Whiskey bar

Irish Whiskey Journey | Ethos of the field

By Andrew Court

“What whiskey won’t cure, there is no remedy”

– Irish Proverb

An icy, damp wind was blowing around the pub, but I wasn’t cold. Sitting outside in Kinsale, I took small sips of a neat Redbreast whisky; the smooth, almost syrupy amber liquid seduced my palate with hints of spice and vanilla. The heat spread to my fingertips.

It was a big departure from my previous experiences with Irish whiskey. I hadn’t touched it since throwing up shots of Jameson outside a Midtown East bar in my early twenties. This seems like a mistake best left in the past.

But sitting here in the pub, on my first trip to the Emerald Isle (i.e. Ireland), I started to take his whiskey seriously.

Whiskey comes from the Gaelic word meaning “water of life”. There is an unreliable legend that Saint Patrick himself brought distillation to the island. In 1608 Bushmills became the first licensed whiskey distillery in the British Isles. Until the end of the 19th century, Scotch whiskey was almost unknown and Irish whiskey reigned supreme.

Irish whiskey, like much of the western world, hit a low point in the 1970s. Production fell to less than 400,000 cases from a peak of 12 million cases at the start of the 20th century. All Dublin distilleries have closed, leaving only Old Midleton Distillery in County Cork and Bushmills in Northern Ireland.

Recently, however, there has been a renaissance.

Over the past decade, the number of growers has doubled and sales have returned to around 12 million cases. Hipster owners who look straight out of Brooklyn are launching innovative micro-brands. It is clear that Irish whiskey is having a moment.

So what makes Irish Whiskey different from Scotch Whisky, other than a superfluous E?

Irish whiskey uses a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, while Scotch uses only malted barley. For the uninitiated, the malted grain has been soaked so that it begins to germinate. Scotch whiskey barley is cured over peat smoke which gives it its characteristic smoky flavor. Irish brings out the natural flavor of the grain.

Many are triple distilled, making them extra sweet. Like the Scottish product, they are available in single malts and blends.

After much arduous research, here is my conclusion: if you like bourbon, you will like Irish whiskey. Both have a mild, almost sweet taste. My girlfriend, who is not a big brown alcoholic, immediately adopted the Celtic product.

It’s also less serious than Scotch. Go ahead and throw some ice on it, maybe make a cocktail. The Irish aren’t so hard on this whole thing.

During my trip, Redbreast 12 Year Old Single Pot has become a particular favorite. Experts seem to agree; in 2019 he won the prestigious World Whiskey Trophy. It’s deep, rich and almost tastes like holiday fruitcake.

I can also confirm, after extensive field testing of a whole bottle, that the hangover is just as potent as its American and Scottish counterparts.

If you want something that has – using Bud Light’s vocabulary – potability, check out Green Spot. It has a fruity and light taste that mixes well in cocktails. This whiskey is great if you love Jameson but are a little too embarrassed to have it on your bar cart.

That being said, if you want to do rails or make an Irish coffee, there’s nothing wrong with Jamo. I was about to try a bottle of Bushmills but another Ballydehob Super Value shopper hissed that I should steer clear of this ‘Protestant’ brand.

Whether you have a vault full of Pappy or are getting into whiskey for the first time, it’s worth checking out what’s going on in Ireland. Believe me, after a few snaps, you won’t need to kiss the Blarney Stone to have a gossip knack.