The luck of the Irish has blessed its whiskey industry, which is experiencing a surge in popularity and sales in recent years. For St. Patrick's Day there are worse ways to celebrate than supporting the distilling industry's return to greatness (see: green beer). The smooth, easy to drink whiskey is the perfect gateway to brown spirits.
The tradition of distilling whiskey in Ireland dates back to the1200s. The word whiskey derives from the Gaelic for water of life, uisce beatha. It had it's heyday in the 1700s, when the were over 1,200 distilleries in Ireland. Sales soared in Europe when disease wiped out vineyards in France and devastated wine and brandy production. After World War I, Prohibition in the U.S. and Ireland's war for independence however, whiskey production all but died out due to swiftly declining demand by the 1920s. Today, with interest in whiskey from anywhere skyrocketing, and improved quality of pot distilling techniques in Ireland, Irish whiskey is back, and there's more to appreciate than a shot of Jameson with your Guinness. St. Patrick's Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate this spirit, rather than making some ill-fated decision, like drinking an Irish car bomb.
Irish whiskey is not as strictly regulated as some other spirits, leaving it a lot of room for variation. It must be distilled in Ireland and aged at least three years in wooden casks. The grain mash is usually a combination of malted barley and barley, but that's based more on the fact that barley is grown in Ireland and has been the traditional grain used in Irish whiskey. In the late 1700s, a tax on barley malt drove distillers to include large amounts of raw, unmalted barley to their mash, a characteristic unique to Irish whiskey that remains a factor today.
Most Irish whiskey is distilled three times in squat, round copper-pot stills. The result is a round and smooth flavor. It's bottled at 80 proof, much lower than scotch and bourbon, which gives it a little less of the burn many people associate with whiskey. There are only three distilleries in Ireland -- compared with dozens in Scotland -- producing the majority of brands: There's Bushmills in Northern Ireland, which claims to be the oldest active distillery in the world, dating to 1608; the New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, makes Jameson, Redbreast, Midleton, Tullamore Dew, Green Spot, and Powers; and Cooley Distillery in County Louth, which makes Connemara, The Tyrconnell and Kilbeggan. Cooley is the youngest distillery (it opened in 1989) and was the only Irish-owned, independent distillery until late last year, when it was bought by Beam.
Travis Stanley-Jones, owner of Mulleady's Pub, recently taught a class on Irish whiskey for the Swig Well drinking academy. He likes the creamy, buttery flavor of Irish whiskey and while he prefers to sip it neat, he thinks it works well in some cocktails too. It's not as botanical and aromatic as gin, but when balanced well in a cocktail, it is a predictable flavor to build on. For a recent LUPEC event, he served the Irish Pal, a variation on the Old Pal, using Irish whiskey instead of bourbon. I've been mixing up Derry Derbys, written about in the article in Fine Cooking by Camper English. They are honey-sweet, with enough grapefruit juice to keep them from getting cloying.
By Phil Mauro of Rye in San Francisco
2 fl. oz. Paddy Irish Whiskey
.75 fl. oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
.5 fl. oz. Honey
2 dashes Bittermens Boston Bittahs
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain (to remove pulp) into a cocktail glass.