Irish Whiskey: Blythe Spirits

<< Back to Robb Report, October 2004

Born in Dublin, James Joyce naturally gravitated toward hometown whiskey brand Jameson and immortalized its creator, John Jameson, in Finnegans Wake. Tim Finnegan, the tippling hod carrier of Irish folklore and the hero of Joyce’s novel, is resurrected when his corpse is splashed with Irish whiskey. Perhaps one of the astonished mourners should have offered him a congratulatory Drop Kick: a shot of Bushmills dumped into a cool pint of Guinness stout.

Irish whiskey (note the e) and Scotch whisky (sans the e) have been intimately related since the earliest days of distillation in the British Isles. In fact, the world’s oldest Irish whiskey production site, the Bushmills Distillery, resides just 17 miles across the Irish Sea from the scotch production center of Campbeltown.
Not surprisingly, Irish whiskey has a character all its own. Whereas most Scotch malts are made from barley that is smoked over a peat fire, Irish whiskeys are generally unpeated and are triple distilled, resulting in a cleaner and lighter appearance and taste. While scotch is noted for its ruggedly individualist character, Ireland’s sociable whiskeys are making a distinct comeback because of their less aggressive nature. Indeed, Irish whiskey is often preferable to scotch in mixology because of its round, mellow taste.

One monumental moment in the history of Irish whiskey occurred on American soil, in 1952, when the owner of San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café challenged travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help him re-create the renowned Irish coffee served at Ireland’s Shannon Airport. After much experimentation and many long nights, they perfected the recipe. Today, the Buena Vista, located on Fisherman’s Wharf, daily serves as many as 2,000 Irish coffees—spiked with its own brand of Irish whiskey.

The vintage Knappogue Castle is one of the best Irish imports. The recently released, silky, buttery 1994 edition boasts nutty, spicy notes and performs brilliantly in the Perfect Irish, the signature cocktail from Dublin’s Merrion Hotel. Two parts of Irish whiskey, one part of sweet vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters, the Perfect Irish is charmingly sweet with a hint of bitterness.

two essential Irish whiskeys that will elevate any home bar are the toasty, rich Jameson Master Selection 18 Year Old, and the dense, luscious Bushmills 21 Year Old Madeira Cask.

Irish Coffee
{The San Francisco treat}
11¼2 oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey  |  Cup of strong, hot coffee
Brown sugar to taste  |  Fresh whipped cream for garnish
Pour whiskey into a warm glass coffee mug and fill the mug with fresh coffee. Add brown sugar to taste and stir to combine. Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Siobhan’s Shillelagh
{You’ll hardly know what hit you}
11¼2 oz. Bushmills 16 Year Old  |  3¼4 oz. dry vermouth
Several dashes bitters  |  8 oz. crushed ice
Mix ingredients in a shaker and pour into
a chilled cocktail glass.

Top o’ the Morning
{When in Ireland …}
11¼2 oz. Connemara Peated Single Malt
1 oz. oloroso sherry  |  1¼2 oz. crème de noyaux
1¼2 oz. lemon juice  |  2 oz. ice cubes  |  Cold club soda
Pour first four ingredients into a chilled highball glass
over ice. Top off with club soda and stir gently.

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Originally published in the December issue of Robb Report as “School of Vine Arts” The Gift:  ❄ A...