I have always had a fondness for the warm and complex flavour of Irish whiskey. The history of this beloved spirit is intertwined with the magical history of Ireland itself, from the ancient Celts to the modern day. I first encountered it in the 1990s with Bushmills Black and Green, which was served at the restaurant I was a sommelier in. 

Legend has it that the Celts first brought the art of distillation to Ireland in the 12th century, although there is evidence that the process may have been practised even earlier. The Celts revered their spirits, believing them to be gifts from the gods, and they were careful to distil them only in the purest of copper stills.

Over time, the art of Irish whiskey-making evolved, and by the 16th century, there were over 2,000 distilleries operating throughout the country. One of the most famous of these was the Old Bushmills Distillery, founded in 1608 by Sir Thomas Phillips. Located on the banks of the River Bush in Northern Ireland, this distillery quickly gained a reputation for producing some of the finest whiskey in the world.

But the road to success was not always easy for Bushmills. In the 17th century, a series of wars and taxes made it difficult for Irish distillers to compete with their Scottish counterparts, and many distilleries were forced to close their doors. However, the strong and resilient Irish spirit refused to be quenched, and by the 18th century, the industry was back on the rise.

Despite the challenges that the Irish whiskey industry has faced over the years (the number of whiskey distilleries went down to a mere 3 at one point in the 1990s) it has remained a source of pride for the people of Ireland. Today, there has been a resurgence and Irish whiskey is more popular than ever, with a wide range of brands and styles available to suit every taste. It is an exciting category, with pioneering owners, such as Mark Reynier at Waterford, producing whiskey from single farms to demonstrate the terroir of those individual farms. 

Green Spot whiskey is a single-pot still Irish whiskey that is produced by Mitchell & Son. It is made using a blend of malted and unmalted barley that is distilled three times in traditional copper pot stills. The whiskey is then aged for a minimum of seven years in a combination of first-fill bourbon casks, sherry casks, and Malaga casks. The resulting whiskey has a smooth and complex flavour profile and is one of the benchmarks for Irish whiskey. In addition to the standard Green Spot expression, the distillery also produces several other expressions, including Yellow Spot, Red Spot, and Blue Spot.

Perhaps one of the most notable and highly sought-after Irish whiskey brands is Redbreast, which was first introduced in 1903 by the W&A Gilbey company. Redbreast was originally a pure pot still whiskey, meaning that it was made entirely from malted and unmalted barley and distilled in a traditional copper pot still. This method of production gave Redbreast its distinctive flavour and texture, which quickly earned it a loyal following among whiskey enthusiasts.

Method and Madness is a truly exciting brand from Midleton. They use untraditional cask finishes such as cherry wood, French chestnut or mulberry to produce very unique and distinctive whiskey that I love. Whiskey should be about challenging the norm and experimenting,  regulations permitting, which they do superbly. I am looking forward to doing a feature on them in the near future. 

Teeling was founded in 2012 and is located in Dublin It is easily accessible on foot and has quickly become a tourist favourite for its distillery tours. One of the unique aspects of Teeling is its commitment to innovation and experimentation. The brand has been known to experiment with unconventional ageing techniques and cask finishes, which has resulted in some truly unique and flavorful whiskeys. I visited a couple of years ago and you can read my feature here.

Irish whisky doesn’t command as much shelf space as Scotch, so the online opening of The Single Malt Shop, headquartered in Dublin is a welcome addition. They kindly hosted an eye-opening dinner recently at Robin Gill’s Darby’s restaurant in London. I was particularly keen to attend given some of the single cask and unique whiskies we would be tasting, of which 3 were unique to them. In between delicious nibbles, we were treated to an eclectic mix of which I shall start with my clear favourites, as they truly shone. 

Redbreast 22-Year-Old Single Cask – £385

This showed an incredibly intense and complex nose of Oloroso sherry, cinnamon, mahogany, and cherries following through on the palate with ripe figs drizzled with honey, hazelnuts and Christmas pudding. I even found notes of ripe bananas. A wonderful whiskey that brought a smile to everyone at my table. 

Method & Madness Japanese Cedarwood – £91

All I can say is wow. Buy this immediately as it is so unusual, yet wonderful. My notes, copied verbatim, read  “Pears and bananas!!! What an incredible nose!!! Just unique and wonderful. Buy!! Overcooked cabbage in a nice way! Bubble gum. So smooth Caraway seed. So different and interesting. Lovely” I was clearly very excited about this whisky and I will be buying a bottle to share amongst whisky-loving friends as it is so unique and astonishingly good. Your thoughts may differ, but I was certainly not the only one in the room who fell in love with this. 

Green Spot 10-Year-Old (a 300-bottle release) – £283

I have veered away from Green Spot in the past as I find the name a little off-putting, but am definitely in their camp now. I got lemon meringue pie on the nose and ripe mango. It has been aged in an ex ex-bourbon cask and shows a powerful and interesting palate of spicy and stone fruits with hints of vanilla. Rather nice but one for the brand’s die-hard fans given its price. 

Bushmills 2002 Vermouth Cask, Causeway Collection – £212

This is the world’s first-ever vermouth cask-finished Irish single malt whiskey release so I was keen to try it. The whiskey was matured in oloroso sherry butts and bourbon barrels for over 18 years, then aged for nearly two years in unique vermouth casks from the Piedmont region of Italy. The vermouth cask gave it lots of marmalade and vanilla flavours, in a sophisticated and delicate way. I found it to be quite herbaceous and nutty. 

Teeling Wonders of Wood Series II, Portuguese Oak – £65

This whiskey has been fully matured in Virgin Portuguese Oak casks which are native to the Iberian Peninsula and boast a naturally higher tannin content than other variants. It had a powerful nose of rich caramel and vanilla like a creme brûlée. Lighter on the palate than the nose suggests and maybe a little thin. Baked apples with baking spices shone through on the palate alongside some baking spices. I found it to be a little out of balance in relation to the alcohol and spice. I would have preferred more fruit to be prevalent. To purchase any of the above, or explore more Irish whiskies in-depth, visit https://thesinglemaltshop.com.