Around the time I was a college freshman, single-malt Scotch hit a high-note. As a rhetorical antidote of sorts to the then-burgeoning craze for all manner of sweet-martini ridiculousness, these smoky or honeyed or iodine-scented beauties represented a serious alternative to the frippery of the cocktail moment: The cerebral and timeless depth of Bach, if you will, to the all-simple surfaces of that Britney Spears moment. Since then, it’s maintained its loyal following, and justifiably so.
Bourbon is now seeing its own resurgence, and not just the big boys that even casual drinkers are familiar with. I’ve encountered more restaurants and bars with ambitious Bourbon programs in the last year than I ever have before.
But Irish whiskey is a different case entirely: It’s still waiting for its pop-cultural star-turn. Some of this is a result of the smaller selection that consumers generally have access to--these Irish beauties are rarely afforded the same shelf or menu space as their Scottish or American cousins. And I’m positive that much of the problem is that the drinking public just doesn’t know quite what to make of Irish whiskey. Single-malt Scotch can be honeyed or smoky, Bourbon oozes with vanilla charms, but Irish whiskey? That’s a bit more difficult to describe, at least for most people. They know Jamison and Bushmills and that’s about it. In this regard, it’s kind of like asking someone who’s never tasted wine before to sip glasses of, say, Chateau Petrus and Chateau Lafite, and explain what red wine tastes like. Can’t do it.
But I have faith. Because Irish whiskey seems to be a perfect tipple for our contemporary American market. And because of the bottle of Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey I recently tasted and--let’s be honest here--fell head over heals for. Aromatically, this is sneakily complex, with notes of wood, nuts, and mashed seckle pears with toffee. These lead to rich, well-rounded flavors that range from spice and orchard fruit to hazelnuts and, on the finish, spiced apple and warm honey. It’s elegant, well-rounded, and almost dangerously drinkable: Exactly what you want in a whiskey.
If Irish whiskey is to see its much-deserved turn in the sun, then Clontarf 1014 is the one to kick-start it with. It’s seriously delicious stuff, and an outright steal at less that $25.