Cask Curriculum: The Luck of The Irish

Oh Ireland! The greenest island of them all, home to some of the friendliest people in the world, stunning scenery and no shortage of pubs everywhere you turn. With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, whisk(e)y drinkers are once again turning their attention to the Emerald Isle. And you know what? It’s about time!

As luck would have it, the Irish whiskey industry is experiencing a renaissance like never before. The recent explosion of new Irish craft distilleries and a return to high-quality production is but a gift to whiskey lovers all over the world. Here’s what you need to know about Irish whiskey and why a whisky club based in Edinburgh, Scotland could not be more excited to support its neighbors and their long overdue return to glory.

While the exact origin of whiskey in Ireland is still unclear, it is believed to have been Irish monks who first brought their secrets of distillation to Scotland centuries ago. By the 17th century, Irish whiskey had already earned the reputation as the best in the world and by the 18th century, claimed more than 1,000 distilleries. This is a staggering number when compared to the handful that exist today. But as time went by, a series of setbacks and rise of the Scottish blends nearly wiped out the Irish whiskey industry entirely. Of these setbacks, the most notable was the American Prohibition Era that lasted from 1920-1933. Refusing to sell its whiskey to the USA illegally, Ireland lost its largest market overnight, leading to the inevitable shutdown of the majority of licensed distilleries and near extinction.

Today, however, times are a changing. As luck would have it, a nation that for nearly a century relied on the success of low-quality blends to keep it afloat is finally returning to its traditional distilling ways. Thanks to the rising popularity of whiskey all over the world, Ireland is once again producing a variety of high quality blended, single malt and single pot still whiskeys.

This resurgence has not gone unnoticed at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. In response to growing demand from our members, last week we released three unique single cask, single malt whiskeys all from Ireland. While Irish single malts are generally triple distilled and in turn, lighter in character than your typical single malt Scotch, these whiskeys were uniquely double distilled. The result? A familiar, robust spirit with a unique Irish flair.

To demonstrate just how exciting single cask Irish whiskey can be, especially for Scotch lovers, we decided to release three casks that are not only from the same distillery, but have been matured in the same type of oak (all first fill bourbon barrels) and for a similar amount of time (15-16 years). The result is stunning.

Cask 51.8 ‘Funky flowers and tropical fruits’ showcases a characteristic common to many high-quality Irish single malts today: a lovely fresh and vibrant array of tropical fruit, vanilla syrup and herbs. If you enjoy the style of whisky produced in the Speyside and Highland regions of Scotland, you will likely find Cask 51.8 comfortably familiar but with an unmistakable Irish twist.

Cask 51.10 ‘Agave-induced invigoration’ is where the familiarity ends. What a unique whiskey this is! A light golden syrup, vanilla icing and a surprising yet delightful note of agave gives this whiskey a profile unlike anything we have seen in Scotch before. If you are one who enjoys challenging your senses, this fun and textured whiskey is the dram for you.

Cask 51.15 ‘Boiled sweets and cut flowers’ is what I view as the middle ground of the three distinctly Irish whiskeys. It has a sweet and floral and a unique palate that gives way to porridge, milk chocolate and apple sauce. A rich and robust dram with unchartered depth. One sip of this whisky and I find myself transported to a countryside cottage atop the lush, rolling hills of Ireland.  

With each cask offering a unique take on the classic Irish style, tasting all three in sequence is without a doubt the most fun and educational whiskey experience I’ve enjoyed this year. However you choose to celebrate this St. Patrick’s day, we hope you join us in raising a glass to our dear friends on the Emerald Isle for creating this fantastic spirit called Irish whiskey!

Sláinte!

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