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The Great Fancy Booze Revolution commenced about 20 years ago in America with the single-malt Scotch craze. Oh, there had been upscale whiskey in the U.S. before (Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker Black), but the single malts established a new ultratony (and ultrapricey) liquor class. Soon they were joined by boutique vodkas with European accents, small-batch bourbons, swank tequilas, and $50-a-bottle rums (hold the Coke, please). Now, late but not least, the mother of all spirits — Irish whiskey — has made its way into the upper crust. It’s about time, considering how long Ireland’s been in the whiskey biz. Some say St. Patrick himself introduced the stuff to Dublin back in the late 5th century. The very word whiskey (with an “e” in Ireland and the U.S., no “e” in Scotland and Canada) is derived from the Gaelic “uisce beathadh,” which means “water of life.” How much more basic can you get? While single-malt scotch is defined by its peat-driven smokiness, and small-batch bourbon by its corn-born sweetness, fine Irish whiskey has a soft, smooth finish and a clean, fresh taste — sometimes with hints of toffee, caramel, or vanilla, other times a little floral. If connoisseurship is your thing, you’ll want to know that Irish whiskey gets its freshness from the smoke-free heat used to dry the malted barley (the “ur” ingredient); that it’s distilled three times (scotch is usually distilled twice); and that its flavors are imparted by aging the product in oak barrels formerly used to hold port, sherry, bourbon, or some combination of the three. Then again, if you simply choose to accept your good fortune as a gift from St. Patrick and not clutter your mind with whiskey esoterica … well, cheers. THE BEST OF THE BEST Jameson 1780 Reserve Blended, 12 years old. Rich, deep, and mellow. Hints of citrus, apple, and wild honey. Clean finish on the tongue. $35. Bushmills Black Bush A rich, malty blend with a smooth, light caramel bass note. Great after dinner. $35. Redbreast Pot Still Hard to find but worth the search. Hell, worth going to Ireland for. Crisp, floral nose. Soft, long finish. Just might be the best whiskey in the world. $35. Knappogue Castle 1990 Gently herbal, with a hint of honey. Soft in the mouth. Subtly complex. $45. Connemara The exception to the Irish rule — a single malt with a smoky, peaty aroma. Also suggestions of tar and oloroso sherry. $56. Bushmills 16 Single malt, 16 years old. Deep, complex, assertive. Matured in three different “woods” (bourbon, sherry, and port barrels). $70. Midleton Very Rare Blends the taste of almonds, fruits, honey, and herbal spice for a smooth, velvety finish. If you really, really want to impress your boss. $125. This article originally appeared in the September 2001 issue of JD Jungle and MBA Jungle .

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