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How to Taste Rare Whiskeys

Ireland’s mid-19th century Adare Manor, which reopened in County Limerick following a top-to-bottom renovation in 2017, features a cozy new whiskey lounge called the Tack Room. It specializes in rare productions—many from Irish distilleries established around the same time as the Manor, as well as Scotch, Japanese, American, and Canadian bottlings. The lounge even has its own line produced in collaboration with Midleton Very Rare: 192 collectible, hand-signed bottles of cask-strength 1995 single pot still whiskey, which sell for €2,000 each.

Ireland’s mid-19th century Adare Manor features a cozy new whiskey lounge called the Tack Room.
Ireland’s mid-19th century Adare Manor features a cozy new whiskey lounge called the Tack Room.

How should one taste and evaluate such superlative spirits? To find out, I hunker down in one of the Tack Room’s plush fireside banquettes with whiskey connoisseur Brian Lawlor, who amassed the Tack Room’s collection.

He says to ignore color and go straight to the nose, hoping to discern at least three characteristics to signal complexity. “I always look for a caramel tone, which means you’ll get softness on the end of it,” Lawlor adds,” as we sample Adare Manor’s 1995 whiskey. “A little bit of floral or candy floss aroma. I can smell lavender, violet…”

Whether a whiskey is best enjoyed neat or with water is always a topic for debate, but Lawlor says you should do both during a tasting: first, sip it undiluted to test heat, the length of finish, and sharpness; then add two or three drops of water to open up layers of flavor.

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Lawlor calls out honeysuckle, caramel, and Granny Smith green apple in the 1995 whiskey. I get cinnamon, ginger, and dried fruit and lots of fruit cake flavors.

“It’s a comforting fireside whiskey. Something you’ll enjoy over time,” says Lawlor.

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