I have a confession to make. Irish whiskey was my first love. In my youthful days of drunken haze I was not exactly the pickiest, but early on I found that while I could drink Canadian Club without complaint, the whiskey of my forefathers was a welcome treat. Interestingly enough, Clontarf is the whiskey that taught me that fact. So today I revisit the moment the dam broke. Of course memory played a strong role in this selection. I’ve only had Clontarf once, the one bottle that set me onto Irish, since then I’ve explored the genre rather thoroughly, finding bliss in every bottle and setting into phases of which was my favorite. Then came bourbon, and I must admit I’ve left my ol’ lass by the wayside a bit, in favor of the bolder and more rugged spirit. This bottle is, to me, almost a visit to an old familiar place. The only question is, after all the learning I have done, will the Clontarf of my memory hold up?
Perhaps I should make it clear that I did not buy my first bottle of Clontarf, but rather it was part of an exchange of sorts. So wasn’t I pleasantly surprised by its sweet gentle flavor and even its name which invokes the history that a young history major like myself couldn’t resist? (The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 drove away a Viking raid on Ireland) I was. And how do I feel now? Pleasantly enough Clontarf falls at a lower price point than many of the Irish whiskies I usually turn to: the reigning king Jameson is now too sweet for my tastes at its rising price, Bushmills is a standby in flavor (if Northern Irish), the best are all too expensive (although Knappogue Castle is worth it’s price point) and Michael Collins is a bit pricy and he bartered the flawed independence agreement anyways. The great part is that the cheaper Clontarf is not a one dimensional product. It’s gentle, yet filled with the bready complexity of the original malt, something that some whiskies strive to hide, yet I adore. It’s almost like that moment on a brewery tour where they invite you to taste the pale malts and I take a handful like it was a breakfast cereal. Another flavor that seems to shine through is that of a werther’s caramel, not in its chewy form the hard candy. I can’t help but think perhaps this is the result of the bourbon barrel aging on this whiskey, but who can be sure. When it comes down to it, I can see why this bottle brought me to love Irish whiskey. It’s not just because most of the other stuff I was drinking was probably swill; it’s because there was a beautiful simplicity to Irish whiskey. It’s soft, there’s the malted barley and the pre-used barrel. This creates a nuisance, which undoubtedly I missed then, and which may be even too much for me to recognize now. Looking and tasting back, all I can say is, I understand why this stuff opened the doors for me, and thank you. If it wasn’t for that first bottle of Clontarf, I could be writing reviews of diet Jagerbombs or something.