Ten award-winning Irish whiskeys
If The Irish Whiskey Masters 2022 taught us anything, it’s that innovation in the category is only going to keep getting better, and these 10 award-winning bottles are evidence of that.
The excitement about the Irish whiskey category was palpable throughout the tasting, and showed there are some true gems to be found on the Emerald Isle.
The 2022 iteration of the blind tasting took place at the Ibis Styles hotel in London Bridge.
The first panel was led by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions. She was joined by: Michael Fichtner, whisky sommelier at The Coburg Bar at The Connaught; Herchelle Perez Terrado, director of Drinks Partnership; and Chris Tanner, general manager of Silverleaf bar in London.
Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog chaired the second panel. The team comprised: Derek Millar, retired whisky sales advisor; Angelo Sparvoli, head bartender at St James Bar at the Sofitel St James in London; and Marie Cheong Thong, wine and spirits judge, and Wine and Spirit Education Trust educator.
The third panel, chaired by Billy Abbott, ambassador at The Whisky Exchange, included: Caroline Roddis, editor of The Whisky Exchange; and drinks consultant Stephen Kennard, of SMJK Consulting.
The fourth group consisted of chair Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business; Nicola Thomson, director of Practical Matters; Toshio Ueno, vice-president and executive instructor at Sake School of America; and Sara Jane Eichler, founder of the Negroni Club UK.
Karen Taylor, co-founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog, was at the helm of panel five. Taylor was joined by Elise Craft, co-host of The Whisky Squad; and Ivan Orsini, head bartender at The Aubrey in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Keep reading to find out which 10 Irish whiskeys left a lasting impression on our judges.
Powers Gold Label
Gold by name and Gold by nature, Powers Gold Label received one of the three Gold medals in the Blended – Standard flight, which sampled whiskeys priced up to £30 (US$37). It was lauded for its “bold oakiness on the finish and drying but sweet aftertaste”.
The 42.2% ABV whiskey aged in American oak casks is the entry-level bottling under the Powers portfolio, made of triple-distilled pot still and grain whiskey produced at Midleton Distillery in County Cork.
McConnell’s Irish Whisky 5 Years Old
In the Blended – Premium price range, comprising whiskeys costing between £31 and £45 (US$36 – $52.24), seven more bottles found themselves with Gold medals, including Belfast Distillery Company’s McConnell’s Irish Whisky 5 Years Old (yes, no ‘e’) after having impressed the judges with notes of “super sharp, fresh green apples” on the nose and “white chocolate and pepper spices” on the palate.
Last month, the owner of the McConnell’s brand invested £22.3 million (US$27m) to open a distillery and visitor centre in Belfast.
Tullamore Dew 12 Years Old Special Reserve
The super-premium blended whiskeys flight comprised bottlings priced between £46 and £60 (US$53.40-$69.65). Here in this category two Golds were discovered, one of which was Tullamore Dew 12 Years Old Special Reserve.
This bottle was originally launched for the travel retail market before someone probably decided that the fruity nose “with a backup of polished-oak spiciness” was too good to keep as an exclusive, and for that we are very grateful.
Midleton Very Rare 2022
It was Gold-standard across the board in the Blended – Ultra Premium segment, as five Gold medals found homes in the flight.
One of those went to the pleasantly complex Midleton Very Rare 2022, which was lauded for its “apple, yellow peach” notes. Rare by name, rare by nature, this particular expression is a combination of unique whiskeys aged between 12 and 33 years, matured in lightly charred ex-Bourbon oak barrels.
Spanish Earl Irish Whiskey
Almost four years of ageing in ex-Bourbon casks and a split-finish in ex-Imperial stout and ex-aged golden Jamaican rum casks has given this triple-distilled malt Irish whiskey the flavours of “toffee, butterscotch and orchard fruit” on the palate, which were picked up by our judges.
This single malt was one of the first whiskeys in the tasting to nab a Master medal. Bottled at 43% ABV, you may expect to find indulgent, creamy notes on the nose, reminiscent of an Irish cream liqueur. Could this be the perfect dram for your next Irish Coffee? We think yes.
Pearse Whiskey 12 Years Founder’s Choice
In the Single Malt – Premium heat, where whiskeys were priced between £41 and £60 (US447.59 – $69.65), a Master medal winner was discovered in Pearse Whiskey 12 Years Founder’s Choice.
Crafted in Dublin, this single malt has been aged in barrels that previously held Bourbon from the Town Branch Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky.
Taylor enthused: “This was delicious. An excellent example of balance and complexity. Classic rich, woody perfume and soft spices that are well balanced. Delivers on all fronts. Excellent value.”
Method and Madness Single Malt
In the super-premium category, whiskeys priced up to £90 (US$104.48) were assessed, and three Gold medals were awarded. The Gold-winning Method and Madness Single Malt was good enough to leave our judges wanting more, thanks to its light perfume notes giving way to dry barley and ice cream cone wafer.
This particular single malt was laid down in Midleton in 2002 in ex-Bourbon barrels, and finished in French Limousin oak. Definitely a dram to savour.
Knappogue Castle 21
With higher pricing comes higher accolades. In the ultra-premium single malts category, with bottles priced at £91 ($105.64) and above, five Golds were found, three of which went straight to Knappogue whiskeys. One of the entries, Knappogue Castle 21, offered a “syrupy feel, warm baking spices and yeasty bread on the finish”. This limited edition bottle was first put into casks in 1994 and 1996, and is a marriage of two single malts, the oldest of which was 23 years old.
Craft said: “There was nothing in this category not to enjoy. Lots to choose from within that Irish profile. There was diversity in style but true consistency in quality.”
Redbreast 27 Years Old
Single pot still whiskeys always get our judges talking at our blind tastings, but none more than this very special bottle, which soared to success and took home the most coveted award of the day: The Irish Whiskey Taste Master 2022.
The flavour of this whiskey, aged for almost three decades, has been built on a foundation of Bourbon and Sherry ageing, with some time spent with ruby Port casks for added intricacy and depth.
Taylor noted that it was a “complex whiskey with loads of character, beautifully balanced with the ideal level of ageing and cask selection,” while other judges praised it for its “rich and spicy palate; juicy red berries, freshly risen bread, and enough dryness to be moreish”.
Pearse Lyons Pot Still New Make Dublin 8
Everyone’s talking about new make right now, so for the first time in The Irish Whiskey Masters, the spirit was offered a category of its own, and the judges liked what they found in Pearse Lyons Pot Still New Make Dublin 8.
Pearse Lyons is Dublin’s only independent, family-owned distillery. Located in the former St James Church in the heart of Dublin’s Liberties, the sustainability-driven distillery was awarded a Gold medal for its un-aged spirit after Tanner found aromas of “tropical fruit and overripe banana” with “hints of jasmine and Demerara sugar” on the palate.