John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey and Concannon Irish Whiskey

John L Sullivan Irish Whiskeyalive_whiskey_concannon01Twenty 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

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

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

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:





6/2011 Products We Sipped Then Dumped Down the Drain

Ursus Punch Vodka

Running is great—we  get to sample an unbelievable number of beverages, many of which are terrific.

But, there are those that are not so hot.  Usually, we just don’t review the duds.

And sometimes we encounter REALLY awful products.  We feel morally obliged to warn our readers about these wallet- and palate-wounders.

Ursus Punch Flavored Vodka (60 proof): This tastes like Hawaiian Punch mixed with booze.  It is sickly sweet.  The unnaturally optic red color says it all.

Three Wishes Wines

Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka (70 proof): We imagine this would be a diabetic’s nightmare.  Caramel color is added to give the booze within a tea color, and heaps of sugar or somesuch sweetner are used to make this taste like an evil, ugly cousin of Lipton Iced Tea.

Byron Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2009: This red wine stomped all over the front of our tongue and burned going down our gullet.  We paid $14.95 for this torment.

Concannon Central Coast Pinot Noir 2009: It wasn’t corked, it just wasn’t good.  It was $9 wine that tasted like $3 wine.

Three Wishes Merlot: Whole Foods peddled this California red wine for $2.99.  It was watery and acidic.  One sip made us wish we had never bothered with it.