When Andrew Abrahamson and Pedro Shanahan helped create the menu for the newly opened Bar Jackalope, a dusky 18-seat lounge ornamented with ersatz taxidermy of the mythical creature and devoted to whiskey from around the globe, they of course included bourbon, Scotch and whiskeys both Japanese and Canadian.
Also on the concise list of some of the world's best whiskeys are 10 Irish labels, whittled down from about 40. "There are so many great Irish whiskeys," Shanahan said, "that choosing a handful was excruciating."
Just a couple of years ago, maybe the only Irish whiskey many had tried, or even heard of, was Jameson. And it was just two years ago that there were only three production distilleries in all of Ireland. Now there are a dozen distilleries operating, under construction or in various stages of planning.
And new Irish whiskeys or ones previously unavailable in America have arrived stateside in droves: the Irishman 12 Year Single Malt, Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Cask Strength, Midleton Very Rare, Redbreast 21 Year Single Pot Still and Green Spot, to name just a few recent entries.
Irish whiskey traditionally is made with both unmalted and malted barley in pot stills, triple-distilled and rarely peated. (In comparison, Scotch is made with only malted barley, double-distilled and commonly peated.) What results is typically a smoother, lighter whiskey than Scotch or bourbon. "There are Irish whiskeys you can drink in the morning," Shanahan said.
Here's what to sip, with tasting notes contributed by Abrahamson, who is the bar's general manager, and Shanahan, whose title is spirit guide.
Tyrconnell 10 Year Madeira Cask Single Malt
This one's a single malt – so it's made from only malted barley -- and matured for 9 to 10 years in old bourbon casks. It's then finished for three months in Madeira casks, which gives it notes of dried fruit and nuts such as raisin and cashew. Lots of vanilla. Not at all like a 10-year Scotch or bourbon, it's vivid and light for a Madeira-cask whiskey.
Redbreast Single Pot Still 12 Year Cask Strength
"Single pot still" means that it was made with malted and unmalted barley and distilled entirely in pot stills in the definitive Irish style (it doesn't contain any column-still grain whiskey). Aged in predominantly old sherry casks and clocking in at 115 proof, it's hot. It's also smooth, rich and layered, with a mineral quality, slightly smoky, hints of fig, apple and vanilla with dark-chocolate-like sweetness.
Bushmills Single Malt 16 Year
Rich, sweet and overall delicious. "There's not a bad thing about this," noted Abrahamson. Half of the whiskey is aged in bourbon and the other half in sherry barrels, then together they're finished in port casks. It has an aroma of almond and tastes of rich, oily dried fruit. Chocolately. It's creamy with a huge, jammy finish.
About $72. K&L Wine Merchants; Hi-Time Wine Cellars; Fine Wine House in Upland, (877) 981-6555, www.finewinehouse.com; 20-20 Wine Merchants; Wine Exchange.
Tullamore D.E.W. 10 Year Single Malt
Double-distilled and matured in four types of casks: old bourbon, Oloroso sherry, port and Madeira. Golden-colored and rich, it tastes of fruit and wood, lush with apricot, fig, even honeydew and pineapple. The wood influence is more pronounced than in other Irish whiskeys. A dry tobacco finish.
About $43. The Wine Club.
Green Spot Single Pot Still
A unique bonded Irish whiskey that just arrived in the U.S., made by Irish Distillers Ltd. It's aged in old American oak bourbon barrels and sherry barrels for eight to nine years. With aromas of citrus, particularly orange peel, it tastes slightly yeasty and nutty with tropical fruit -- banana bread! The cereal grain comes through; "I think it was designed to show off the grain," Shanahan said.
About $48. Hi-Time Wine Cellars.
Powers John's Lane Release 12 Year Single Pot Still
Aged in bourbon casks with a small amount aged in Oloroso sherry barrels, this is a big whiskey with plenty of spice, wood and leather. On first whiff, "I get Dr. Pepper," Abrahamson said. "It's got a bourbon thing going on." Or maybe a Glengoyne Scotch. Notes of vanilla, apricot and apples; big and chewy with a warm wood and honey finish.
About $72. Hi-Time Wine Cellars, K&L Wine Merchants, Wally's Wine & Spirits.
Powers Gold Label Special Reserve 12 Year
Powers Gold Label is blended with various whiskeys ranging in age from 12 to 25 years. Sharp aromas of white pepper, slightly floral. Full-bodied and smooth. "It has a kind of brandy quality," said Abrahamson. Notes of pear, peaches and dried grass. "This is a lunchtime whiskey," Shanahan said, "a working man's lunchtime whiskey."
About $30. K&L Wine Merchants.
Jameson Select Reserve Single Distillery Black Barrel
Matured in sherry and bourbon casks as well as charred virgin American oak, this is Irish whiskey for bourbon drinkers, aimed at the U.S. market. It's sweet and spicy, with pear, orange blossom, citrus and cinnamon. "Dare I say it, it could be for a Fireball drinker," Abrahamson said, referring to the cinnamon-flavored liqueur.
Connemara Peated Single Malt
A single peated malt whiskey, double-distilled and aged in bourbon casks (the way whiskey in Ireland was made before the 1900s). On the nose, there's the peat and then malt. A big whiskey -- but it's smooth and sippable, smoky and sweet; we also tasted fruit such as strawberry and a saline minerality. A long finish, with peat, honey and wood.
About $45. Hi-Time Wine Cellars.
Bar Jackalope, located inside Seven Grand Whiskey bar, 515 W. 7th St., 2nd floor, Los Angeles, (213) 614-0737, www.sevengrandbars.com.