Since my visit to Ireland last year, I have come to enjoy Irish whiskey more than ever. So, today I am comparing 4 Irish whiskies. They come from the 3 Irish distilleries still operating. These are the Jameson, the Bushmills, and the Cooley distilleries.
The whiskies are: Midleton's blended 12 to 25 YO whiskey, Redbrest 15 YO pot still whiskey (both from the Jameson distillery), Bushmills 10 YO Single Malt (Bushmills distillery), and Michael Collins 8 to 12 YO Single Malt Peated whiskey from the Cooley distillery.
To use an old expression, these malt whiskies come from the same church, but a different pew. They are priced from $115 for the Midleton's, $80 for the Redbreast, $40 for the Michael Collins, down to $29 for the 10 YO Bushmills.
These are all excellent Irish whiskies and each has something all its own. My preference is for the Midleton's, but only barely.......... and not always. The whiskey in the Bushmills bottle will go down more slowly than either the Redbreast or the Michael Collins...... both of which will go down faster than the Midleton simply because of the cost. In fact, the one I went back to was the Michael Collins.
The Midleton is a superbly delicate, soft and an extraordinarily smooth and subtle whiskey (in much the same way that Cognac is as a brandy) that reveals a hint of the finishing sherry barrels. A world class whiskey to be sure.
The Redbreast is at least 15 years old and it owes much to the pot still (that slight twang of copper) and to 15 or more years in a used bourbon barrel. This much time in the barrel gives up some of the bourbon rye bite and a hint of barrel tannins which make the whiskey drier than the others. Still, the wonderful malt sweetness controls the show. Another world class whiskey.
The Bushmills 10 YO Single Malt is an excellent whiskey that has distinct sherry overtones. It is a whiskey that, compared to the others, has a very slight (but unwelcome) edge in the finish that detracts from its quality.
The Michael Collins (my first taste of this Irish whiskey) makes use of a bit of peated malt that gives it a distinct flavor and aromatic profile. It is not Scotch! And the peat is only a background whisper that adds to the interest of this whiskey. Excellent whiskey!
The difference between these whiskies is not great, and the cost differential is not really justified. But there is enough difference to make them all indiviually enjoyable and each has it own distinct qualities such that it should and will find its own staunch defenders.
P.S. Bushmills also offers a 16 YO and a 21 YO whiskey. I have had and compared the Bushmills 21 YO to the Midleton and found them pretty much comparable. The Bushmills 21 YO has a bit more sherry in its taste and may be slightly sweetner........ but it is also extraordinarily smooth and delicate. For bourbon drinkers who might be interested in Irish whiskey, the Redbreast will likely be more pleasing.