- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - There’s no doubt the local bars will be filled-to-the-brim on St. Patrick’s Day with stumbling holiday enthusiasts who had their fill of green beer and cabbage.

But those looking to get a real education in a celebrated slice of Irish culture can find one on a long mahogany bar in a curved glass at Rí Rá’s The Whiskey Room.

“Irish whiskey is what’s new. It’s what’s upcoming,” says Rachael Ewing, who is the whiskey sommelier at The Whiskey Room.

In addition to getting a pour - or two - of Irish whiskey, patrons at The Whiskey Room get a lesson in varieties from all over the world from Ewing, a whiskey expert, and her team.

“There’s a lot of academic study that goes into it, but there’s also a lot of sensory, hands-on work,” Ewing says on learning whiskey.

Ewing’s journey into whiskey is one of pure coincidence.

“Oh, I completely fell into it,” the 24-year-old says.

At the time, Ewing was attending college in Aberdeen, Scotland, and like most students, she needed a part-time job to get her through school. So Ewing applied for a position at a local, run-down bar, named The Grill. She soon found out The Grill is one of the top whiskey bars in the world.

Unfortunately for Ewing, she knew absolutely nothing about whiskey.

“In fact, when they asked me, ‘What do you know about single malt whiskey?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s terrible firewater and I don’t drink that stuff.’”

Despite her lack of whiskey-gusto, The Grill gave Ewing a job and scheduled her to work the busy Friday and Saturday night shifts. Then, on Sundays, she re-stocked the 600-plus whiskey collection.

Being around different whiskies quickly changed Ewing’s mind on the “firewater.”

“I would go home and I would smell my hands and that to me was the real gateway because I would go, ‘Oh, my gosh, my hand smells like cherry, or vanilla, or that reminds me of old leather, cigar smoke,’” she says. “I could find my way along the shelves by smell a long time before I started drinking.”

After college, Ewing moved from Scotland to Tanzania to pursue a career in international development. While there, she found the other things she learned while in Scotland were in demand.

Ewing’s manager noticed she worked at The Grill while in Scotland and asked if she’d be interested in teaching the expat community about whiskey.

Story Continues →