It’s my birthday. Well, not quite. I’m turning 29 in a couple days and my girlfriend (now fiancé) and I have a planned trip to Europe. It’s her birthday, too. Hers is a day later than mine. This will mark the second year we’ve celebrated the occasion together. Luckily, she’s a traveler as well. And we’ve had this trip planned for the better part of the last year. As all of the excitement and anxiety loomed before we take our seats on the aircraft playing host to our transatlantic flight, the moment had finally arrived for us to “hop across the pond.”
This isn’t my first trip to Europe. A couple of years ago I took a co-op job working for a startup in London for a couple months after finishing my undergraduate studies. London is a fantastical, dreary old place, and a favorite city that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. We’ll visit London on this trip. I had also taken a weekend trip to Paris during that time. A magnificent city that completely measures up to its illustrious reputation. We’ll also be visiting Paris on this trip.
Needless to say, this was a vacation I was definitely looking forward to. Seeing new places. Visiting familiar one’s. With my Bourbonatic tendencies starting to creep in well before my journey, I knew I would almost certainly entertain the idea of exploring the history (and flavors) of old world whisk(e)y.
Our first stop, Dublin, was going to be a new and exciting experience. Neither of us had been to Ireland and were eager to experience the wonders of this Irish city. Even more eager was my thirst for Irish libations.
Dublin: Part 1
I’m no stranger to Irish whiskey. Jameson is popular enough and graces my glass every once in a while. However, with some light research, I’d learned a good deal about the evolution of Irish whiskey, and some good places to find it!
First order of business: Drop bags. Nap. Find Fish n’ Chips.
A quick jaunt over to Temple Bar – an area on the south bank of the River Liffey and a popular tourist destination – and we popped in the first pub that looked appealing. Fish and Chips and an Irish double (a Guinness and a shot of whiskey) was in order. I asked the nice barman to suggest a good whiskey. Without the slightest of hesitation, he reaches for Redbreast 12. With good cause, so it begins.
Side Review: The Redbreast 12 is a superb sipping whiskey, and actually turned out to be one of my favorites of the trip. I must say that the subtlety and crispness of the Redbreast 12 is truly outstanding and ranks as one of the top whiskies on the current market! A must try. There’s also many other variants, including a 15 year, cask strength, and 21 year versions.
After finishing dinner, I asked the same nice barman “Where’s a good whiskey bar around here?” Again, without hesitation, he pointed me in the direction of what would end up being a mainstay for both this and our second Dublin stay, the Dingle Whiskey Bar.
The Dingle Whiskey Bar is an incredibly small, yet inviting “sit-down bar,” offering some of the best whiskies Dublin has to offer. Adjoined to its Porterhouse Brewing Company (big) sister bar, this quaint whiskey sipper’s haven was not only one of my favorite stops of the trip, but one of the best whiskey bars anywhere! Here we got to try countless Irish whiskies and just enjoy being in a setting that shares my infatuation and admiration for the amber elixir, no matter your allegiance or patronage. You like whiskey? You’ll like this place.
The next day was Jameson Distillery Tour day. Note: The Irish are very proud of their whiskey! As they should be. A tour of Dublin’s Jameson distillery – which is now just a tourist expo, and no longer distills anything – will give you an idea of their love for the time honored whiskey. At the end of the tour, participants are presented with a side-by-side tasting of Jack Daniel’s, Johnnie Walker Black, and Jameson. And they make sure to tell you why Jameson is is the clear choice! It actually is. Because, you know.
There were some superb whiskies lining the shelves of the gift shop. Sadly, I needed to refrain from any purchases until the end of my vacation. After all, we’ll be revisiting Dublin at the end of the trip, and nobody wants to haul around expensive juice in glass bottles for a whole week!
What can I say? Paris is Paris. There’s no other city like it in the world and there never will be. As I previously mentioned, this marks the second time I’ve graced the streets of the French capital. The first was a weekend stopover when I spent some time in London. This time, it was for three days and two birthdays.
As my travel companion and soon-to-be better half had preplanned my birthday celebration venue, we would travel to St. Germaine, a historic part of the city that’s extremely culture-rich, to a steak and whiskey (!!!) spot aptly named, Steaking. She knows me! Of course, a Parisian steakhouse dinner isn’t complete without a French red pairing, a freshly baked baguette, and some silky whipped potatoes that I can only describe as buttery velvet goodness. But after dinner was the best part, where we’d head upstairs to the whiskey and cigar lounge!
The whiskey selection was on par. A couple good staple whiskies sprinkled with some rarer options. I opted for the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. It’s quickly become one of my favorite barrel proofs, and one I consistently keep on my shelf at home. We chatted up the bartender (whom I'd later learn owns the place) and his guest at the bar, a lovely young Turkish lady sipping Johnnie Walker Blue Label, who spoke such good English I mistook her for an American.
