Where they’re from: First established in 1776 in Belfast, Ireland, McConnell’s is the first recorded Irish whisky brand. After a 90-year layoff, the distillery was recently revived.
Why we’re drinking these: You may have heard, Irish whiskey is hot right now. And as the industry grows, new distilleries are popping up all over the country.
But none, oddly, in Belfast. “Belfast and Irish whiskey have quite a historic relationship,” says Connor Fitzpatrick, McConnell’s global brand ambassador. “At one point the city produced more Irish whiskey than any other city. But today, there are zero distilleries there. We’re hoping to be the first in 90 years.”
While the distillery is being built — it’ll be housed in a former prison that closed when the Troubles ended (“We wanted to take a symbol of that time and flip in on its head, do something positive,” says Fitzpatrick) and should be open by year’s end — the revived McConnell’s is sourcing and blending their whiskies.
And there’s nothing wrong with that (the company is using its own barrels and recipe). Plus, McConnell’s is releasing products with a minimum of five years of maturation and keeping prices ridiculously low.
So, can an Irish whiskey that you can find for as little as $25 stand out among bottles from 50-plus other distilleries…and revive a legacy that dates back to the founding of America? Let’s find out.
How they taste:
McConnell’s Irish Whisky (42% ABV) is a blend of Irish malt and grain whiskies that have been rested in bourbon casks for at least five years. The Sherry Cask expression (46% ABV) is additionally finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks for about six months.
The flagship bottle picks up a lot of bourbon notes (vanilla, baking spices) while maintaining the rich mouthfeel of a good Irish whiskey and a fair amount of oak. Interestingly, while I’m not personally a fan of Sherry, that finishing really adds to the whiskey’s profile, with additional notes of dark fruit and cocoa.
Both are good neat or on the rocks, but these are ideal for cocktails (the Sherry Cask in particular seems best suited for a Boulevardier.)
Fun fact: Most Irish whiskey brands since the early 1800s have spelled their whiskey with an “e” to differentiate their product from Scotch. Since that tradition came long after McConnell’s was founded, the brand decided to keep its spelling as “whisky.”
Where to buy: You can find the bottles nationwide and on ReserveBar or Frootbat for about $25-$35 (the Sherry Cask is harder to find and will probably cost a bit more).