And since I’m gracious about inviting myself places, here’s how you should host your Irish whiskey party:
Decide which whiskeys you’ll serve.
There are five distilleries in Ireland. Since Irish whiskey has to be distilled and aged in Ireland, recognizing all three of the operational distilleries is a good place to start your research.
- New Midleton Distillery – Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, Midelton
- Cooley Distillery – Connemara, Michael Collins, Tyrconnell
- Old Bushmills Distillery – Old Bushmills, Black Bush, Bushmills (insert year here)
- Kilbeggan Distillery – Kilbeggan, Killbeggan 18 year, Distillery Reserve (Single Malt)
- Dingle Distillery – Still maturing!
Kilbeggan began distilling again in 2007. Also, each distillery has an “other” category for grouping in special varieties, like the coveted Bushmills 1951 that has aged a full 36 years.
You’ll also note that Irish whiskey can be triple distilled, making it very light and smooth (like standard Jameson) and/or single-malt, which is darker. Typically, lighter Irish whiskey is used for mixing Irish drinks, not sipping.
The longer your Irish whiskey has aged the more expensive it will be (thanks to evaporation) and, typically, the richer the flavor. Some whiskeys come right out of the cask and into the bottle (like Connemara) so each batch is different, too.
There is also quite a bit of diversity in how the Irish whiskey is aged. Used sherry or bourbon casks are popular. Another trend includes secondary aging where Irish whiskey is removed from the barrels, blended, then re-aged in another barrel.
Provide a professional set-up.
Impress your guests by setting up the bottles as a display alongside sniffer glasses. Depending on the number of tastings, you may want to provide a spit bucket for anyone who doesn’t want to swallow all the samples.
Consider arranging the Irish whiskey bottles in the order they should be tasted, lightest to darkest, or bottom shelf to top shelf. You want to give guests a natural progression of flavors so, for example, a strong, dark, old variety of Irish whiskey doesn’t mask the taste of a five year bottle.
Finally, remember that the sniffer glasses allow guests to experience the booze. They are able to see the color (actually, the Irish call whiskey ‘the brown’ for its color) and smell the flavors.
Explain the differences between Irish whiskeys.
Just like fine wine, give a lesson in how to swirl the Irish whiskey (to release its aroma), sniff it, then sip it. The sip should be a full mouth swish that coats the tongue so every aspect of the Irish whiskey can be appreciated. More acrid Irish whiskey may require some water before moving on to the next sample.
Give guests a briefing on why you chose the Irish whiskey you did. For example, did you opt for a five year Jameson as an example of a bottom shelf, triple distilled mixing-whiskey? Likewise, did you splurge on one $100 bottle of 18 year Bushmills that is noted for its smooth finish?
The point is to help your friends understand the diverse industry of Irish whiskey. You may also want to keep a few bottles of very expensive Irish whiskey off to the side to pour just to aficionados who will appreciate the highly developed flavors of a top-shelf Irish whiskey. But whatever you do, don’t forget to declare ‘Slainte!’ (cheers) with every sip.