Kilbeggan Is Crafting Modern Classics From 100-Year-Old Whiskey Recipes

Kilbeggan Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
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If you’re trying to tell a story of rebirth, there’s perhaps no better place to start than back at the beginning. And if the story is that of Irish whiskey, perhaps no one is telling that story as well as Kilbeggan. This month, its new Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey joined the distillery’s excellent (and affordable) range of limited-release bottlings that resurrect long-abandoned recipes and techniques to tell the story of Irish whiskey as the industry undergoes a modern renaissance.

Not all that long ago, Irish whiskey accounted for more than half the brown spirits consumed globally, an enviable market position obtained through both a sterling reputation for quality and a robust export market (helped along by the British Empire’s vast trading network). Then, in a matter of a few years, it all came undone. The one-two punch of U.S. prohibition beginning in 1920 and Irish independence from Britain in 1921 severed Irish distillers from their two biggest export markets virtually overnight. Worse yet, illicit bootleggers in the U.S. skirting prohibition in the 1920s passed off whatever foul hooch they could bottle as “Irish whiskey,” crippling the spirit’s reputation for quality.

This is how, by the 1980s, Ireland was down to a couple of distilleries churning out just a few brands of mostly inexpensive, largely unremarkable whiskey. But with dozens of distilleries opening over the last decade and more coming online all the time, Irish distillers are out to reclaim their position in the whiskey pantheon. Kilbeggan—the oldest continually licensed distillery on the island—is doing its part by making everything old new again, turning to mash bills common in the late 19th century to create modern whiskeys with flavor profiles not seen in a century.

By definition, a single pot still Irish whiskey is one produced solely in Ireland at a single distillery using copper pot stills from a mix of malted and unmalted barley and up to 5 percent of other grains. In this case, the mash bill contains 2.5 percent oats, an ingredient you simply won’t find in most whiskeys regardless of provenance.

The impact is largely textural, imparting a rich creaminess to a whiskey otherwise characterized by notes of fresh fruit, vanilla, and warm, mellow baking spice, as well as a unique roundness you won’t find in most young whiskeys. It’s a delightful change-of-pace dram, something that—given its truly unique mash bill—will live in a place all by itself in your bar. Reach for it when a heavier-hitting American bourbon or rye feels like too much, a nuanced Speyside Scotch too delicate.

Priced at $45, you won’t have to feel guilty reaching for it either. It joins the distillery’s Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye—a rich, spice-heavy dram including roughly 30% rye in the mash bill released in late 2018 for $35—as one of the more interesting new bottles you can find under $50 right now.

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