Saturday 5 October 2013

Irish Whiskey Awards 2013

Twice this year I've been in a room where you could feel the energy and excitement of the growing Irish whiskey industry. The first time was at Alltech's Craft Brewing and Distilling Convention. The second time was on Friday evening at the first Irish Whiskey Awards, held at the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin. Imagine makers and marketers, enthusiasts and journalists, barkeeps and traders renewing acquaintances, forging new ones, swapping gossip and tips, hinting at secret plans, inventing new cocktails*.

Such gatherings are creating a real community which will contribute to the success of the industry as a whole, I'm sure.

There is nobody better placed or more trusted by that community to initiate an annual awards ceremony than Ally Alpine, owner of the Irish whiskey nexus known as the Celtic Whiskey Shop. It's time, as Ally says, to celebrate the diversity and quality of Irish whiskey. It's truly a new Golden Age.

To judge, Ally drafted the members of the shop's Celtic Whiskey Club who were able to sample the contenders in the shop or at a formal, blind tasting. Irish Whiskey Society members were guest judges for the Single Malt category.

Ally modestly excluded his own whiskeys from contention but warned that was only for the first year. Next year he is totally bringing it.

Here are the 2013 winners. Many of the categories were closely fought which is testament to the quality of Irish whiskey across the board.

Best Blended Whiskey (under €50): Writers Tears
Some day there might be a Pot Still Blend category for whiskeys that are vattings of pot still and malt, like Writers Tears and Irishman Founder's Reserve. Until then, though, Writers Tears competes like a heavyweight in the welterweight general blend category.

Best Blended Whiskey (over €50): Midleton Very Rare 2013
I haven't tried this latest Midleton VR but I'm inclined to rate Jameson Gold and Kilbeggan 18 ahead of the the Midleton vintages in general.

Best Single Pot Still Whiskey: Redbreast 15 Year Old
Only Irish Distillers makes single pot still whiskeys at the moment so they were guaranteed to walk away with this one. All the pot stills are good, each has its dedicated fans and any of them could justifiably have won. I'm a little surprised that Powers John's Lane didn't end up in the top three, however. The Redbreast Cask Strength wasn't considered in this category since it was already included under another heading.

Best Irish Single Cask Whiskey: Tyrconnell 14 Year Old Cask 204/96
I confess I missed this whiskey when it came out. The days of regular Tyrconnell single casks are gone but this one somehow escaped the warehouse, with the full allocation going to the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

Kilbeggan Distillery Co.'s Master Distiller Noel Sweeney (right) accepting the award from Ally Alpine (left) and Willie McCarter, Chairman of the Irish Spirits Association 

Best Irish Cask Strength Whiskey: Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength

Best Irish Single Malt: Bushmills 21 Year Old
The members of the Irish Whiskey Society were asked to vote on this one so I had a small hand in the selection. I chose the Bushmills 21 year old and, trying it again on the night, I think the right whiskey won.

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year: L. Mulligan Grocers, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7
There was a danger that Mulligan's and WJ Kavanagh's in Dorset Street - under common ownership - would suffer from a split vote but as it turned out Mulligan's won and Kavanagh's was runner-up. A large number of attendees felt one more round of judging might be in order and so relocated proceedings to Mulligan's after the ceremony.

Irish Poitín of the Year: Teeling Whiskey Company Poitín
It's marvellous that there are enough poitíns to make this a real competition. This one should perhaps be judged by mixologists in future years. The successful poitíns will be those that create the best cocktails, in my opinion.

Overall Irish Whiskey of the Year: Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength
It was a really good showing for the Redbreast range, even without the most recent addition, the superb Redbreast 21 Year old.

*I was inspired on the night to invent the Pink Poitín cocktail! Same idea as a pink gin. Swill a few dashes of Angostura Bitters around in a glass, then add a measure of 40% Glendalough poitín. It's like a cool mulled wine. Delicious! I need to experiment with chilling and exactly how many dashes of bitters is optimum. The pink gin, by the way, was invented by the Royal Navy. Willie Murphy, a bartending colleague from the whiskey society, was telling me of its enduring popularity among ex-military types.