Wine & Spirits: Luck of the Irish (Whiskey)

The Emerald Isle’s native spirit continues to surge in popularity. Here’s why (and where) to drink it.

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Irish Whiskey has surged in popularity in recent years. (Photo courtesy Jameson Irish Whiskey)

Haters are quick to point out that for many, March 17 is nothing more than an excuse to get sloppy drunk on tepid, watered-down, green beer. And unfortunately for some, that scenario is all too accurate. But it’s also an opportunity to sample and explore Ireland’s true contribution to the spirits world–no matter if you are already a fan of Irish Whiskey, or a veritable newbie.

Irish Whiskey is touted as being approachable and very easily sipped, but what makes it much smoother than, say, bitey rye or smoky Scotch? First of all, most Irish pot still whiskey is distilled three times—versus Scotch’s two passes. To put it simply, the more a spirit is distilled, the more impurities are removed. Think of all of those vodka ads you’ve seen over the years, where a producer boasts about how their brand is distilled x number of times to render the smoothest product on the market. Secondly, since peat is rarely used in Irish Whiskey, the final product lacks those overtly smoky and earthy notes found in some Scotches— enticing to some, and off-putting to others. There are exceptions, to be sure, like Connemara Peated Irish Malt, which also happens to be double distilled. Finally, Irish Whiskey must be produced from cereal grains and aged for at least three years in wooden casks.

All of these factors may account for the fact that Irish Whiskey has had a surge in popularity—increasing 20.5% in volume in 2012 to break the two million case mark making another year of double-digit growth for the category, according to preliminary data from Technomics. “While the largest brand, Jameson, continues to expand and lead the category trend, other brands are also gaining momentum as consumers explore the various expressions of the spirit,” explains , senior director for the Adult Beverage Resource Group for Technomics. “Irish Whiskey is the only spirits category to achieve a double-digit gain, and is an exciting segment of the spirits industy.”

Pretty impressive. And not to stereotype my fellow female spirits lovers–I know many who are diehard Scotch and Bourbon aficionados, myself included–but the demographic with the largest increase in consumption of Irish Whiskey are young-ish females. It seems these smooth Irish offerings are proving to be a helpful gateway drug to other whiskeys (like Rye and Scotch) that are traditionally seen as “acquired tastes.”

Luckily, here in the D.C. area, we have a bevy of beverage experts using Irish Whiskey behind the bar. So on Sunday, or any day, for that matter, if you want to celebrate Ireland’s true spirit, instead of a glass of that horrid green liquid, toast with one of these area Emerald Isle libations:

  • ’s Beyond the Pale ($11) at Range in Chevy Chase mixes Irish Whiskey with Aperol, St. Germin and lemon; an egg white adds froth and silkiness.
Beyond the Pale
Courtesy of Owen Thomson, Range, Chevy Chase, MD 
1 1/2 oz. Michael Collins Irish Whiskey
3/4 oz. St. Germain
3/4 oz. Aperol
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1 egg white
Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in shaker tin and shake without ice to emulsify. Add ice and shake vigorously, strain into chilled coupe and garnish with rosemary sprig.
  • Big Fellas ($10) at Irish Whiskey Public House in D.C. uses Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, lemon juice and orange bitters, and is topped with ginger ale.
  • The refreshingly menthol-scented Saint Patrick’s Whey ($13) at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria combines Jameson with Pimm’s, Earl Grey tea, minted whey and mint bitters.
  • ’s now-iconic Forgetfully Fernet ($11) at Eddy Bar serves up a large coupe glass full of shaved ice, onto which she pours Jameson, ginger, mint, lemon and Fernet Branca. She describes this drink by saying, “It’s like Tiki got b*tch-slapped by whiskey.” Pretty accurate, and pretty delicious.

Gina Chersevani’s Forgetfully Fernet at Eddy Bar. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

However, If you prefer your whiskey naked, Jack Rose Dining Saloon stocks an impressive number of Irish Whiskeys (around 40), including offerings by Adam’s Millar and Company, Cooley, Jameson, Midleton and Old Bushmill’s.

You can learn more about Irish Whiskey at a cocktail seminar on St. Patrick’s Day sponsored by the Museum of the American Cocktail, and presented by mixologists Chersevani, Sergi, and . Attendees will have the chance to sample appetizers and Irish Whiskey-based cocktails, and learn to make them at home. The seminar will be held at the Occidental Grill and Seafood, 1475 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Tickets are $45 in advance, and $50 at the door.

Finally, to wet your whistle, here’s a recipe for a Julep that eschews the traditional Bourbon for a splash of Jameson. Sláinte!

Jameson Julep
Courtesy of Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 ¾ oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey
¼ to ½ oz. simple syrup
Dash of water
6-10 mint leaves
½ oz. Lillet Rouge or another high quality red Vermouth
Berries and mint leaves, for garnish.

Muddle the mint sprigs in a highball glass, or Julep tin, with the water and simple syrup. Add the whiskey and stir to mix. Fill the glass with crushed ice and stir again to mix. Float the Lillet/Vermouth on the top of the glass.  Garnish with fresh berries and sprigs of smacked mint.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.

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