- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What could be more warming on a cold March night than a glass of uisce beatha, or water of life, which in Ireland means Irish whiskey?

Irish whiskey is old, but its popularity is far from waning. As Mark Andrews, owner of the Knappogue Castle brands told me, “We’re in the midst of a real Irish whiskey renaissance. More brands are available than ever. People are rediscovering Irish whiskey and realizing it’s not just the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.” Although St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty good time to sip a few.

Whiskey has been made in Ireland for more than a thousand years. In 1799, there were 1,200 distilleries, and today there are just three. Those remaining do a pretty fine job of whiskey making, and we can thank Bushmills, Midleton and Cooley for the quality of the whiskey we enjoy.

Irish whiskey is different in style from Scotch and American bourbon, another type of whiskey. Because of the way it is made, it has a smoother, sweeter flavor than Scotch, which tends to be smokier and earthier. Most Irish whiskey is distilled three times. Scotch whisky is distilled twice and American bourbon, just once. This also adds to the flavor differences.

Irish whiskey comes in several styles: pure pot still, single malt and blends. Pure pot still whiskey is made from 100 percent barley, both malted and unmalted, distilled in a traditional pot still. Unmalted barley gives it that characteristic spicy flavor. Single malt whiskey is made from 100 percent malted barley that is distilled in a pot still. Blends are usually a marriage of single malt whiskey and grain whiskey. Grain whiskey has a flavor that is generally lighter and more neutral than other types of whiskey.

Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland is the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. Bushmills specializes in single malt whiskey, including brands such as Bushmills Malt 10 year old, 16 year old and 21 year old. The distillery also produces Bushmills Original and Black Bush, which are both blends.

The Old Midleton Distillery was founded in the early 17th century in the town of Midleton, about 12 miles east of Cork City in the south. Midleton produces both grain whiskey and pot still whiskey. Brands available in the United States include the best-selling Jameson, Powers, Redbreast and Midleton.

Cooley Distillery, on Ireland’s east coast, is the only independent Irish-owned distillery in Ireland. It was formed in 1987 when John Teeling put together 300 stockholders and converted a potato alcohol plant into a distillery. Keeling acquired the rights to two whiskey brands no longer produced, Kilbeggan and Locke’s, and soon began producing new brands. Cooley makes both single malt and blended whiskeys.

“Cooley was set up with two things in mind,” said Mr. Teeling, who is executive director of Cooley. “To rescue historical Irish whiskey brands and to revive ancient Irish distilling techniques.” Since peat turf is so plentiful in Ireland, Mr. Teeling said peat is used to fire the stills and in the barley malting process, just as it is in Scotland today.

There are several other Irish whiskeys available in the United States that are made by these three Irish distilleries for other companies. Knappogue Castle 1994 and 1951 come from Bushmills. Clontarf whiskeys are distilled at Bushmills and Midleton. The brands include Clontarf Irish Whiskey, Clontarf Single Malt and Clontarf Reserve. Michael Collins is a brand introduced into the United States last year and distilled at Cooley. Tullamore Dew was first produced in 1829 in the town of Tullamore, about 30 miles west of Dublin. The brand ceased in 1954 but was revived in 1975 and is now produced at Midleton.

So as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, we can take comfort in the history that Irish whiskey represents. Or, better still, we can take comfort in Irish whiskey itself. For inspiration, try one (or more) of the drinks that follow and remember that you are drinking the water of life.

Irish coffee

Water

1 ounce Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey

2 teaspoons demerara raw sugar (see note)

Baileys Irish Cream, optional

Strong black coffee

Heavy whipping cream or sweetened whipped cream

Heat an Irish coffee mug or glass by placing a teaspoon inside and adding boiling water. When hot, pour out water. Add whiskey and sugar to mug or glass and stir. Or in place of sugar, a dash of Bailey’s Irish Cream can be added, if desired. Pour in strong black coffee to fill about three quarters. If opting for whipping cream, rather than sweetened whipped cream, pour whipping cream in over the back of the warm teaspoon. (Teaspoon should be just above the level of the coffee. This ensures that the cream floats on top.) Do not stir cream into coffee. Coffee should be sipped through the creamy head. Or serve topped, the American way, with sweetened whipped cream. Makes 1 serving.

Note: Regular white sugar, to taste, can be substituted for demerara.

Black Bush black nail

Ice

3/4 ounce Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey

3/4 ounce Irish Mist liqueur

Orange peel

Fill a short glass with ice cubes. Pour whiskey and Irish Mist over. Garnish with orange peel. Makes 1 serving.

Bush black and red ice

1 ounce Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey

½ ounce sweet vermouth or Byrrh aperitif

2 dashes bitters

Maraschino cherry

Into a shaker filled with ice, pour whiskey, vermouth or Byrrh, and bitters. Shake and pour into a short glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Makes 1 serving.

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