CHEERS | Tasting Irish whiskey

Debonair and delicious

Irish whiskey seems to have its act together. It doesn’t have to try too hard to impress. Consumers just love it for its taste as well as its texture. CHEERS tasting panel tried a few of the more popular examples available locally.

A prerequisite for any actor in the role of James Bond was smoothness. Whether it was Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, all were the epitome of suaveness. But if you were to add a gentle Irish lilt, the soft burr of an accent from the emerald isle and it would be elevated another notch. That’s what the traditional third distillation does for Irish whiskey…

Distilling in Ireland is attributed to St Patrick, as far back as the first century AD – and it’s not a big stretch from perfume or essential oil distilling to liquor distillation. The first records of Scottish distillation only occur around 1494 so the argument for Irish whiskey predating Scotch is a compelling one.

Of course, the third distillation of spirit is also what differentiates Irish from Scottish spirit and it’s the third and final trip through the stills which makes for a silky smooth, elegant textured whiskey. The other legal prerequisite is that the spirit must spend at least three years maturing on the emerald isle – minimum – to be called Irish whiskey.

All of the whiskies tasted were not only triple distilled but blended whiskey. Whether that be a blend of malt and grain or pot still and column still, it’s in the seamless harmony of elements that these whiskies really shine.

Jameson, established in 1780, has built massive market share on the fact that it is triple distilled –the same is true for Bushmills, both original and Black Bush. Jameson also blends malted and unmalted whiskey with grain spirit. The interesting thing about Bushmills is that it lays claim to being the oldest licenced distillery in the world with its grant dating back to 1608. Tullamore D.E.W. is triple distilled, triple cask and triple blended, merging grain, malt and whiskey made from golden grain – and goes back to 1829 when founded by Daniel E. Williams – the initials immortalised in the full name of the product and not a reference to drops of morning dew as many people think!

Ultimately, it’s all about the mouthfeel and the flavour or taste of the end product. With Irish whiskey increasing its share of the market, there’s zero doubt that consumers are appreciating the time and effort the Irish exert.

Tasting Panel: Clifford Roberts, Dr Winnie Bowman, Shayne Dowling and Fiona McDonald


Opinions on the aromatics ranged from banana and custard, vanilla and caramel to muesli and tropical fruit. One thing the panel agreed on unanimously was how smooth and silky it was on the tongue. Flavours included buttery toffee, Christmas cake and apricot candy. Ultimately delicious tasting and easy drinking. Note also made of how consistent the blending is when considering the volumes of this popular whiskey that must be produced to keep up with public demand.

Tullamore D.E.W. 

Marzipan and citrus – both blossom, fresh and dried peel – were ascribed to the nose. Winnie noted it was lighter in style with a delightful nutty, almond flavour. Smooth and long with a lovely toasty character and hint of spice.

Bushmills Original

If citrus was found on Tullamore, themes of apple were noted here; freshly sliced apple, apple blossom delicacy as well as that fairground staple, toffee apple! The palate was rich but gentle and sleek with baked oat biscuits, touch of spice along with creamy caramel flavour. Ideal for use in Irish Coffee, said Clifford. Lovely warm spirit on the finish kept it from being too smooth and refined.

Bushmills Black Bush

Setting this apart from the standard blend is the high proportion of malted whiskey as well as the higher proportion of spirit aged in Oloroso sherry casks. Sweet fruitcake notes, sultanas and almond praline and fudge aromas and flavours were found. Appealing crème brûlée and complex nutty oak nuances too. Broader, bigger and more complex Clifford found. Balanced, refined and long.

Jameson IPA

The IPA in the name stands for Irish Pale Ale – so some of the spirit spent time maturing in former beer casks, but the influence is very subtle. Winnie noted a gentle yeastiness but it was more defined by the oaky, nutty notes. Fiona found an interesting powdery florality and cherry aroma which was also on the palate but didn’t overwhelm the more traditional flavours. Clifford got loads of cinnamon and spice. Long and typically smooth textured, it’s a special edition which will appeal to curious whiskey enthusiasts keen to try something different.