We later wanted to experience the Parisian nightlife and wandered over to a place a few blocks down that the restaurant owner recommended. We were sat in what I call a “skinny booth” for two, attached to the outer part of the bar. We watched Parisians and foreigners alike come together under the red glow that lined the sidewalk, sipping cocktails, having side chats, and listening in on the conversations of passersby. This was truly an experience I’ll never forget. If only we could properly reply to those who mistook us for French. It’s flattering not getting “Englished” by a Parisian. Fitting in is half the battle. Speaking the language? Well, that’s another story.
The next day we explored the city. We ventured everywhere from the Louvre all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, which is quite the hike. We may have been a bit overly ambitious, but any day roaming the streets of Paris is a good day indeed.
There was one stop that had to be made. La Maison Du Whisky. If you’re at all familiar with their e-commerce site, you’ll understand why this place is a must-stop for any whiskey aficionado in Paris. It’s quite a spectacle, really. However, from the American whiskey they had available, outside of the full line of export-only Blanton’s not available in the States, wasn’t that far from what I could find stateside. It’s kind of amazing. Being on the other side of the import/export of American whiskey. As hard as it is to find great whiskey here, the markup for importing a lot of what I’d consider “good” whiskey, prices me out when abroad. Although, I’ll never regret visiting this store in person, and asking the gentleman in the showroom, “parlez-vous anglais?” To which he replied, “of course!”
Admittedly, London was never going to be the highlight of my European whiskey voyage. With such a short time, and it being a reunion I was very much looking forward to, I didn’t want to spend all of my time there hunting down whiskey.
Nevertheless, one could not resist popping into a class whiskey vendor while strolling down Picadilly. We happened upon The Whisky Shop and couldn’t help becoming entranced by the glitz of the whiskies lining the store’s windows and walls. After perusing this upscale storefront of fine brown liquor, I traded jabs with the store manager concerning American, Irish and Scotch whisk(e)y for a good while. He’d later offer me a taste of the “American-esque” Glenfiddich Rich Oak finish single malt, after proclaiming I was not a fan of the stuff hailing from the Highlands. It was a decent pour than neither excited nor bored me. But hey, free whiskey does taste better.
We later found ourselves wandering around the infamous Harrod’s department store. If you’re not familiar with this iconic British merchant, think Macy’s in New York, sprinkle in Bergdorf Goodman class, and add a bevy of vibrant, eclectic, and unique departments across 10 floors, and you get Harrod's. Much to my delight, Harrod’s boasts a “Spirits Room” that lay home to an interesting selection of whiskey. We did a quick tour, but most everything they offered was insipid and quite pricey.
Dublin: Part 2
Now that we’ve returned to Dublin to round out the European vacation, it was my goal to find what is being labeled “the Pappy of Irish Whiskey,” Midleton’s Yellow Spot 12-year Single Pot Still. I’ve seen both the Yellow Spot, and the younger sibling Green Spot, whiskies floating around stateside. But I wanted mine from Ireland, naturally. They’ve put together a pretty great website containing a wealth of information and history on the higher-end Irish Whiskies coming out of the Midleton crop.
I’d also wager to say that Midleton probably produces about 90% of all the whiskey that comes out of Ireland. With the production of Jameson (and all its variants), the “Spot” whiskies, Redbreast, Powers, and the Midleton special release whiskies (that’s a lot of whiskey!), I think it’s a safe bet. However, interestingly, the whiskey renaissance that we’re experiencing here in the States seems to have affected Ireland was well. New, craft Irish whiskies (like our friends at Dingle Whiskey) are popping up left and right. All the better!
Now, I’m ready to spend. And there’s one place in particular I want to do so. The Celtic Whiskey Shop. I had been saving my graces from our first stop in Dublin. We must’ve stayed in that shop for a solid hour examining bottles, tasting whiskies, talking up the salesmen. This place is not big. It’s actually quite small. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality and the quality whiskey they offered. I snatched a bottle of the Yellow Spot, Powers Gold Label, Writers Tears, and a bottle of the craft Dingle Variant. I almost (almost) got a Glendalough – claiming to be Ireland’s first craft distillery – Double Barrel Irish Whiskey, but I was wary of my ability to stuff all this liquor into a suitcase!
The 9-day expedition was complete! Somehow, I effectively maneuvered through various parts of the European landscape, and getting my whiskey fix along the way. At the start, I simply wanted to bring home a piece of Ireland in the form of a sweet, succulent malted (and unmalted) barley whiskey. Of which, I was successful.
Inevitably, though, things changed. Finding a good Irish whiskey to add to my collection was easy. Knowing and understanding good Irish whiskey is not. What this trip offered me was a greater appreciation and knowledge I hadn’t previously possessed. And with knowledge comes perspective. As Bourbonatic is a celebration of all things “American whisk(e)y,” my focus will remain. However, the journey into the “World of whisk(e)y” has merely just begun. And I’m all the more grateful for it.