Well, it's now been a full year of cancelled trips and empty airports and all of us collectively planning that first sojourn once we get the collective green light. But that's still some time away, so allow us to offer a stopgap: use this St. Patrick's Day to avoid the green beer and verboten crowds and instead go on a virtual trip around the country with the help of these four diverse, but lovely, whiskies.
The Whisky Waterford Single Malt Ballykilcavan $120
The Region Grattan Quay, Waterford
This is about halfway between Dublin and Cork on Ireland's Southeast Coast, and what a perfectly glorious town: the oldest in Ireland and justly famous for its namesake crystal. This a walkable, medieval town oozing with history... and pubs. Lots of pubs.
Surprisingly, though, the whiskey is quite new—founded in 2015 and just releasing its malts last year. The distinctive blue bottles hold what they call single-farm whiskey—the grain in this one comes from a single farm in the interior and it produces a rich, round dram with a tad less sweetness than your normal Irish Whiskey.
The Whisky Bushmills Black Bush $36
The Region County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Antrim is a dramatic, tough land, with tough folk... until you get them talking and then they're among the the friendliest in the country. County Antrim is home to the famed Giant's Causeway—and a geographical anomoly falling into the sea that's the North's biggest attraction.
Also nearby is Royal Portrush Gold course, recently home of the British Open and easily one of the best (and hardest) courses in the world (although of late County Antrim has been getting more notice thanks to its numerous filming sites for Game of Thrones).
The other major tourist attraction is the Old Bushmills Distillery, the oldest in whisky distillery in the world (they use the date 1608 on the bottles). For decades the twin pillars of the Irish whiskey game were Bushmills (the North) and Jameson (the South), but we'll be honest: Jameson has spent the past few years putting out a crazy assortment of different confusing cask finishes, while Bushmills has kept true to its calling. To wit, Black Bush, perhaps the best deal of any Irish Whiskey—dark fruit sweetness, a noticeable touch of sherry. A winner.
The Whisky Fercullen 10-year old Single Grain $116
The Region Powerscourt Estate, just south of Dublin
The Powerscourt Estate is a a symbol or Ireland's new economic might: swanky hotels, historical gardens and two new championship golf courses, all just a stone's throw from Dublin. And now there's a high-end whiskey distillery too. But how does a new distillery release a 10-year old spirit? By hiring famed distiller Noel Sweeney from the famed Cooley distillery—and then having him buy some of the aged spirit he made while he was there. The result is a very rich, creamy whiskey, with nary an edge or hard bite.
The Whisky Tullamore Dew XO Rum Finish $43
The Region Tullamore County Offaly
Unlike the other towns here, Tullamore isn't on a well-trod tourist path. In fact, the distillery is probably the biggest draw in this sleepy town of 14,000. But what it offers is that priceless slice of everyday Irish life in the midlands: friendly, not particularly harried and... did we say friendly? The whisky is also good company—if the Bushmills vs. Jameson rivalry is like the Stones vs. the Beatles, then Tullamore is like the Kinks, and one gets the sense they're just fine with that.
This bottle is relatively new and the rum cask impart a seriously rich toffee profile, sort of like a caramel apple in a glass.