Irish Whiskies

Midleton and Jameson Whiskey

St. Patrick, it is said, was Welsh-born, pagan raised, and thrown into Irish slavery. He fled from Ireland to Britain, then high-tailed it to Rome, where he trained to be a priest.

Returning to Ireland, he converted a bunch of pagans to Christianity while ridding the country of snakes. Historians toss off the latter as myth claiming there were never snakes in Ireland. St. Patrick died March 17th, which has remained his feast day.

Snakes or no snakes, any saint whose feast day encourages sipping Jameson’s (whiskey) and quaffing Guinness (beer) while chowing down on Irish stew and soda bread, is well worth venerating

I paid homage to the good saint back in my McMaster University days swilling green suds in the long-gone Paddy Green’s pub in Westdale, our Friday night hangout. A couple of St. Patty’s Days reveling in Boston bars. In New Orleans, where corn beef and cabbage signify the day, I was pummeled with carrots, potatoes, and cabbages from a float during a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’ve partied hard core at right at the core of St. Patrick’s Day—Temple Bar pub in Dublin. We washed down a hearty lamb stew and champ (green onions blended with creamy mashed potatoes) with pints of Guinness, their heads as thick as snow, followed by tots of Jameson’s whiskey.

Label for Guinness BeerOddly enough, Irish Pubs used to be shut on St. Patrick’s Day. Thirsty folk would head to the dog show where there was an open bar. One imbiber is alleged to have said, “Darned silly place to bring a dog.” I agree.

But back to that Irish stew and the whiskey. Made from the neck of mutton, the stew was — in true Irish fashion — slow cooked lamb with just onions and potatoes in a lightly seasoned stock, and served with a thick slab of grainy soda bread slathered with the sweetest butter. This unfussy, rib-sticking grub mades a sturdy foil for all that stout and whiskey.

That night of revelry in Dublin made an Irish whisky fan of me too. Amidst an evening of fiddles, whistles, and the beat of a bodrahn (an Irish drum), that St. Patrick’s Day was an evening of damn good craic (fun).

Irish Whiskey

St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to talk about Irish whiskeys, which differ from many Scotch whiskeys in two distinct ways: they are tripled distilled and they are distilled using unpeated barley. (Despite Ireland’s many peat bogs the only exception is Connemara’s peated whiskey). Texture tends toward smooth and silky, with perfumed notes, and flavors of spice and malt. Scotch whiskeys are double-distilled and use peated barley.

Irish whiskeys differ widely in their characteristics. Experiment and see which ones you like best.

Jameson’s is the whiskey in the south of Ireland. Jameson whiskeys are kilned without peat and triple-distilled. Consequently, there are no smoky notes. These mellow elixirs have a delicate barley perfume and a round, almost oily palate. Unlike Scotch, nearly all Irish whiskey contains a portion of unmalted barley. Modern times dictate that a good dollop of grain spirit be added.

Bushmills is Northern Ireland’s brand and is more like Scotch. It uses only malted barley and is introduced very briefly to peat.

Look for these Irish Whiskies in specialty liquor stores:

  • Connemara Irish Single Malt (Peated! Smoke, oak, honey, heather)
  • Jameson Irish Whiskey (perfumey, oily, round, charred in American Oak)
  • Red Breast Irish Whiskey (beautifully balanced, sophisticated, light honey character)
  • Bushmills Black Bush (sherry casked, deluxe blend)
  • Old Bushmills Irish Whiskey (malty sweet, perfumed, dry)
  • Paddy’s (full and firm-bodied),
  • Tullamore Dew (lightest of all Irish whiskeys) and
  • Powers (big, malty full-on whiskey).

— by Julie Pegg, RFT Wine & Spirit Expert

Julie Pegg, Wine & Spirits Editor, Canada

Julie Pegg has been writing about food, wine, and spirits for 15 years. She was a product consultant for 14 of her 24 years working for the British Columbia Liquor Board in Vancouver. She still keeps her hand in (and elbow firmly bent) at Dundarave Wine Cellars in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Julie is also a keen amateur cook who loves culinary travel. Farmers’ markets and wine shops are always her first stop. Julie is RFT’s Senior Wine & Spirits Editor, Canada.