Whiskey galore


IN KEEPING WITH the Buy Irish campaign, I intend switching my allegiance from Cognac and other foreign spirits to Irish whiskey this Christmas. I doubt that my meagre consumption will make any difference, but you never know, writes John Wilson

Most whiskey drinkers know the basic blends very well, but if you spend a little more, what can you expect? I tasted a dozen or so mid-range Irish whiskeys to see what an extra €20 to €50 would buy. Most would make ideal Christmas presents, but they are an excellent way to finish off a meal. It is worth paying a visit to your local spirits specialist; some have an amazing selection of single-cask and other one-off rarities.

Bushmills Black Bush (€32) has always been one of my favourite drops - full, rich and rounded, with a lovely mix of fruits and deep woody flavours. It is still one of the best blends around, and very reasonably priced. The Bushmills 16-year-old single malt (€75) is also an exceptional whiskey, with intense flavours of toasty wood, cut through with a beguiling citrus zest note.

New to me was the superb The Irishman Superior, with its Christmas cake nose, and delicious sweet raisin and fig palate, crossed with a very subtle smokiness. Great value at €32.50 from specialist spirit retailers.

Many years ago, I was present at the inception of the most recent version of Mitchell's Green Spot (€45), a distinctive whiskey adored by many aficionados. Next up Jameson, which has a range of four reserve whiskeys. The Jameson 12-year-old Special Reserve (€37) is brilliant value, elegant and classy with a subtle honey and chocolate character. The Jameson 18-year-old Special Reserve is even better, but not cheap at €125. However, you could create your own tasting, as The Celtic Whiskey Shop, O'Briens and other specialists have the reserves collection, a 200ml bottle of the three Reserves for €99.

Moving up a little in price, the Tyrconnell Port Cask 10-year-old single malt has some intense plum and raisin flavours that combine with woody notes to produce a really excellent whiskey. At €75.30 (The Celtic Whiskey Shop), it offers real class at a reasonable price. If you are buying for the man or woman who has it all, you need to splash out on a bottle of Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (€400), an incredible whiskey that somehow manages to combine a wonderful smoothness with an explosion of complex flavours that seem to multiply for minutes after the liquid has disappeared down your throat. jwilson@irishtimes.com