Building Your First Irish Whiskey Collection
Building Your First Irish Whiskey Collection
Since I launched Irish Whiskey .Com a few years ago as an online Irish Whiskey portal, one of the unexpected benefits has been the fun that I have had from engaging online with Irish Whiskey Fans from all over the world. Many were whiskey newbies and to be honest, they were my original audience as I set out on a personal crusade to “de-mystify” Irish Whiskey for beginners. To my surprise, I have also gathered a great gang of experienced whiskey folks and Irish Whiskey aficionados, many of whom have become good friends down through the years.
The two main questions I am always asked by both beginners and aficionados are:
- Where are the best Irish Whiskey spots to see when visiting Ireland and……
- If I was building a personal Irish Whiskey collection or adding an Irish Whiskey element to my own pub or bar, what would make up a good whiskey card of say twenty or so Irish Whiskeys.
I addressed the first issue by developing the Irish Whiskey Trail , Dublin Whiskey Trail and Irish Whiskey Way websites, which promote the top Irish Whiskey Tourism hot spots on the island of Ireland, in Dublin City and along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal drive on Ireland’s west coast.
I admit that I had a selfish motive for creating these Irish Whiskey Trails, as it saves me from writing the same “Hot Tips” email 500 to 600 time a year to readers planning their Irish Whiskey focussed vacations.
And so, to the second question –
How to start your own Irish Whiskey Collection.
One of the nice things about sharing whiskey knowledge with whiskey beginners is that they quite often come back to me to share their latest experience or adventure exploring the world of Irish Whiskey beyond Jameson.
Now, before the IDL lawyers come down on top of me, there is nothing at all wrong with Jameson. It’s a solid, entry level Irish Whiskey. It’s a whiskey in the same way that a Ford Fiesta or Nissan Micra is a car. We learn to drive with something basic, but as we gain in confidence and experience, we like to push the boundaries out further. More speed, more luxury, more excitement.
Really wealthy people often have a stable of cars. A car for every occasion. A Range Rover for the Country, A Prius or Tesla for the city. A convertible for the weekend. A Ferrari for fun. A Jaguar, Mercedes or BMW for business travel.
Ordinary folks, like many of us, have to settle for one car that suits our own personal lifestyle. We buy it, drive it and periodically change it for another newer, bigger or smaller model depending on our circumstances and needs. Often, we just buy a newer version of what we are already driving. It’s often the same with Irish whiskey. People learn to drive with Jameson, so when it becomes time to buy a new bottle, they often buy the same again because it is both familiar and convenient.
This is a real shame, because many never know what they missing out on. For just a very little extra money per bottle and armed with the knowledge from this article, my plan is to empower you to not only to abandon your Jameson “Fiesta” days, but to test drive with confidence, the Jags, Mercs, BMWs, Range Rovers and Ferraris of the Irish Whiskey World.
Once upon a time, (when I was a kid) you could often tell what country a car was made in by it’s unique style and character. Let’s hope that we retain that same diversity of styles and character within Irish Whiskey. It would be a shame if some day, that all whiskey dumbed down to a mass produced lowest common denominator style.
Over the next week or so, I’m going to show you how to slowly but surely build a stable of diverse Irish Whiskey brands and expressions into your own personal Irish Whiskey collection. Let’s embrace and support Irish Whiskey Diversity!
Irish Whiskey Collecting Tips for Beginners!
Many of you wait to buy a new bottle of Whiskey until the bottle you are currently drinking is empty. The trick to building an Irish Whiskey collection is to try to buy your next bottle when the previous bottle is between 2/3 and ¾ full. That way, you gradually build up a stock of whiskeys that are half to 2/3 full.
As the number of bottles increases, the rate of consumption of each individual bottle decreases. Of course every so often, a bottle will empty, but then you have the choice to either replenish the existing brand or replace with something more deserving on your shelf. Once you have opened your third or fourth new bottle, you can start saying that you have an Irish Whiskey collection.
Single Pot Still, Single Malt and Single Grain Irish Whiskeys. Mix it up!
There are three different types of Irish Whiskey as well as four different blend combinations.
This is what my my suggested Irish Whiskey Collection Starter Pack should look like. The actual brands that I have selected will be announced in my next blog article later this week.
Try Older Whiskeys
Entry level whiskeys are just three years old. Start buying some older whiskeys. Remember, that in whiskey blends, the age statement given on the bottle refers to the youngest whiskey element in the blend. An 8 Year old blend may contain 8 year old Single Grain Whiskey but 14 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey. Age generally adds depth and complexity to a whiskey.
