Twenty years ago, Irish whiskey was a pretty sleepy category of spirits. Indeed, the whole 20th century was a bit of a downer for it. As we recounted in Whiskey: A Global History, Ireland was the whiskey king for much the 19th century. Its pot stills churned out fantastic amounts of spirit that was consumed in England, Europe, Africa, and as far as California.
But then everything went bad. The Scots and their column stills matched their production and sold their spirit more cheaply. At the fin de siècle, the European whiskey market collapsed from a glut of product. World War I, Prohibition, and political tensions with England further crushed the Irish whiskey industry. In 1875 there were 60 distilleries in Ireland; by 1920, only a handful remained. For the last few decades of the 20th century, only two distilleries operated—Middleton (maker of Jameson, Red Breast, and others) and Bushmills.
The 21st century has brought a minor renaissance in Irish whiskey. Midelton and Bushmills both have upped their games, bringing far better whiskeys to market than they had for some time. And, happily, two smaller distilleries have begun producing spirit, the formerly mothballed Kilbeggan, and Cooley Distillery. The latter has won myriad prizes for its remarkable whiskeys, many of which have been praised by AlcoholReviews.com.
Both John L. Sullivan and Concannon Irish Whiskey are made by Cooley.
John L. Sullivan reminds us a bit of our beloved Powers Irish Whiskey, which is made by Midleton. The proof is identical (80 proof); and the style is also the same—oily, barley-forward flavor. However, it also shows a fruity note and more grain. John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey, named for the famed bare-fisted boxer, is a bit lighter than Powers. It also is more pricey—about $35 a bottle. This Irish whiskey is best taken neat, so that one can swish it about the mouth and enjoy the viscosity and nuance. (Rating: Very Good) Read more at http://www.johnlwhiskey.com/
As for Concannon, it is an interesting, and unusual bird. Like John L. Sullivan, Concannon is aged in Bourbon casks, but it is finished in Syrah casks. This is not the first Irish whiskey burnished. Jameson 1780, released in the 1990s (if we recall), was finished in sherry casks. The Syrah casking adds a clear winey-red fruit flavor to the spirit, which is pleasant. Thankfully, the Syrah does not dominate—the barley whiskey taste more than holds its own, helping this 80 proof spirit remain sturdy and appealing. Retail priced at $25 or less, this is very good bang for the buck. (Rating: Good) Read more at http://concannonirishwhiskey.com/
Readers may shop for Irish whiskeys online here.
Note: A May 2012 announcement by John L. Sullivan whiskey stated “Following its acquisition of the Cooley Distillery in Ireland, Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. has made the decision to end contract production for the John L. Sullivan brand of Irish whiskey.” Pity. Read more at: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=291716340914212&id=183681718603