Arrayed before us are three Irish Whiskies of some repute. They are in recently purchased B&B glasses, purchased in St Augustine FL for the princely sum of $0.27 each. Full they would hold about 5 ounces. They are the desirable shape, small at the bottom, a bulge in the middle and open at the top. Aromas collect at the bottom, expand at the middle, and are again slightly concentrated at the top, maximizing the pleasure offered for the sniffer's pleasure.
The three contenders are: Bushmills 21 YO Single Irish Whiskey, Midleton Blended (15 to 25 YO) Irish Whiskey, and Redbreast 15 YO Single Pot Stilled Irish Whiskey.
The Bushmills - A 21 YO, 80 proof, 'single' Irish Whiskey which has the benefit of Bourbon casks, Sherry casks, and being finished in Madeira casks. The aroma reveals a whiff of the nuttiness associated with Sherry and the sweetness of Madeira (both fortified wines which are aged in wooden barrels). There is also the soft sweet aroma of malt, very different from the sweet aroma of a corn based distillate. There is a suggestion of raisons and apricots along with some oakiness, and maybe even a touch of barrel char. The taste is thickly sweet with much fruit character attacking the malt base. Mid-palate is a distinctly (but mildly) spicy bite as the alcohol dries in the mouth. This is a rich, fruity, but hearty 80 proof whiskey. It is very smooth and quite flavorful. Fitting for a wonderful humor laden Irish short story.
The Midleton - A blend of 15 to 25 YO 80 proof triple distilled whiskies from the Jameson Distillery. While there is no direct reference to it in the literature or on the bottle, I have read that Midleton's is finished in Sherry casks. I think the aromas support this Sherry connection. There is less of the fruity sweetness in the nose of the Midleton and more of an earthiness and a greater bow to the malt base. Midleton Whiskey owes more to the malt than does Bushmills and is not as directly influenced by the Sherry or Madiera and is consequently a bit less overtly sweet. There is a whiff of leather and of caramel and of plums or prunes. Super smooth, delicate, and delicious whiskey. To be savored at complete leisure. Like a honed to perfection Irish fable, deceptive in its deep wisdom.
The Redbreast - A 15 YO Irish 'single' whiskey of 92 proof. This whiskey belongs only to used bourbon barrels. Its aroma has a bit of sharpness owing to it more robust bourbon heritage. The malty aromas are moderated by the association with only bourbon. There is a faint hint of rye and leather not found in the other Irish Whiskies and a touch of vanilla and perhaps some nutmeg. The barrel char is also more prominent in the aroma of the Redbreast. The malt sweetness (malt sweetness is a more full sweetness than corn sweetness and to me, goes deeper into the palate) is distinct, as it is with all Scotch or Irish whiskies and delivers its richness. It is difficult to say how much the extra 6% alcohol affects the bite of this whiskey, as opposed to affects of the exclusive use of bourbon barrels...........a good guess is that both make a difference. But, that said, at first taste, the Redbreast seems no more alcoholic than the others, just a bit more aggressive (which can be attributed solely? to the alcohol, I suppose). Still, this is unmistakenly a malt whiskey, with that smooth and deeply slow sweetness imparted by barley malt. This, like the others, is an excellent whiskey.
Each of these whiskies is first rate in my biased opinion. Were I forced to choose among these, it would be the Midleton. In my judgement it remains truest to the malt whiskey tradition (even in spite of its sherry barrel finish) and in a strange way too, truest to the Irish love of language as a conveyer of mystery and as a means of overcoming adversity (compare to the use of blues and fables among American slaves). To the Irish, using language is much like making spirits (or music), a way of bending reality slightly in their favor, of asserting their identity in a hostile world........and most important of all, reveling in who they are. Anyone who would deny this priviledge to the Irish, or to the Slaves, or even to those Americans from the woebegoten South (and its nightmarish past), would as soon forget that they too are human.
When I drink Irish Whiskey, I am Irish!