5 Unusual Irish Whiskey Christmas Presents
Stuart, What whiskeys would you reccomend as Irish Whiskey Christmas Presents to buy for my whiskey-mad Friend, Relative, Colleague etc…?
Without doubt, this is one of the most common questions that I get asked again and again at this time of year by my friends from outside the world of whiskey who are aware of my whiskey blogger background.
I think that we should start by asking what makes a good Christmas present in the first place? In general, Christmas presents can be generous, but should never be too extravagant. It should be obvious that the buyer has put some thought into their choice of present and so, ideally, there should be something unusual or special about the gift chosen.
I always think that the best gifts to receive are not just the ones that I would like to buy myself, but often the ones that I might never buy for myself, because of either cost or habit. For example, if I am a fan of light or milk chocolate, then that’s generally what I buy for myself. So, maybe the best gift for me would be an unusual dark chocolate that I can afford, but would never think of buying or trying for myself.
Sometimes the best gifts are not just the familiar favourites, but the gifts that bring us on a new journey for better or worse. Ones that take you outside the safety of your comfort zone.
Avoid the “Safe Buy” Whiskeys
There are many safe comfort-zone Irish Whiskeys all of which make nice corporate gifts. Think Yellow Spot, Powers John’s Lane, older Bushmills etc. All very fine high quality Irish Whiskeys, but also all very familiar to any Irish Whiskey aficionado who probably has a bottle or two of each already in their whiskey cabinet at home.
My suggestion this year is to bypass the safe buys and look at the unusual, the rare, the pricey-but worth it and the whiskeys that a whiskeyphile might not like enough to buy for themselves but would love to have a sample of in their collection.
The Unusual – Glengarrif Series Bog Oak and Peat Charred Cask Whiskeys from West Cork Distillers
I included the Glengarrif series of Charred Cask Whiskeys from West Cork Distillers in an article earlier this year on 16 Great Irish Whiskeys for Beginners. In that article I referred to West Cork Distillers as the “Skunk Works” or Centre of Excellence for Cutting Edge Irish Whiskey Innovation. I first heard about their Charred Cask project when I was kindly invited to visit the distillery two years ago. Using a process developed in-house by West Cork Distillers, casks are flame-charred infused with bog oak and peat.
The results of this innovative process are quite impressive and have recently appeared on the market as the Glenfgarrif series of two West Cork Single Malts finished in Irish Bog Oak charred and Irish Peat charred casks respectively. Much of the unique flavour of these whiskeys comes from the finish casks, char infused with the character and flavour of the bog oak or peat.
Prices for whiskeys of this quality are a steal at just €40 which is why I am suggesting that an even better Christmas present would be to gift both together in one present as a brace of Glengarriffs! But if I had to choose one, I’d recommend the Bog Oak in its quirky brown glass bottle.
The Expensive -Sonny Molloys’ Redbreast 16 Year Old Single Cask
Sonny Molloy’s is not alone one of the best whiskey bars in Galway City, it is also one of the best whiskey bars in Ireland and received the Irish Whiskey Trail “Whiskey Bar of the Year” award earlier this year on Irish Whiskey Day – 3rd March. Sonny Molloy’s have had a longstanding Association with the Midleton Distillery and are one of just a few Irish Whiskey bars to host an entire collection of Midleton Very Rare bottles including the very rare and expensive Midleton Pearl.
They have now joined forces with Midleton to release an exclusive Sonny Molloys edition of Redbreast 16 Single Pot Still Whiskey at a cask strength. Normally Redbreast comes in 12, 15 and 21 Year Old age statements.
Aged in a 500 litre Spanish Oak sherry cask, only 570 bottles have been yielded from cask #10351. The result is a limited-edition and truly collectable whiskey. Just 200 bottles have been released for general sale by Sonny Molloy’s at the exclusive price of €345. Each bottle forms part of an exclusive gift set, featuring two specially engraved Galway Irish Crystal tumblers and a certificate of authenticity, endorsed by Midleton’s Master Distiller, Brian Nation who attended the launch night in Galway a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately because of a prior committment, I was unable to attend the launch event, but Sonny Molloys were kind enough to send me a small tasting sample which I will review in more detail over at WhiskeyBlogger.com in coming weeks.
But I can tell you now that this Redbreast 16 represents the Midleton Masters at the very top of their game and is worth every penny of it’s very expensive price, especially as it comes in a quite luxurious Gift Pack as can be seen in the above video courtesy of Sonny Molloys Instagram account. A generous but very special Irish Whiskey Christmas Present.
I might not buy one myself, but I’d love one as a Present! – Teeling Single Pot Still
It’s hard to believe that the Teeling whiskey company is only 5 years old as both their main stream offerings of small batch, single malt and single grain and their premium offerings of Brabazon and Revival are all now firmly embedded in the Irish Whiskey psyche as if they have been around for 100 years.
The Teeling Distillery in Dublin’s Liberties is now just over three years old (the minimum age for Irish Whiskey) which means that the first Teeling Whiskey from their own distillery, a single pot still whiskey, can now be released for sale.
This is the first commercial release of Teeling Single Pot Still Whiskey, produced from a recipe of 50% un-malted barley and 50% malted barley, which Teeling say is a uniquely Irish mash bill made famous by Dublin distillers of old.
