But my most eye-opening drinking experiences were two whiskey tastings over consecutive evenings in the ship’s low-key piano lounge.
First, at a Jameson Irish Whiskey tasting, I was surprised by the wide stylistic differences among the four selections. The “regular” 12-year-old Jameson ($40) was hot and short, more bracing than mellow — just what I expected from decades of St. Patty’s Day shots. A “Gold” bottling ($75) was more expensive, though not necessarily better. Also packed with alcoholic heat, it was grassier and showed notes of sherry, vanilla and oak resin.
But an 18-year Jameson “Reserve” ($80) was revelatory — unctuous and mouth-coating with an oily texture and subtle fruit flavors accented by loads of vanilla and spice. I just kept smelling it and rolling it around on my tongue. Wow!
So with enormous expectations, I came to their special “Midleton” bottling ($150), containing whiskies aged 12-25 years.
It was more high-toned, complex and cerebral, with flowers and honeyed sherry notes dominating. But its power was held too much in reserve and it proved, ultimately, less delicious.
The next night we tasted through Jim Beam’s “Small Batch Bourbon Collection.” I’d had all four previously, though never back to back — or following an Irish whiskey tasting! Still, I was certain that this would be the more enjoyable event.
Starting with Basil Hayden ($40), it struck me as soft and gentle on the nose, but unpleasantly astringent on the palate. Showing heather and honey, it seemed diluted and weak. Nonplussed, we moved on to Knob Creek ($30), which showed more robust aromas and flavors of vanilla, honey, maple syrup and stewed fruits. It was altogether richer, rounder … more satisfying.
The Baker’s ($45) that followed, though, was shut down and closed on the nose. On the palate, alcoholic heat dominated, and a distinctly “green” flavor profile led to a peppery finish with too little fruit and spice to balance.
The final selection, a 130-proof Booker’s ($60), had to be watered slightly. Huge and hot, a distinct core of baked apples carried along hints of nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar, toasted vanilla and maple sweetness. It was quite good.
Now, I’ve always thought bourbon was the most delicious whiskey — the easiest to like. But I’ve reconsidered that position after drinking these delicious drams on the high seas. That 18-year-old Jameson Reserve was the clear winner among these eight. It simply showed more character — and gave more immediate pleasure — than any other.
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