St. Patrick’s Day is days away, and what better way could there be of celebrating the conversion of the Gaels to Christianity than to meditate upon some Irish whiskies. Indeed, were it not for Irish Catholic angst (speaking from some experience) the whiskey industry might never have flourished in that country at all.
The very word whiskey (or whisky) in English is derived from the Gaelic term for the same substance, namely uisce beatha (pronounced ishka bah-ha), which is translated literally as “water of life.” Drop a mouse in a bowl of whiskey and you’ll see how long it lives; nevertheless, even poison has its place in God’s creation, as Proverbs 31:6-7 tells us:
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Indeed. It is not for yours truly to review any top-shelf whiskies; I am just not a top-shelf kind of guy, as my friends would readily attest. Instead I plan on looking at three of the old mainstays: Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew—the plain versions, not the new-fangled single malt variations and such.
I will begin with the latter of the three. Tullamore Dew is a blended Irish whiskey. It shares the most common characteristic of Irish whiskies, namely that it is triple distilled. (Rumors that St. Patrick used the process of triple distillation to explain the Holy Trinity seem unfounded, however.) And as opposed to most Scotch whiskies, peat is generally not featured in the Irish malting process, resulting in a smoother-rather-than-smoky finish. (I will not go further into all of the more tendentious distinctions between various types of whiskey.)
Tullamore Dew is certainly nothing if not smooth. It is so smooth that it is best appreciated neat, or with the merest splash of water, or poured fairly generously over a single ice-cube. You will hear it described by educated tasters as medium-to-full bodied, light-straw in color, featuring notes of wood and honeysuckle, with a long finish. I’d endorse all of these descriptions, emphasizing again that it needs to sipped nearly or entirely straight in order to bring its personality to the fore.
Yet, I don’t especially like drinking my 80 proof liquor straight. The palate is one concern, but the throat and stomach are others, and I happen to be more comfortable with a modest but tangible dilution. Yet dilution makes the flavor of Tullamore Dew tend toward disappearance. So I recognize the strengths of Tullamore Dew, but it has never become a whiskey I choose to drink regularly. Its greatest strength—its smoothness—is but the mirror image therefore of its greatest weakness: a lack of strong, assertive character, of what you might call bite. This is likely to make it all the more mixable, but I can’t honestly comment on that, since I do not mix Irish whiskies at all except for in a very occasional Irish coffee, and I do not recall having sampled Tullamore Dew in an Irish coffee.
My personal quirks aside, Tullamore Dew is undoubtedly a fine and solid liquor, and is made all the more attractive by the fact that it is (currently) available at quite affordable rates. There are without any doubt far more expensive Scotch whiskies that in the end don’t hold a candle to such as Tullamore Dew for sheer drinkability, smoothness and friendliness. And given the choice in a bar between Tullamore Dew and the more-famous Jameson Irish whiskey (as may well occur), I would always choose Tullamore Dew. This imbiber would also rate it above Powers and Paddy.
So, to paraphrase an old advertising slogan for the stuff, I have no objection to giving every man his Dew.
Rating: Nine out of ten lead pipes.