It’s all about the Wood.
Many whiskeys now have a little extra magic added to their flavour and complexity during maturation by being finished for three to 12 months or more in casks that previously held rum, cognac, wines, sherries or ports . There are barrels that have been extra flame charred and there are barrels made from woods like walnut and chestnut instead of the traditional oak.
Casks may also be stored in bond during maturation in unique environments or conditions such as the maritime environments of Lambay Island in Dublin, Cork Bonded Warehouses on Little Island in Cork Harbour or West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen. All bring some extra magic to the whiskey.
Cask Strength and Irish Whiskey
The strength of whiskey is measured as the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) percentage of the whiskey. The majority of entry level whiskeys are bottled at 40% ABV as this is the lowest strength at which the spirit may be sold as whiskey. In whiskey that is less than 46% ABV, the naturally occurring fats, proteins and esters in the whiskey can solidify and clump together (microscopically) if the whiskey is cooled by the addition of ice or chilled water. This can cause a slight cloudiness or haze in the whiskey. While this cloudiness is perfectly harmless, many whiskey companies chill the whiskey and filter out these components prior to bottling to address the issue. This is called “Chill Filtering. There is a school of thought that Chill Filtering removes some of the goodness from whiskey, but if it does, it’s effect is slight. Many premium whiskeys bottled at 46% carry the label “Non Chill Filtered” which is a bit superfluous because as you now know after reading this, there is no need to chill filter at 46%+ ABV.
Whiskey when taken directly from the cask it has been matured in is generally at a cask strength of around 52% ABV to 60 % ABV. Prior to bottling, the whiskey is diluted down to the desired bottling strength with pure de-mineralised water. Cask strength Whiskey goes straight to the bottle!
When tasting or drinking whiskey, aficionados like me will generally add some water to our whiskey. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, water can “open up” a whiskey releasing more flavour and aroma.
Secondly, when you sip neat whiskey, you will generally experience a pronounced burning or tingling sensation in your mouth from the alcohol. The higher the strength, the more distracting and unpleasant this effect can be. In my experience, this alcohol burn is the single biggest barrier to converting whiskey novices to the whiskey tribe.
That’s why even experienced whiskey aficionados like me almost always add water to our neat whiskey in order to kill or tame the alcohol burn and optimise our valuable whiskey’s taste and aroma. As the sensitivity of everyone’s nose and palate is different, the amount of water required to kill the alcohol burn in your whiskey will be quite different to mine. Hence the old Irish Whiskey tradition of “never water another person’s whiskey”. The perfect glass of Irish Whiskey is one with absolutely no burn or tingle in the mouth allowing maximum taste and flavour to be enjoyed.
Whiskey sold at cask strength will always be much more expensive, as a litre of cask strength whiskey at 60% ABV would convert to a litre and a half of whiskey if it was diluted to and bottled at 40%. As a whiskey aficionado, one of the nice things about owning a bottle of Cask Strength Irish Whiskey is that you yourself become the last part of the whiskey making process as you take whiskey straight from the cask and dilute it at home, one glass at at time, into your own personal expression of that whiskey brand.
There are many affordable premium Irish whiskeys at 46% and above right up to full Cask Strength in the high fifties.
Stuart’s Irish Whiskey Collection Starter Pack Guide
In my next article, I’ll share my own personal recommendation of fifteen great, but affordable Irish Whiskeys from which to build your own first Irish Whiskey collection. I’ll also add in five non-Irish Whiskies and some Irish Gin, Irish Vodka and Poitín Irish Spirit expressions for those who want to explore the wider world of Whiskey and other Spirits.
In compiling my recommendations, I have tried to mix different Irish Whiskey Styles, Blends, Ages, Finishes and Strengths. All of the Whiskeys listed should be affordable and readily available in Ireland through Super Valu, O’Briens or local whiskey shops such as the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin.
For our readers outside Ireland, I will include links to the selected brands and expressions on Amazon. You should also be able to mail order everything listed from from trusted online whiskey stores such as Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange.
I have graded the Whiskeys in ascending order using our Pooka Whiskey Scale from Pooka One “Everyday Whiskeys” to Pooka Two “Premium Whiskeys”.
No whiskey selected will cost over €100 and most should be just half to two thirds of that value at most.
Finally, as I already mentioned, I will include a few other whiskies from Scotland, Japan and India as well as a few nice Irish Gins, a Vodka and a Poitín Irish Spirit, to round out your collection.
I’ll publish my full, recommended Irish Whiskey Collection List here on IrishWhiskey.com later this week.
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.