St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, and while others here at Sur La Table HQ ponder the best recipes for corned beef and hash or debate the merits of cooking colcannon with kale instead of cabbage, I turn my attentions to the most important of Ireland’s contributions to the culinary world.
I’m speaking, of course, of Irish whiskey.
A perennially popular pour at many a watering hole, Irish whiskey has been one of the fastest-growing liquor categories for the past several years. It’s smooth, slightly sweet, and tends toward the lighter end of the spectrum, with an inviting, pale golden hue and a generally modest character.
While bars generally don’t carry the same number of Irish whiskeys as they do bourbons or scotch, any respectable establishment will have more than a few bottles to try, from the single-pot-stilled Redbreast to the sherry-aged Green Spot (if you’re lucky). And even if you happen to find yourself in the sort of establishment where asking to see the cocktail menu returns nothing but blank stares, you’ll still find yourself with a decision to make: Bushmills or Jameson?
While myths regarding the two brands’ religious or political affiliations have been circulating for years (and perhaps saw a brief surge during the five-season run of The Wire) any such distinctions are dubious at best (for those in need of rabbit holes into which to fall, start here or here). That said, maybe the hardcore partisans are on to something. Maybe one really does taste better than the other.
We decided to get to the bottom of this burning question once and for all, so we set up a blind taste test between these two triple-distilled Irish whiskeys. Each tester received two small pours in glasses labeled A or B to prevent unintentional bias, as well as a glass of water for cleansing the palate between samples. Testers rated each drink on a 10-point scale and were asked to take notes on overall taste, aroma, smoothness and mouthfeel. Notes and the final verdict appear below.
Like caramel butterscotch.
Is that sherry wood? Or maybe weak tea? There’s something herbal.
Thicker, kind of coats the tongue.
This one has some heat. It sticks around.
Aroma is barely there. I don’t smell anything.
Apples and bubblegum.
I’d put it in a hot toddy, but I wouldn’t drink it neat.
Toasted caramel, like flan.
Definitely more of a kick to this one.
A little rough.
Feel that burn! Now I know I’m drinking something.
Apples, with hints of clover honey. Maybe a bit of vanilla.
Very ephemeral. More aroma than taste.
Sweet, almost like toasted marshmallow. Slightly woodsy.
Pleasant. Very smooth.
Not a lot happening here. It’s wet.
There’s a light, oaky aroma. Smooth, lingering warmth in the back of the mouth.
Citrusy, with floral notes on the finish.
Smells like Irish whiskey. Tastes like Irish whiskey.
Clean and smooth. Not very hot as it goes down.
Nothing remarkable, but very pleasant. A good sipper.
Malty, but slightly astringent. Maybe even a bit peppery.
Our admittedly small group of samplers preferred Bushmills almost three to one, including some professed Jameson devotees. That said, most of those who preferred Bushmills said that they would also order Jameson, while the Jameson fans found Bushmills too unassertive to be enjoyable.
So what do you think? Do you have a favorite Irish whiskey? Vote in the poll and let us know your favorites in the comments below.
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