The popular Irish proverb at the title conveys how passionate the Irish are towards their whiskey. In fact the passion towards respective native distillates extends to other major whiskey producing nations, so much so, that we have different ways to spell it too! While the Americans share the spelling with the Irish, the Scots and most of the remaining world call it Whisky minus the “e”. The intrinsic nature of the the liquid though remains the same- fermented and distilled from malt/ grain with variations in production styles that lend unique characteristics to each whiskey. This was the focus of an evening of Jameson Irish whiskey at Hotel Le Meridien New Delhi under their “Spirit of Nero” program for select whisky lovers on an unusually wet September day much to the delight of Delhiites.
The event was presented by Darragh Ryan, the Brand Ambassador of Jameson in India and started with a multi media presentation amid anecdotes and funny boners. This was followed by a blind sampling of American, Scottish and Irish (read Jameson) whiskies and followed by animated discussions between the whisky fans with copious amounts of whiskey doing the rounds.
About Irish Whiskies
The Irish are widely recognised as inventors of whiskey and the product term itself is derived from the Gaelic Uisge Beatha (meaning Water of Life and pronounced Ushka Baaha). The Ushka part gave birth to the modern day term Whiskey that subsequently became popular throughout the world. It is also a known fact that the Irish quest to use unmalted grain along with malt to lower costs of production (owing to high taxes on malted barley) resulted in a whiskey with a lighter palate and has been the genesis of blended whiskies.
Two unique aspects of Irish whiskey highlighted during the evening were:
- More refined taste due to the practice of triple distillation as compared to double distillation for Scotch and single for American whiskies. For whisky connoisseurs though, more number of distillations may not necessarily mean better whisky as repeated filtering may strip the whiskey of certain desirable phenolic elements that lend the peculiar taste preferred by some.So it boils down to individual preferences.
- The Irish pride of not peating their malt( a process of drying malted barley using Peat as fuel) which according to them emphasizes the inherent flavours of the drink rather than getting masked by smoke. But then peat fans have their own place under the Sun and the Irish have been sensible to respect this fact by having peated whiskies like Coonemara coming from the Cooley distillery.
The organisers also did well to place samples of malted and unmalted barley, unaged and aged whiskies and pieces of Bourbon and Sherry casks to give a physical feel of the important determinants of the final product.
Present day Irish Whiskey Industry
The Irish whiskey industry has seen lots of consolidation over the past century and as on date, the country has just three active large capacity distilleries located in the towns of Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton collectively producing around 28 million litres annually. In addition, there are producers not involved in active distillation but have old stocks that are being blended and bottled. Jameson is part of the portfolio of Irish Distillers Group (IDG) which in turn is part of French liquor giant Pernod-Ricard. Though the Jameson portfolio has several variants in terms of length of maturation and composition ratio of respective blends , at the event we were offered their basic label Jameson Irish Whiskey presumably due to the focus not being on tasting the entire range but that of highlighting the distinct identity of an Irish whiskey vis-à-vis its American and Scottish peers. I found the whiskey offered to be light and refreshing on the palate with vanilla and sherry notes followed by a medium finish. This could be the kind of whiskey, of which you could have a dram or two in the afternoon , without the need to hit the sack before getting back to work!
Darragh also informed us that at a retail price of approx Rs. 1700.00 in New Delhi, Jameson Irish Whiskey is likely to be perceived as good value for money as compared to its American and Scottish contemporaries (read Johnnie Walker Black Label and Jack Daniels etc) if one is not too staunch on a particular preference. I happened to agree with him with the stated caveat.
A major highlight of the evening was the presence of whisky connoisseurs from different walks of life.There were renowned journalists, designers, brand managers, food and beverage experts and several others. The icing on the cake was the presence of celebrity food critics Rocky and Mayur of the famous TV food show Highway on My Plate who mingled freely with the guests sharing those extra bytes- and amicably rendering some sobering advice on not hitting the highway driving, after the indulgent evening.