which are mouthwatering. He refers to black liquorice on the nose, creamy honey, wood spice and melon on the palate, and a very, very long dark, woody finish. Well at this price it will be savoured by very few and they will appreciate the additional length!