Take A Deep Dive Into Fine Irish Whiskey in New Orleans and Support a Great Cause

Catherine and I are in New Orleans on a long weekend getaway, arriving here Thursday night to meet up with dear friends of mine from college. In any event, we ended up howling at the moon after a lovely dinner at Bayona Thursday night, and Catherine and I were up to an earlier start than our friends, who had already been in New Orleans for almost a week. So, we had a little time to kill and we went and had breakfast at Cafe Conti, and we looked around for things we hadn’t seen in the French Quarter. We decided to check out the Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans. The museum itself was pretty neat; it recounted how there were numerous Irish immigrants to New Orleans during the potato famine and how Irish folk had dug the Basin Street Canal from the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchartrain, the Hibernia Society in New Orleans, and the numerous civic and religious leaders in Louisiana that emerged from the Irish that settled in Louisiana.

What was also neat for me is that my grandmother’s name was Annie Dee Flinn, and her Irish family had been in New Orleans for a few generations, so this museum told the story of a part of my family tree.

While there, we discovered that they don’t charge admission because tourists for some reason didn’t want to pay to support the museum. So, with true Irish ingenuity in attacking a problem and with New Orleans flair, they opened a bar inside to fund the Museum. Brilliant!

The Museum and bar are the passion of the Ahearn family, to promote Irish history and Irish whiskey in New Orleans. They also own a very large construction firm. Jake Ahearn was running the bar when we got there.

St. Pat’s has an Irish whiskey menu that is in a leather book and has about sixty some odd whiskies on the menu. Their menu has detailed tasting notes on each whiskey, with nose, palate and finish described in great detail. They will also do flights, 3 drams (one half of the size and list price of each whiskey on the menu) of your choice in Glencairn glasses. Top notch. Catherine and I decided to do two flights but we tried each whiskey. We went all top shelf, or, in this case, glass case, on our selections.

Very tough to find Irish whiskies, at least in Louisiana. Catherine and I are pretty much scotch and bourbon people, but, after this tasting, good whiskey is just good whiskey, and we will plan to add some of these to our home bar. In order of our preference (and not the order we drank them) here is what we thought about our flight:

1. Bushmills 21 – I have never been a fan of Bushmills, but the 21 year old absolutely changed my mind about this distillery. A “Protestant” distillery in Northern Ireland, Bushmills is all about Single Malt whiskey, rather than traditional Irish potstilled whiskey. Catherine and I both thought Bushmills 21 was elegant and refined; its aging in ex-bourbon cask and finishing for almost two years in Oloroso Sherry casks really brought amazing flavors on the palate. We both felt this whiskey was on the level with things like Glenmorangie Signet and Oban Distiller’s Edition. I am going to ask Hudson and Gus to see if they can get me a bottle of this one to add to my bar. Truly excellent. It is one of those whiskies you sometimes run across and you think “where have you been?” Wow!

2. Yellow Spot, 12 years old. I was already a fan of Green Spot and have had it in a few bars. But Yellow Spot 12 year old was really something special. Such a great mouthfeel on a delightful whiskey that is traditional Irish potstill whiskey, meaning the mashbill has a small measure of malted barley with a large amount of unmalted barley. What is great about Yellow and Green Spot is that this traditional Irish whiskey is not blended with single malt or grain whiskey. This true and unique Irish whiskey recipe gets to stand on its own. Yellow Spot is aged various used casks, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-Malaga casks. So sweet, so good, and at 92 proof it is a hair stronger than most Irish whiskies, and that slight extra kick of heat really had both Catherine and I appreciating this one. Unapologetically Irish whiskey that really shows was Irish whiskey can do as far as flavor.

