Irish whiskey grew by 6% in the global market over 2016. It’s one of the fastest-growing spirits in the world. I know this because I work and drink in a lot of Irish bars, and the whiskey reps can’t stop talking about it. They’ve got every right to brag. There were only four distilleries on the island in 2010, there are now sixteen, with another fourteen in the works. The world has been turned on to Irish whiskey, and in some of the most surprising markets. Bulgaria consumes a lot of it.
I learned that fact at 14th Street’s Quarter + Glory, at a beautifully-hosted whiskey tasting and seminar. The three glasses set before each guest held a measure of 12, 14, and 16-year-old Knappogue Castle whiskies, handcrafted by a fiercely independent distillery, based in County Clare. It’s made very clear before walking in the door that the whiskies before us are special; where most Irish distilleries produce blended whiskies, the three Knappogue Castle spirits before us were all single malt. Blends are no more or less tasty, per se. They are, however, easier to mass-produce and maintain consistency. Knappogue Castle has taken the hard route, and it’s paid off marvelously.
Philip Duff walked us through the history of not just Knappogue Castle, but the history of Irish whiskey as a whole. This spirit is certainly one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 11th-Century monks opting for distilled grain in the absence of grapes. Ireland is where the name itself was coined; “uisce beatha” (“water of life” in Irish) is pronounced “ushkeh,” later getting mushed into “whiskey.” There’s a lot of backstory in the bottles.
The seminar came to a close, began the tasting, and the flavors were unbelievable. It’s an utterly fascinating thing to taste the difference four years can make to a whiskey, or what introducing the single malt to a bourbon barrel will do. All of the whiskies were delicious, and delightful in the two cocktails for the night.
I can only hope Quarter Glory does this again.