Distilled in 2015 in the Teeling Whiskey Distillery and aged in a range of virgin oak, ex-bourbon and ex-wine casks, this release possesses a distinct Pot Still taste profile unique to Teeling. Batch 1 of the Teeling Single Pot Still was bottled in October 2018 and is limited to 6,000 bottles. Normally Single Pot Still whiskeys have been the preserve of Irish Distillers, so this is one of the very first of several new single pot still Irish whiskeys to be produced by the independent Irish Whiskey distilleries. Several more will follow from other Irish distilleries next year.
I have tasted this Teeling Single Pot Still just once, a few weeks ago in the Dingle Whiskey bar in Dublin and I found the taste, even for a very young whiskey to be “interesting” to say the least. There’s a lot going on here in the nose, taste and finish, especially on the single pot still spicy side, but I also encountered a pronounced metallic tang that would put me off buying it as a drinking whiskey for myself. I’m not the only whiskey reviewer to comment on the unique taste of this new whiskey. Many of my colleagues ascribe it to the fact that the whiskey is just three years old and that it just needs another while in the casks. I’m not sure I agree that this is the main issue, as I’ve tasted plenty of new make spirit and immature single pot still without the presence of this intriguing new element.
Normally, if I happen to personally not like a particular whiskey, I just don’t write about it. But this is a special and unique Irish Whiskey in so many other areas, that I had to include it. It may just need a few more years in the cask to reach it’s full potential, or it may indeed be the new “Laphroaig” of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey with fans on both sides of the argument. Or, it may just be me.
Either way, it is a super project. Would I buy a bottle myself @ €55 a pop? Having tasted it just once, probably not. But would I like to recive one as a present to explore and disect further at my leisure? Absolutely! Any Irish Whiskey aficionado including myself would be thrilled to find one of these unique and very special pieces of Irish Whiskey history in their Christmas stocking this year.
The Rare and Unique – Portmagee 9 Year Old Barbados Rum Cask Finish
Ok, declaration of interest time. As one of the owner – directors of Portmagee Whiskey, I had a part in working with Brian and the wonderful team in Great Northern Distillery in the design, blend and maturation of this fairly unique Nine Year Old Irish Whiskey which has just been released on the Irish whiskey market in extremely limited amounts.
As a whiskey aficionado and reviewer, I wanted us to create an Irish Whiskey that had the style and substance to appeal to an experienced whiskey fan, but would be approachable and easy drinking for an Irish Whiskey beginner.
We started with a terrific nine year old single grain as the blank canvas for a Barbados Dark Rum Cask Finish and added some thirteen year old Irish single malt to give the finished blend even more depth and character. Another unique touch is that the whiskeys are all married to the correct blend proportions in the rum casks rather than maturing seperately and blended before bottling as is often the case. Despite its age and finish, Portmagee Whiskey is quite light in colour as we have decided not to add any of the normally permitted caramel artificial colouring. Nor is it Chill filtered.
I have been absolutely delighted with the finished whiskey and even more so by the very positive reviews received so far.
Batch one was a limited edition release of just 399 individually numbered bottles, for sale only in Portmagee Village and the local South Kerry region and the majority of these at €65 have already been snapped up by collectors, keen to add a unique 9 Year Old Irish Whiskey to their collection. Batch two follows in January 2019 with a larger release of a Non Age Statement Portmagee (also with Barbados Cask Finish) due for general release in Ireland and abroad in Q2, 2019.
The Unusual – Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt Mizunara Oak Finish
Glendalough Whiskey have taken a thirteen year old single malt Irish Whiskey and finished it for one year in Mizunara oak casks from Japan. The Mizunara casks which can cost over €5,000 each were hand crafted by the oldest cooper in Japan at Japan’s only independent cooperage at Ariake on Hokkaido Island.
Mizunara Oak from Mizu (water) and nara (oak) is considered the Rolls Royce of Japanese Whiskey Casks as the softness of wood and wide grain allow the casks to breathe whiskey to a much greater intensity than European or American oak casks. The trees must be two hundred years old before they are harvested
I love the distinct slightly resinish flavour which is typical of Mizunara with pronounced notes of incense, coconut and especially sandalwood. It can be difficult to influence the already stong flavour profile of a thirteen year old single malt whiskey, but the Mizunara cask finish complements and enhances rather than overpowers the malt in this wonderful expression.
Glendalough Mizunara is a whiskey to open for special occasions. Every glass is packed with wonderfully unusual flavours quite unlike any other Irish Whiskey finish. At around €100, it’s a special Christmas present, but one any Irish Whiskey Collector would treasure and well, well worth the extra investment.
The Teeling, Glendalough and Glengarriff whiskeys are all available from the usual Irish whiskey outlets or online for shipping outside Ireland from the Celtic Whiskey Shop.
Portmagee 9 is available in Portmagee, Valentia, Caherciveen and South Kerry and also by the glass in the Hotel Minella in Clonmel.
Sonny Molloys Redbreast 16 Cask Strength is available to buy from Sonny Molloys Bar in Galway.
Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2019.
Stuart McNamara is a Whisky and Whiskey Blogger. Stuart is the owner and Editor in Chief of WhiskeyBlogger.com, IrishWhiskey.com, The Irish Whiskey Trail, The Dublin Whiskey Trail, Irish Whiskey Way Atlantic Coast Whiskey Trail , Haig Whisky and The Scottish Whisky Trail. Follow Stuart @WhiskeyBlogger on Social Media.