3. Tullamore DEW Trilogy -15 years old. Readers of this blog probably know that I am a fan of Tullamore DEW, much more than Jameson or Bushmills. Tullamore DEW has this wonderful green apple and pear flavor going on. I was not at all an Irish whiskey fan until one St. Patrick’s Day at Finnegan’s Wake in Alexandria I decided to order a shot of Irish whiskey with my Guinness just because it was St. Patrick’s Day, and I decided to go with something different, Tullamore DEW. Tullamore DEW is a unique blend of single malt, Irish potstill, and grain whiskies. I finally found an Irish whiskey I liked and became open to trying others. But the 15 year old Tullamore, they should have named it Triple Threat rather than Trilogy. Aged in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-rum casks, this wonderful apple desert whiskey finished with such wonderful oak notes. Just truly awesome. Writing this, I am scratching my head at why I thought Yellow Spot was better at the tasting. I think I need to try them both again, and keep trying them until there is a clear winner between them. Which may be never, but, oh well, I’ll just keep trying them. If neither whiskey wins, I am pretty sure I do.

4. Green Spot. Green Spot has been one of my Irish whiskey go to’s in bars that have it. Green Spot is a roughly ten year old Single Pot Still Irish whiskey, which means it is not blended with grain alcohol and the mashbill is not all malted barley like a single malt whiskey would be, but is made from a mash that has some barley malt and is mostly unmalted barley. As I have written before, this mash came into fashion when the British began taxing malted barley, and I feel Irish Single Pot Still represents a sentiment I have in my own heart, if you try to tax me I will try to find a way around that tax. Green Spot is aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks and has great flavor and mouthfeel. Green Spot makes me glad I didn’t give up on Irish whiskey at the standard Bushmills and Jameson. Otherwise, I would have never tried this. When friends drag me to an Irish pub, this is my go to dram if they have it, and they usually do. Green Spot is pretty widely available and you should definitely have it on your bar.

5. Midleton Very Rare. This is almost embarrassing to say this, but I really had no idea what I was drinking when I tried this, although Jake tried to tell me this stuff is extremely hard to get since there are only 50 barrels that go to this release each year, but I have researched it and realized this is on the level with Pappy Van Winkle in the Irish whiskey world; put out by Jameson, it is supposed to be their very best. It was definitely good but paled before whiskies 1-4 above. Crazy part is that it costs 3 to 4 times as much as whiskies 1-4. Very good, glad that I have it in the catalogue of whiskies I can say I have tried, but given my penchant to Tullamore and Mitchell (Green and Yellow Spot) who source from Jameson but age it differently, all I have to say is Jameson distills very fine whiskey. But other people know how to age it better, aka Tullamore and Mitchell. I am pretty sure I am speaking heresy in the Irish whiskey world, but, heck, I already did that by picking that Protestant whiskey as number 1. Mea maxima culpa.

6. Jack Ryan Beggars Bush 15 Year Old. Ok, I just had to order this. The name. How stupid cool a name for a whiskey is this! Nose is apple and banana, palate has those fruits followed by slight oak, slight burnt sugar, and then cereal takes over. Like cherrio’s. Very barley forward, like Glenmorangie Tusail. I appreciate this style of whiskey but Catherine does not. Coming in last place in this field is nothing to sneeze at. Really good whiskey.

We followed up with a shot uof the Quiet Man Eight Year Old Irish Whiskey. I ordered it because Catherine loves the John Wayne movie the Quiet Man. Jake hadn’t tried it either so he joined us on this one. Like the Jack Ryan, it is also very cereal forward and Catherine hated it. But really good given the price.

This experience had Catherine and I rethink Irish whiskey, as Catherine asked me “why don’t we have more of this at the house?” We will definitely be looking for more Irish whiskies to add to our collection.

As to our experience at St. Pat’s at the Irish Cultural Museum in New Orleans, we can’t rave enough about this place. Moreover, the whiskey flights have drams rather than full shots, and the price was supposed to be 1/2 of the regular shot price for each whiskey we tried. I had fully expected our six dram flight to be over $100, plus whatever the Quiet Man cost. I didn’t really do the math, but I am pretty sure I was graciously undercharged for all this. Jake made a comment on how much he loves it when folks come in that aren’t your typical hey, I am in New Orleans here to get drunk tourist but are folks that really appreciate fine whiskey and know how to nose it and taste it. So, draw your own conclusions.

So, stop in and have a dram or six with Jake the next time your are in New Orleans, take a deep dive into fine Irish whiskey, and help support the Irish Cultural Museum. Slainte.

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