From the standpoint of brand identity, the most entertaining thing about Prizefight Irish whiskey is the unusual inspiration for its name – an illegal, bare-knuckle boxing match between two Irish immigrants in 19th century New York, fought in a makeshift ring in an abandoned brickyard. The brawl is immortalized in an antiquated drawing emblazoned on Prizefight’s label.
But what’s far more interesting to me is what’s inside the bottle – particularly, an Irish whiskey finished in rye whiskey barrels.
Collaboration Across Continents
It’s not uncommon for Irish whiskies to be partially aged in ex-bourbon barrels, or port or sherry casks, which impart sweetness and layers of complexity. But until I encountered Prizefight, I’d never heard of an Irish whiskey spending time in a barrel used for aging rye, known for its spiciness and bite.
In what the company calls a “transatlantic collaboration,” Prizefight whiskey is distilled and aged in West Cork, Ireland, and finished in rye barrels used by Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire. According to Prizefight’s website, the whiskey blends a 10-year-old malt and a 4-year old grain, and spends 6 months in the rye barrel.
It’s an unusual collaboration that makes for a novel whiskey. On the nose, the aroma is very mild and a little flat, though I get some subtle hints of grass, heather, and honey. Things get more interesting on the first sip. The straw-colored liquid is smooth and drinkable, with distinctive floral and fruity notes, a bit of vanilla, and the first indications of peppery spice.
But for me, it’s all about the finish. That’s where I get the most distinctive notes of a good rye whiskey – spicy, lively, and crisp.
I was introduced to Prizefight at a promotional event last fall at Boston’s W Hotel. The bar had whipped up a few Prizefight-based cocktails, one of which was the best Tipperary I’ve ever had. While I don’t know the bar’s exact proportions, the drink adhered to the traditional recipe – Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, chartreuse, orange bitters, and a splash of water – but with rye notes that gave it a Manhattan-like essence.
Playing around with Prizefight at home, I wanted to make a chilled version of an Irish coffee. Recipes for this sort of drink abound on the web, but my version plays up the whiskey’s rye-like spice with mole bitters and adds some nice, round sweetness with a brown sugar syrup.
Iced Irish Coffee:
2 ounces Prizefight Irish whiskey
1½ ounces cold brew (preferably homemade, but store-bought will do)
½ ounce brown sugar simple syrup
2-3 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters
1 oz heavy cream
Stir the whiskey, cold brew, syrup, and bitters with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. In a shaker, dry-shake the cream for about 20 seconds, just to stiffen it up a bit. Strain the cream onto top of the drink, pouring it over the back of a barspoon for more even distribution.
It’s an intriguing experiment, using a rye barrel to finish an Irish whiskey. Generally, it works – you get all the floral and fruity flavors of an Irish whiskey with some added spice and warmth from the rye. I wonder whether it would benefit from a little more time in the rye barrel; I want those spicy notes to be more prominent.
Prizefight makes for an unusual cocktail ingredient. I don’t often use Irish whiskies in cocktails, but the rye-like flavor profile opens up some interesting mixing opportunities. I look forward to continue experimenting with it.
Note: I received a complimentary bottle of Prizefight Irish whiskey and opted to use it in a product review. No one from or associated with Pugilist Spirits or Tamworth Distilling influenced this content.
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