On St. Patrick’s, here’s a toast to Irish whiskeys
U isce beatha, the water of life, is the anglicized derivation of the word, whiskey. For centuries this amber fluid has warmed the hearts and souls of Irish people, bringing them through famine, civil war, foreign domination and independence. In times past the country was littered with makers like Locke’s Distillery in Kilbeggan, on the road to the graveyard where my father is buried. When I go home I sometimes visit him and pour him a small drop of his favorite tipple, Powers Gold Label. Sadly Locke’s no longer distills whiskey on-site and today is a museum and maturation cellar; the whiskey itself is bottled far to the north in County Louth.
Currently there are only a handful of locations making whiskey in Ireland. One of these produces most of the major brands familiar to drinkers and bartenders the world over. Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork produces not just their own label, Midleton but also Jameson’s, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Paddy, and the raw grain whiskey used in Bushmills. Despite the few makers of Irish whiskey (with an “e”), there are several wonderful varieties available locally for your delectation and delight.
Originally founded by a Scotsman, John Jameson, this is a golden-hued, pot-still produced whiskey with a spicy taste. This honey-amber whiskey is left for twelve years to mature in Spanish Oloroso casks and gives to the palate a fine nutty taste with a hint of toasted wood and sherry from the barrel’s staves. This is a smooth and palate-pleasing drink best enjoyed with a copy of Swift’s A Modest Proposal in hand.
Tullamore Dew 12-Year-Old:
Another 12-Year-Old classic is Tullamore Dew 12-Year-Old. When held up to the light a darker, more orange-hued liquid can be seen. Tullamore Dew is a silky and complex tipple. The malty, fruit-filled bouquet can be gleaned from this marvelous drink and coats the mouth with the panoply of sensory delights. Also aged in the favored Oloroso barrels, this one catches the drinker unawares with the slight aftertaste of lemon zest. Pull a chair up to the fire and read Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree with this one.
Bushmills 10-Year-Old Single Malt:
Both aforementioned brands are produced in County Cork at the Midleton Distillery. Farther afield to the north and distilled in County Antrim is Bushmills 10-Year-Old single malt. Matured in American Bourbon barrels and triple-distilled to give it a superb smooth taste, this whiskey can bring tears to your eyes. The familiar maltiness is readily apparent on first sip and as it passes over the tongue hints of vanilla, honey and spice are revealed. Sit on your front step, open Joyce’s Ulysses to the last page and discover how Irish whiskey can ignite the imagination.
So raise your glass, enjoy the kaleidoscopic sight of the amber nectar of the Gods say “Sláinte,” and enjoy your choice of Irish whiskeys.
Mother Claffey’s Hot Whiskey
The other less-mentioned benefit of drinking Irish whiskey is its use as a medicinal solution. Let me share my mother’s solution for colds, flus and other ills:
First catch a cold or the flu.
Cut a disc of lemon and stud with twelve whole cloves
One teaspoon of brown sugar
Pour 2oz of Irish whiskey into glass
Dilute with hot water and sugar to taste