Cocktail Hour: Take a shot with the growing array of Irish whiskeys
March brings many things to mind — the Ides of March, March Madness, late-season snowstorms, but most importantly, St Patrick's Day!
St Patrick's Day has become a huge day in the beverage world. Cities worldwide celebrate St. Pat and his great works for the church in Ireland. But here I want to celebrate perhaps the greatest gift Ireland has given the world — whiskey!
It is well known how an enterprising monk first created whiskey in seventh-century Ireland. Probably also well known is that the word whiskey is an offshoot of the ancient Gaelic word Uisce Bethea, literally the water of life. Who can argue?
Less known is that Queen Elizabeth I popularized the easy drinking style of Irish whiskey in the mid-1500's. Irish whiskey became the number-one selling whiskey in England — much to the chagrin of the Scots at the time.
Irish whiskey is a style of whiskey that is easily mixable. Typically barley is used most in its mash, but some Irish use other distilled grain spirits also. Most Irish are a blend of both pot still whiskey and column still whiskeys. Pot still is typically more full-flavored, while the column still produces a smoother, lighter whiskey.
Irish whiskey must, by law, be aged at least three years in the barrel. Many whiskeys are aged longer and the new trend is putting Irish whiskeys in different finishing barrels to gain more flavor complexity.
Irish whiskey has had a long and arduous history. From being the largest-selling whiskey in the world in the 1800s and supporting hundreds of distilleries in Ireland, the Irish whiskey industry went through a terrible set of circumstances — World Wars, depressions, prohibition and more.
By the 1960s, there were only two distilleries left in Ireland, Old Bushmills and New Midleton. Midleton renamed itself Independent Irish Distillers. From the 1960s to about the late 1990s, Irish whiskey remained on the periphery of a whiskey connoisseur's consciousness.
But slowly, the delicious and unique flavors of Irish whiskey have come back, to the point where Irish is the fastest-growing whiskey category, and Jameson has become a juggernaut of growth and popularity.
Any discussion of Irish whiskey has to begin and end with Jameson. John Jameson perfected the famous Jameson recipe in 1780. It is triple-distilled for smoothness and is elegant and very mixable. Try it with Ginger Ale and a lime for an awesome, refreshing drink.
A new entrant to the American palate is Greenore, an 8-year-old Irish whiskey that is made with corn rather then the traditional barley. Greenore is an amazing whiskey with a touch of sweetness that comes from the corn. Remember that maize is the main ingredient in American Bourbon. If you like bourbon, you will probably like Greenore, as the flavor characteristics are similar, but without the heavier charred barrel influences.
Greenore is a great value for an 8-year-old whiskey. I like it neat or with a few ice cubes. The list of great Irish whiskeys is growing every day. Try Tyrconnel, Kilbeggan, Powers, Clontarf or, for a special treat, the only peated Irish whiskey is Connemara. For you scotch lovers, you may like the unique peat and Irish influences.
But as I said, we have to begin AND end with Jameson. The newest Jameson is Jameson Black Barrel Reserve. It is the true Jameson whiskey; however, it is aged in a different charred barrel for a richer, smokier flavor, but still infinitely drinkable. As we recover from the hard winter and look forward to St Patrick's Day, treat yourself to the original whiskeys of the world. Slainte!