I’m always on the lookout for new brands of whiskey in my local liquor store, and I love a spirit with a good historical tie. So when I spotted the Fighting 69th Irish whiskey on a recent restock, I just had to buy some for further investigation.
At the beginning of the American Civil War in April 1861, a predominantly Irish regiment of volunteers from New York City were called up and sent to Washington to help put down the nascent rebellion. This New York state militia group — the 69th Infantry New York State Volunteers — would become known as the Irish Brigade, and would go on to become one of the more recognizable and famous military units in United States history and an important icon for Americans of Irish heritage. The regiment’s history would become the basis for the 1940 movie The Fighting Irish starring James Cagney, and the square in the middle of New York’s Times Square district would eventually be named Duffy’s Square after the chaplain of the unit.
The regiment continues to be an active military unit as part of New York’s Army National Guard, and they maintain a historical headquarters in New York City. It was there that Col. James Tierney (unit historian) had a chance encounter with a spirits distributor and the two started work on bringing a whiskey to market that would pay homage to the unit’s history.
That distributor, The Espiritus Group, has a sub-brand named Indigo Wine and Spirits based in Jupiter, Florida who are the actual listed importer of this spirit. The Espiritus Group was founded in 2016 by Jay Maltby, whose previous career includes a stint at Angel’s Envy, a CEO position of a rum manufacturer, and a board seat at Bacardi. The company’s other brands include Corner Creek Bourbon and Chareau aloe-based liqueur.
- Learn More: What Is Irish Whiskey?
There’s a lot of material on their website about the Irish Regiment and its history, but there’s only a few brief glimmers of any information related to what is actually in this bottle. It does sound like they are generally following the pattern for a standard Irish Whiskey, though.
According to the website, the spirit starts as a mixture of malted and un-malted barley, which is the hallmark of a traditional Irish whiskey and is what gives it the distinctive sweeter and lighter flavors. However, there’s no discussion of what percentage of each type is used and, since this isn’t labeled as any particular variety of Irish whiskey (like Pot Still Whiskey for example), we have nothing to lean on to understand what that ratio might be.
Those grains are cooked and then fermented before being distilled three times in copper pot stills. Triple distillation is another hallmark of Irish whiskey, a differentiating factor from the double distillation in Scotland and it results in a lighter and often less characterful spirit.
Once distilled, the newly made whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years in previously-used American bourbon casks. This is a common pattern — American bourbon can only use a cask once, and typically those casks are re-sold at a much lower price to Scottish and Irish distilleries to be re-used to age other spirits.
After this has aged for the original three years, this whiskey claims that their spirit is then finished in an array of other casks including “Single-Char casks, Double-Char casks, Oloroso Sherry casks, Rum casks, and Port casks.” There’s no distinction about how much time it spends in those other casks, but the end result is then blended together in an undisclosed proportion to create the bottle of whiskey we have here today.
This is a very traditionally shaped bottle, similar to every other whiskey bottle on the market. There’s a rounded cylindrical base that flares outwards from the base to the shoulder, a gently rounded shoulder, and then a medium length neck with a slight bulge in the middle. The bottle sports a nice thick base that should show up well on an under-lit bar shelf, and the whole thing is capped off with a plastic-and-artificial-cork stopper.
I was expecting a little more design work in the label, but this just looks like a very generic Irish whiskey label. There’s the green and gold color scheme that is common with Irish spirits, and a whole bunch of words printed in gold lettering on the cream colored label that just get lost in the mix. The label does have some details written on it about the regiment (alongside what looks like the regimental coat of arms in the center), but there isn’t a whole lot of artwork or other embellishments that really set it apart from other Irish whiskey brands. It blends in with the pack, not really doing anything that would catch my eye or set it apart on a bar shelf.
It’s a golden liquid, which is on brand for an Irish whiskey. Coming off of the glass, the majority of what I’m smelling is from that barley with some honey sweetness and fresh baked bread, but there’s also a touch of melon in there as well as a bit of vanilla.
Those aromas translate very nicely into the flavor, just in a different order. The caramel is up first, coating your mouth and remaining the predominant flavor for the rest of the experience. That sweetness takes on a bit of a floral blossom aspect as it develops, which becomes the honey that we saw in the aroma. From there, a hint of vanilla comes into the picture, and finally it all culminates with that malted barley note that has a very bread-like quality on the finish.
The problem that’s unique to the Irish style of whiskey is that the lighter and sweeter components that make it so famous are also the first ones out the door when you add an ice cube. They just don’t stand up as well to some dilution as well as a bourbon or a rum. And unfortunately, that’s what we’re experiencing here as well.
With the added ice, the caramel is almost completely washed out, meaning that the floral blossoms and honey are the first things you’ll taste. That’s followed by the dinner rolls, and then that’s pretty much it. It’s not bad… but it’s not complex.
Irish whiskey has a very specific and distinct “fingerprint” when it comes to the flavor profile: specifically, the combination of malted and un-malted barley making this sweet and light profile with a bit of bread added in. This spirit hits that flavor profile square on the head, and does it smoothly and without making a lot of fuss. And just like a standard Irish whiskey, it starts to fall to pieces when you add some ice.
I do have some complaints, though. For starters, we have no idea where this spirit has been, what distillery made it, or really even whether it was a single distillery or multiple. The history and provenance of the spirit has been completely supplanted by the history of the military unit it is honoring. Being a native New Yorker, I appreciate the hometown homage. But I also would like to know what I’m drinking.
|The Fighting 69th Irish Whiskey|
Produced By: The Fighting 69thProduction Location: Ireland
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $32.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A good example of a standard Irish whiskey paying homage to a great historical unit. I just wish they would have included the history of the whiskey itself as well.