The Toucan is a gem of a bar in the centre of London. It can be found in a side street, just off Soho Square and is a must visit for Irish whisky fans. The bar on the street level is compact (as a result there is normally a crowd of people standing out in the street supping on their pints of Guinness!) and looks like any other Irish themed bar. It is when you go down in to the basement bar, that you discover the real treasure. This bar is even more compact and cosy and has the biggest selection of Irish whisky that we have ever seen. The collection is extensive and the range covers all the regular big names, rarer bottings from these big names, smaller brands and numerous other rare and discontinued whiskies, some of which are kept padlocked! Check out their whiskey menu, order something and then sit and savour with a pint of guinness. On our recent visit, we tried three very good whiskies.
Redbreast 12 years old
This is a pure pot still whiskey produced at the Midleton distillery. Pot stills are frequently used in Ireland and these are short, fat, large stills that produce softer and more rounded spirits. The spirit is further softened by being distilled three times, instead of twice in Scotland. This is one of my favourite Irish whiskies and I had not tried it for ages. The nose is light and fresh with some vanilla, honey and fruitiness, like fresh apples and pears. On the palate, these notes are prominent and are joined by dried fruit (imagine raisins and sultanas) and a bit of spiciness (crushed black pepper, I think) right at the end. It is creamy and rich but very fresh at the same time. The finish is long, complex and very well balanced. This cost £4.50 a shot and we enjoyed it so much that I went and got a bottle the next day.
Jameson Crested Ten
This whiskey is a special release that was to be discontinued, but is now rumoured to be re-released soon. The nose is light and full of vanilla and nuts (imagine almonds). The palate is smooth and very light with the vanilla and almonds being joined by dried fruit (raisins and sultanas), some maltiness and a blast of toffee. There is also some dryness and the overall feeling is very cleansing. The finish is shortish and gives a creamier and richer feel than at any other time, with the dried fruit particularly prominent. A hint of something spicy (nutmeg, I think) comes through right at the end. Again, another of my favourite Irish whiskies and it cost £3.50 a shot.
For the final whiskey of the evening, I decided to push the boat out and buy something more limited. This is a commemorative bottling from Bushmills that is celebrating the 400th anniversary of them being awarded their license to distil and there are not that many bottles being released. The colour was much darker than most Irish whiskies that I have had before and the nose is full of dried fruit (those raisins and sultanas again), honey, vanilla and a strong whiff of sherry. This is very smooth and silky in the mouth with all the elements from the nose present being joined by a blast of toffee and a spiciness that reminded me of nutmeg or cinnamon. The finish is long and creamy with lots of vanilla and toffee, but is maybe a bit woody and dry towards the end. This is a good whiskey but I am not sure that it was worth the £10 a shot that I paid!