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29 Jun 2021 | Randy Kemner


Quite a few years ago during a visit to San Francisco to attend the Fancy Food Show, I stopped into the venerable watering hole Foley’s Irish House on O’Farrell to see if I could bring myself up to date with the current crop of Irish whiskies.  As Celtic music provided the atmosphere, my bartender Andrish agreed to pour one, and then another and another of his whiskies in separate shot glasses.  I ordered a large water back, and Andrish happily obliged.  As I lined them up, identifying each on its own cocktail napkin, I began nosing, sipping and evaluating each one.  

Looking around at the dark, worn woods and the Irish memorabilia on the wall next to the bottles and bottles of a well-stocked bar, I thought at the time I was on a movie set of an Irish pub.  A soccer game was silently playing on the television above the back bar.  To my left was a line of draft beer taps with selections from Guinness and Boddington’s to Chimay and Budweiser, the last two owned by Belgian firms. 

Seated next to me were a lovely Irish couple who I could hear whispering to each other and then glancing at me, then whispering to each other again.  Finally unable to stand it any longer, the woman turned to me and asked, “Are you going to drink all of that?”

“No,” I replied, “I own a wine store in the Long Beach area that sells spirits.  I need to learn which Irish whiskies to buy.”

That seemed to satisfy her.

After about an hour, as Andrish poured the thirteenth and final whiskey, he smilingly said, “And now the pièce de resistance,” then poured Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve—the whiskey he charged the most for.  Then he drew a pint of Guinness and presented it alongside my 13 whiskies. 

“They kinda go together,” he said.

The Irish gentleman sitting next to me told me of a famous bar in Dublin where it is a tradition to drink your first Guinness in three gulps.  “You can take as long as you want, but you must swallow a third of the pint with each gulp.”

Before drinking the Guinness, I picked up the final whiskey, Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve.

“This one I’ll finish,” I told Andrish.  Then I moved on to the Guinness.

My Favorite Irish Whiskies Discovered That Day at Foley’s

In the subsequent years our Irish whiskies have been red-hot in the marketplace, then Bourbon took over the center of gravity.  But Irish whiskies have retained their loyal fan core, largely because they are easier to drink than most whiskies.  Stylistically, they fall somewhere between the sweetness of Bourbon and the smoky flavors of Scotch.  Here were a few standouts I discovered that day at Foley’s

Paddy Irish Whiskey

Created as a brand in 1913, Paddy (named after legendary 19th century whiskey salesman Paddy O’Flaherty) was first distilled by Cork Distilleries Company, Ireland.  It is a light bodied, aromatic, clean whiskey, very easy drinking, with a nearly sweet finish.  Good for mixing Irish Whiskey cocktails.

$22.99 per bottle

Powers Irish Whiskey, Gold Label

Established in 1791 by John Powers, Powers Irish Whiskey is one of Ireland’s longest surviving labels.  In 1866 it became the first Dublin distillery to bottle its own whiskey, and in 1975 the distillery moved to Midleton in Cork.  Displaying a dark brass color, the whiskey has somewhat of a shy nose.  Smooth whiskey with a viscous texture.  Satisfying taste. 

$29.99 per bottle

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey 

In 1966 a female Texas architect Lavoné Dickensheets Andrews and her husband Mark began restoring a rundown castle once built to repel Norman invaders.  While she worked on the restoration, Mr. Andrews amassed a collection of vats of single malt Irish Whiskies distilled by the B. Daly distillery in Tullamore.  For years, Andrews would release dated whiskies.  His son Mark is now in charge of the Knappogue Castle brand which recently began selling 12 year old Irish.  Very light color; clean aroma with almost a green leafy note.  Smooth, round, easy drinking whiskey.  Nice warmth and a sweet finish.

$49.99 per bottle

Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve Irish Whiskey

Created in 1780 by John Jameson, the very successful Jameson brand has created easy going, rich-tasting, softly textured whiskies that have found a willing and receptive international audience.  Now made in Cork, Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve is aged in charred bourbon barrels which lend distinctiveness to its aromas and flavors.  Very appealing aroma, lighter color; a cleaner flavor, classic Irish whiskey with a faint vanilla in the flavor.   Great finish.  Very satisfying.

$38.99 per bottle

Jameson 18 year old Irish Whiskey Limited Reserve

Aged in a combination of Bourbon and French oak barrels, the Jameson 18 year old Limited Reserve is a blend of three whiskies.  The result is a very satisfying drink.  Dark brass color, nose of wood and vanilla.  In the mouth, a round texture and an expansive, full body.  Sweet taste with a very long finish.

$138.99 per bottle

As you might imagine, Bill, it was epic!
Randall Kemner - 02 Jul 2021 - 17:16
A very good article. I wish I had gone tasting with you. During our trip to Ireland
Bill Cheney - 02 Jul 2021 - 15:54
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