Did you know that a simple definition of whisk(e)y is a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash? The Irish spell this spirit as whiskey and the Scots omit the 'e' and spell it whisky.
Drinking what you already know and love is certainly a pleasure but the excitement of trying something new is irresistible. Sipping out of your comfort zone is the only way to discover new flavors. I certainly have my favorite wines but I like to keep my palate on alert by frequently giving new varietals and regions a swirl. But spirits are another story. I enjoy the occasional cocktail but I still find most spirits a bit daunting. When Palm Bay International, importers of fine wines & spirits, invited me to a whisk(e)y tasting at Dear Irving with the founders of Walsh Whiskey Distillery and Wemyss Malts; I accepted the opportunity to introduce my taste buds to some new flavors.
Bernard Walsh, chairman of the Irish Whiskey Association and owner of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, pays homage to Ireland's past by drawing inspiration from the 19th century - a time that he describes as the golden age of Irish whiskey distilling. Walsh Whiskey Distillery is headquartered at Royal Oak in County Carlow and is one of the largest independent whiskey distilleries in the country and the first to be developed in Carlow in over 200 years. Walsh describes himself as a farmer at heart and sources the barley for his whiskies from 40 different farmers.
Of course, my innate writer's vanity was intrigued by Walsh's cleverly-coined Writers Tears whiskey ($44.99). Alas, the name was inspired by great Irish writers (not snarky American bloggers) and is produced via the same methods used by 19th century Irish distillers with distillates from the copper pot only - no grain. Distilled from 100% Irish barley, Writers Tears is matured and aged in American oak bourbon casks. But what does it taste like? Well, Writers Tears is delicious enough to win over a whiskey novice like me and has enough complexity to garner a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge. I loved its flavors of spice, ginger, orange zest, kumquat, brown sugar, almonds, and vanilla. Put in a few tiny drops of water to really release Writers Tears' layers of flavor.
Another great introduction to the Walsh style is his original signature blend The Irishman Founder's Reserve ($37.99). A blend of Single Malt and Single Pot Still styles, it has layered flavors of caramel, ginger, dark chocolate, and honey.
William Wemyss, founder of Wemyss Malts
Whisky has a rich tradition in Scotland and the Wemyss (pronounced Weems) family have had a longstanding passion for malt whisky. Their connections with the industry date back to the turn of the 19th century and Weymss Castle, looking back towards Edinburgh, has been the family seat for over six centuries.
Wemyss Malts "The Hive" 12 Year Old ($69.99) blends together up to sixteen different single malt whiskies before adding signature malts from different areas, including Islay and Speyside. The Hive's sweet honey tones are balanced by layers of herbs and a touch of smokiness.
Kick the flavor up a notch with Wemyss Malts "Spice King" 12 Year Old ($69.99). Befitting its name, Spice King reveals savory flavors of Szechuan pepper, cloves, and cinnamon that are balanced by a creamy finish.
Like delving into the works of James Joyce and Robert Burns, understanding the complexities and nuances of Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky requires time and dedication but you don't have to be an expert to appreciate their charms. Try whisk(e)y neat with a drop of water to get a sense of its personality and then experiment with cocktails. Sip out of your comfort zone and you'll be pleasantly surprised!