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.

Jameson 12-Year-Old:

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.

Boil water

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



Too sweet to be forgotten

looking for a good Gewürztraminer for under $10

I’m a fan of sweet wine. I hope that any credibility I have as a taster isn’t mitigated by the fact that not only can I choke back a glass of Japanese plum wine, but I actually kind of like it.

Muscat or port, bring it on. But my tastes have become a bit more refined these past few months, and recently I was turned on to Andrew Rich’s Gewürztraminer at Cousin’s Wine Tasting in Camarillo.

If Gewürztraminer were a dish, it would be almond-stuffed dates suspended in honey (an honest-to-God dessert I was once asked to make for a murder mystery dinner party with an Ancient Rome theme.) The sweet wine is made from the Traminer variety of grape, and has a reputation for spice, sass and generally threatening to overpower any drinker after one glass. (If Gewürztraminer were a woman, she would be the one who spilled the Chanel No. 5 all over herself before leaving the house because of its fruity and exotically intoxicating bouquet.)

Oh, it is a formidable wine. Any discussion of its flavor often includes mention of apricot, peach, pear and even lychee, that fleshy, succulent fruit native to Asia. Oddly, it is referred to as both a dessert wine and (according to the back of the bottle of Fetzer) a helpful hint for overpowering spicy foods.

To the amateur drinker, Gewürztraminer has a lot in common with Riesling, which I’ve often heard referred to as the white wine for red wine enthusiasts (probably because it’s heavier than most whites). Although Riesling is more of a sparkling variety than Gewürztraminer, both have a peppy spritz to them which makes them excellent as dessert wines.

So I headed to Trader Joe’s – a favorite wine shop of mine – in search of the best Gewürztraminer for under $10. Then I took three bottles to a friend’s apartment and blind taste-tested each.

Fetzer 2005 ($6.99)

My clear favorite of the three, Fetzer makes a light, highly drinkable Gewürztraminer that doesn’t appear hellbent on overwhelming the nostrils, or the palate, with shades of every exotic fruit. Still, it was the fruitiest of the bunch, with hints of apricot and subtle suggestions of peach.

Columbia Crest 2003 ($4.99)

The driest of the three, Columbia Crest’s Gewürztraminer was the most champagne-like. With high acidity, it packed the biggest punch.

J.W Morris 2005 ($2.99)

This is the most muted of the group. (Or should I say, weakest and most diluted?) Gewürztraminer is notorious as an almost excessively strong wine. So, although J.W. Morris gets a demerit for subtlety, it’s the safest bet for the average wine drinker. Swinging by a friend’s house and not entirely sure where they weigh in on the Gewürztraminer issue? J.W. Morris provides a gentle but promising introduction.

How to order

Although many bottles include a kindly note about accepted slang for this wine, I’ve taken the liberty of finding a phonetic spelling. Epicurious.com has the consensus suggestion of how to pronounce the wine as: guh-VURTS-trah-mee-ner or the equally correct geh-VEHRTZ-trah-mee-ner.

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