We love whiskey: Irish whiskeys to try

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From the March 15, 2012 edition

Jameson 12 Year Old Special Reserve ($42)

Distillery: New Midleton Distillery, County Cork, Ireland

Background: Midleton has the largest production capacity in Ireland, responsible for a number of pot still whiskeys, including Jameson — the most popular Irish whiskey in the world.

Tasting notes: Jameson’s 12 Year is one of the finest aged whiskeys under the Jameson brand. It has a bigger, slightly oily mouth-feel than the original. Balanced sherry and nutty notes are complemented by a subtle spice and toasted wood flavors.

Slainte: Jameson has more premium reserves, but this offers a bold flavor profile and smoothness at just the right price.

Redbreast 12 Year Old ($50)

Distillery: New Midleton Distillery, County Cork, Ireland

Background: Another brand from Midleton and truly one of best whiskeys (Irish or not) around. Aged in sherry casks and bourbon barrels, Redbreast is acclaimed for its intricate blend of flavors.

Tasting notes: Traces of honey and citrus and a bold spiciness give way to an unbelievably smooth caramel finish. The slight woody aroma carries through in the aftertaste nicely.

Slainte: Redbreast is a must-have for any whiskey aficionado, and even those new to whiskey will be blown away. The Redbreast 15 Year Old ($77) is more expensive, but gains a pleasing oily texture and more pronounced flavors from those extra years.

Concannon ($19)

Distillery: Concannon Vineyards (Livermore, California) and Cooley Distillery (County Louth, Ireland)

Background: This recently released Irish whiskey is a joint effort by an American winery (founded by an Irish immigrant in the 19th century) and the Cooley Distillery. Using Cooley’s blend of Irish grains and malts, it’s aged in bourbon casks for four years. The whiskey is then matured in Concannon’s petite sirah barrels.

Tasting notes: The wine-barrel aging provides an interesting flavor profile. Fruit is instantly noticeable on the palate, and the finish has subtle oak and vanilla notes.

Slainte: Using a nontraditional (and inventive) process results in a successful whiskey, but it could use a few more years in the bourbon casks for a smoother finish. Still, definitely worth sampling.

Bushmills 10 Year Old ($40)

Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Background: Bushmills is one of the oldest distilleries in the world, dating back to 1608, when King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillips a license to distill “uisce beatha,” Gaelic for “water of life.” Today we — appropriately — call this whiskey.

Tasting notes: Crafted from unpeated malted barley grains, Bushmills is a crisp, extremely light whiskey without any real smoky flavors. Aged in mostly bourbon casks, the 10 Year Old has honey, vanilla sweetness and a hint of wood.

Slainte: Bushmills is very different from the Midleton options, and maybe doesn’t have quite the complex flavors and spices, but it’s one of the easier whiskeys to drink.