This winter, on a visit to the Gorgeous Gael, a clean, well-lit bar in Rice Village, I asked the bartender what kind of cocktails he made with the premium Irish whiskey called Yellow Spot. He sent one of the bar’s owners, an Irishman named David Roche, to my table. “We serve Yellow Spot on the rocks or neat,” he said, “not in cocktails.”
In January, my family moved from Houston to the wilds of The Burren in Western Ireland (it’s a long story). Since then, my wife and I have made a deep dive into the country’s whiskeys, and we’re not alone in our new enthusiasm. Scotch and Bourbon have hit a plateau lately, but Irish whiskey sales are up 131 percent in the last decade, according to the Wall Street Journal, making it the fastest-growing spirit in the world. Jameson and Old Bushmill’s are the best-known brands, but success has a thousand fathers, as they say.
Surfing the new wave, over a dozen new distilleries have opened in Ireland in the last ten years. Similar to artisan Texas whiskey-makers like Garrison which capitalized on the boom in bourbon, young Irish distillers are reviving traditional methods, although it will be some years before the new spirits have aged enough to release.
But you can find some classic premium Irish whiskeys at the downtown Spec’s, Houston Wine Merchant, and other fine bottle shops. My favorites are Redbreast, Green Spot, and Yellow Spot, all of which date to 1900s-era Dublin and are made in the ancient single-pot-still style, in which mashed blends of malted and unmalted barley are triple-distilled in copper pot stills.
This kind of whiskey is amazingly smooth. From the first sip, you can’t help but notice the creamy mouth feel and complex flavors. Redbreast 12 Year Old, the biggest-selling spirit of its kind in the world, is light on the palate with a spicy aftertaste. Green Spot, a reasonably priced, light and butterscotch-y whiskey with no age statement, is reminiscent of a Speyside single-malt Scotch. Its big sister, Yellow Spot, is 12 years old, with a concentrated aroma and complex fruitiness derived from the bourbon, sherry, and Malaga barrels it’s aged in. And true to what Roche told me at the Gorgeous Gael, all are good for sipping on their own.
Stop by his bar for a sampling of these three Irish charmers, and be on the lookout for a dozen new single-pot-still whiskeys scheduled to hit the market soon. I am most intrigued by Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey from the Walsh Distillery. (No relation.)