Call me a whiskey fan boy if you want, but I come by my love of Irish whiskey, the world’s fastest-growing spirit, honestly. A few years ago I moved to Ireland from my old home of Houston, where I’d served as Houstonia’s very first dining editor. It was across the pond that I discovered the glory of the Single Pot Still style of Irish whiskey, singing its praises in this magazine a couple of years ago.
I’ll admit I was gobsmacked when Jack Teeling, the rock star of the Dublin distillery scene, invited me to sample his soon-to-be-released Teeling Single Pot Still Irish whiskey. (It was silky-smooth, with peach aromas and cinnamon flavor notes.) As we sipped, Teeling explained that he was planning a promotional trip to Space City, where he planned to stop by the Houstonia offices to pour some shots. “Houston is the perfect market for us. New York and Boston are mature Irish whiskey markets, but Houstonians are keen on artisan whiskeys,” he said, adding that he’d been encouraged by the success of Texas whiskeys like Garrison Brothers.
Teeling Whiskey opened its distillery in 2015 in the Liberties neighborhood of Dublin, in the same area where the Guinness Brewery is located—and not far from the spot where Jack’s ancestor, Walter Teeling, opened the original Teeling Whiskey back in 1782. Dublin was once the center of the world’s whiskey business, but World Wars, the Depression, and Prohibition in the U.S. ended the era.
After decades of corporate consolidation, the majority of Irish whiskey brands are now made in the Midleton Distillery complex near Cork. But the recent surge in the popularity of Irish whiskey has inspired a new generation of artisans to open small distilleries across the country. Teeling was the first new distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years, and its SPS Irish was the first whiskey of any kind to be distilled in Dublin in almost 50 years. As stunning as it is now, it promises to get better with age.
SPS Irish is made from a blend of grains: Malted barley, the stuff Scotch is made from, is mixed with unmalted barley and sometimes other grains. Teeling’s version mixes malted and unmalted barley 50-50, a throwback to the style of the late 1700s. The unmalted barley gives the whiskey a pleasantly oily texture.
If you haven’t tried an SPS Irish yet, prepare to be seduced. These whiskeys have a creamy mouthfeel, floral aroma, fruity flavors, and no harsh edges. Brands you might find at Spec’s Warehouse or Houston’s top Irish bars include Teeling’s SPS, of course, as well as Green Spot (a nice entry point), Power’s Signature SPS (mild and lovely), Redbreast 12 (the category’s top seller), Redbreast 15 (older and smoother), and Midleton Dair Ghaelach (super premium SPS finished for a final year in new Irish oak).
And now you know what to order on St. Patrick’s Day. Sláinte!