Gearoid O’Callaghan, who runs The Whisky Jack, and I first got to know each other through Instagram, where the cheerful Irishman commented on a whisky photo of mine. We stayed in contact ever since, but although we both live in the same city, we never actually got to meet in person. So when Gearoid invited me to attend an Irish whiskey tasting he was going to hold at Kittel’s – Fine British Goods in the district of Eppendorf, I did not have to think twice about showing up!
All in all, about 15 people gathered that evening to usher in the weekend with three nonchalant hours of chatter, laughter and, of course, uisge beatha. As the motley group included seasoned drammers and whiskey newbies alike, Gearoid had to find a good ratio between introducing the basics and going into detail. He balanced that thin line masterfully, entertaining and educating his guests for several hours without tiring or overstraining anybody. We not only learned a ton about whiskey from our host, but also hung on his every word when he explained to us how the history of his home country is a bittersweet one and how the many ups and downs that the Irish experienced over the centuries are reflected in their open-hearted yet contemplative nature to this very day.
Before we had our first sip, we were served a traditional Irish meal to make sure we were well-strengthened for the high-proof spirits that would follow soon. Gearoid, who also runs a professional catering service, cooked the Shepherd’s pie with peas himself and oh was it good! Every plate was emptied (many of them not once but twice) and in the end all attendees agreed that the food alone would have been worth the trip to Kittel’s. With our bellies stuffed, we then proceeded to do a little perception game. Gearoid passed along eight flasks containing different scents and we were asked to identify them. This was a fun interlude that promoted a lot of talk and exchange between the partakers, most of which did not know each other before. Gearoid told us that he likes to play this game at the beginning of his tastings, because it reminds people to embrace a whiskey with all senses and give the liquid the attention it deserves. After all, even the youngest whiskey out there spent at least three years and one day in the cask for us. Thus, gulping it down like cough syrup would not really do such a precious pour justice, would it?
The whiskeys Gearoid had picked for us illustrated very nicely how multifaceted the art of distilling on the Emerald Isle is – a circumstance that is all the more fascinating if you consider that the bulk of contemporary Irish whiskey comes from no more than three distilleries! We started with a smooth and sweet single grain by Kilbeggan and then proceeded to a spicier blended whiskey by Roe & Co, which was one of the first legal distilleries in Ireland. It got closed in the 1920s and is currently being brought back to life by Diageo. In Gearoid’s opinion, Roe & Co’s first release after the re-launch offers its buyers an archetypical Irish whiskey of great quality for a fantastic price. The Tyrconell 10yo Madeira then showed us that the Irish are also pretty keen on trying out differing wood types. In this particular case, the wine cask from Portugal gave the spirit a delightful sweetness, adding strawberries and rosehips to the palate and promoting a long, creamy finish.
Tullamore D.E.W. 14yo was the fourth expression we tried. Since Tullamore D.E.W. was the most “mass-market” brand in the line-up, it did not come as a surprise that this light and fruity pour turned out to be an easy-drinking dram of which you can enjoy one glass after another. The next bottle we opened only got added to the selection on impulse. As Gearoid invited me to be his guest, I thought that I could at least bring a little hospitality gift. And so I gladly brought along a bottle of Irish Diamonds No.5 by Alambic Classique, which is a 12-year-old single cask release finished in Islay casks from Bunnahabhain distillery. Despite its high ABV of 58.5 per cent, it was very smooth and rounded, offering yummy flavours of toffee, pastry, chocolate, salt and (light) smoke – the last three of which I could imagine to come from the Bunna barrels. Determined to end the tasting with a bang, Gearoid then moved on to draw one last ace from his sleeve. Connemara is the only Irish brand producing peated whiskey and the 22yo is the showpiece of their range. It was stunningly complex, offering not only delicate notes of bonfire smoke and iodine fumes, but also meaty, herby and flowerly tastes and aromas. Its finish was long and stayed with me the entire way home!
Kilbeggan 8yo (Single Grain Whiskey / Ireland / 8yo / 40% / ~28.00 Euro)
Roe & Co Irish Whiskey (Blended Whisky / Ireland/ NAS/ 45% / ~29.00 Euro)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira (Single Malt Whiskey / Ireland / 10yo / 46% / ~52.00 Euro)
Tullamore D.E.W. 14yo (Single Malt Whiskey / Ireland/ 14yo / 41.3% / ~42.00 Euro)
Irish Diamonds No.5 (Single Malt Whiskey / Ireland / 12yo / 58.5% / ~75.00 Euro)
Connemara 22yo (Single Malt Whiskey / Ireland / 22yo / 46% / ~120.00 Euro)