February 2008

Spirits of the Emerald Isle

By: Richard Carleton Hacker

What looks like a flaming Irish Coffee is actually the cozy fireplace at Marcie’s Restaurant at Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn & Spa in Los Olivos, California. Bartender Kelly Lewis uses two ounces of Black Bush and fresh whipped cream to make this popular drink.

Even the Scots admit the Irish were the first to distill whiskey, or uisge beatha, the water of life. Most Irish whiskeys (spelled with an “e,” unlike Scotch whisky) are triple-distilled and the barley dried without peat, which allows the sweetness of the malting to come through. Hence, a lighter libation with nary a hint of smoke.

The best selling Irish whiskey in the world is Jameson 12 Year Old, with its distinctive apricot and honey characteristics. Jameson 18 Year Old, aged in sherry wood and finished in bourbon barrels, is even more complex. But nothing can match the new limited edition Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, created by blending grain whiskeys with the oldest and rarest pot-distilled spirits, then aging them in port pipes, producing a rich and plummy taste.


Patrick Rathbun, bartender at the newly restored Ty Lounge at The Biltmore Four Seasons Resort in Santa Barbara, creates a unique Rob Roy made with Jameson’s 12 Year Old. “A splash of Maraschino cherry juice tames it down,” he says.

Bushmills is Ireland’s oldest working distillery. Its 400-year-old history has culminated with a limited release this month of Bushmills 1608, blended from crystal malted barley, which imparts creaminess with toffee overtones. Of course, Bushmills Original White Label is noted for cocktails, while Black Bush, using a greater percentage of single malts, has more depth for heartier drinks.

Although normally associated with blends, Ireland also produces superlative single malts. Distinctive among them is vintage dated Knappogue (na-POG) Castle. The current 1995 vintage is light and heathery, with apples and honey in a very delicate and lingering finish. Michael Collins, named after the country’s hero who signed the treaty giving Ireland its independence in 1821, defies tradition by producing a double distilled, slighted peated single malt, with highlights of chocolate and citrus. A lighter Michael Collins blend is perfect for cocktails.

And finally, there is the Bushmills single malt trilogy, encompassing a 10 Year Old aged in bourbon and sherry barrels, a 16 Year Old vatting of bourbon and sherry barrel-aged single malts “finished” in port casks, and the incomparable 21 year old, with half the whiskies aged in charred oak barrels, half put into Spanish oloroso barrels, and everything finished in barrels previously used for madeira. The combined flavors of burnt raisins and nuts explode upon your palate.

Indeed, Irish whiskeys are as distinctive as the Emerald Isle itself.

Master of the Castle: Mark Andrews of Castle Brands

Castle Brands, the creative New York–based import company responsible for such prominent brands as Boru vodka and Gosling’s Black Seal rum, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The man who built the company is Mark Andrews.

In 1980, Andrews founded American Exploration Company, an oil and gas exploration company, overseeing the company’s public offering in 1983 and serving as its Chairman and CEO until its merger with Louis Dreyfus Natural Gas Corp. in 1997. Wasting no time, Andrews founded Castle Brands the following year.

The “castle” in this case is no fantasy but a very real place: Knappogue Castle in County Clare, Ireland. Andrews’s father, the Hon. Mark Edwin Andrews, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, purchased the medieval structure in the mid-1960s. Built in 1467, it was originally the traditional seat of the MacNamara clan but had changed hands several times during Ireland’s tumultuous history, becoming a ruin in the process. Andrews senior and his wife, and architect, lovingly restored it. (Sold in 1996 to an Irish government agency, it is now available for rent as the ultimate bed and breakfast.)

Knappogue Castle

“My father became interested in Irish whiskey around this time,” says Mark Andrews. “He purchased casks of whiskey, stored them until they reached their peak of maturity, he and bottled them. Naturally, he named his whiskey Knappogue Castle.”

Those long-aged whiskeys are now the crown jewels of the Castle Brands portfolio. “The last of my father’s whiskey—Knappogue 1951, aged 36 years in sherry casks—is the oldest and rarest Irish whiskey in the world,” declares Andrews proudly. There’s also a more contemporary version of Knappogue Castle, distilled in 1995. In addition, Andrews’s Irish import lineup includes bracing, award-winning Boru Vodka (in original and three flavors), nimble Clontarf Irish Whiskey, luscious Brady’s Irish Cream and Celtic Crossing, a suave blend of Irish whiskey, cognac and honey.

Pallini’s trio of vibrant Italian liqueurs (Limoncello, Peachcello and Raspicello), Sam Houston and Jefferson’s Reserve bourbons, Sea Wynde, Gosling’s and the rare and costly British Royal Navy Imperial rums fill out the Castle Brand’s book.

 “When my father began bottling Knappogue Castle Irish whiskey,” says Andrews, “his goal was to show the world how wonderful Irish whiskey could be by bottling only the very best. He gave me the responsibility of carrying on his vision.  Today Irish whiskey has regained its proper place of prominence, and it’s clear that his dream has been realized.”


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