Irish Whiskey: An Irish Spirit, The Spirit of Ireland
Quaffed by leathery men in cable sweaters and tweed caps in woody pubs, Irish whiskey’s reputation as a robust spirit is well deserved. It’s also one of the oldest, with a rough and tumble history that matches the history of its homeland.
It’s not just for nursing bruises from a mosh pit. It’s also a versatile ingredient in everything from classic to modern cocktails, as well as an excellent dinner companion.
ORIGINS: MONKS, FAMINE AND “THE TROUBLES”
Whiskey was born in Ireland, when 11th century Irish monks brought perfume distillation from Europe and used it to produce a drinkable spirit, most likely to make monastic life bearable. Its name derives from the Gaelic uiscebeatha (“Water of Life”).
Drastically different from today’s whiskey, it was infused with aromatics and not aged. Modern Irish whiskey is made from cask-aged barley, malt and water, giving a smooth texture and subtle bite.
Oral history dims the evolution of the process, but they must have done something right: 800 years later, Irish whiskey was the world’s most popular spirit and Ireland the UK’s largest producer. Over 25distilleries produced 10 million gallons annually, even as domestic demand nosedived due to losing over two million people to famine and emigration.
The 20th century was unkind to Irish whiskey. The introduction of blended whiskies, U.S. prohibition and the refusal of Irish distilleries to modernize led to a sharp decline in Irish whiskey’s popularity. Ireland itself was in turmoil, fighting a war against England and then a bloody civil war (“The Troubles”).
By the mid-1960s, the industry declined from a peak of 30 distilleries to two. Output diminished to barely half a million cases annually.
In the 1980s, the spirit enjoyed a resurgence when a beverage conglomerate bought the remaining distilleries and marketed Irish Whiskey to the world. Now, there are almost as many distilleries and as much product as there were during its 19th century heyday.
Irish whiskey complements many different flavor profiles, making it a popular ingredient in vastly different classic cocktails.
A frothy mix of whiskey, lemon juice and sugar, shaken and topped with egg white foam and a maraschino cherry. A tart drink popular in the 50s and 60s and typically a newbie’s first cocktail. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino made it Leo DiCaprio’s go-to in “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” to signal the character’s fragile state.
A winter favorite: hot coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and topped with cream. Created in the mid-20th century, it was so popular that it even appeared in Disney’s 1969 “The Love Bug”, in which a sentient Volkswagen Beetle gets drunk on the stuff (“Mom, why is Herbie puking in the driveway?”).
A classic bar drink if there ever was one, it’s a shot of Irish whiskey and Irish Cream dropped into a glass of stout, drunk fast before the cream curdles. Originally known as the “Irish Car Bomb” as a nasty reference to The Troubles. Please don’t order it under that name today.
A sweeter relative of the Manhattan, it mixes Irish whiskey, vermouth, Chartreuse liqueur, chilled water, orange bitters and cane sugar syrup. Not as culturally pervasive as other cocktails, it is the best-known classic Irish Whiskey drink going back to WWI, as returning Irish soldiers sang the marching song “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Today’s Irish whiskies feature flavor combinations which classic cocktails could not exploit. Nuts, citrus and a smooth spicy/creamy finish are elements that today’s mixologists have successfully incorporated into modern mixed drinks.
It’s Irish whiskey, bourbon, calvados brandy, Benedictine, cane syrup and turmeric bitters. A relative of the Tipperary, grounded by turmeric’s earthiness.
The Good Cork
Stir Irish Whiskey and Benedictine into mezcal, add bitters, garnish with an apple slice and call a cab.
A boilermaker variant, it’s a shot of Irish whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. It sounds like a Prohibition-era drink, but it was invented back in 2006.
The Gaelic Flip
The “Flip” is a classic drink blueprint using a whole egg, spirit and sweetener. Combine egg, Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, simple syrup, allspice liqueur and grated nutmeg.
IRISH WHISKEY PAIRINGS
There is no better time to experiment with Irish Whiskey pairings than now. Classic Irish whiskeys from legendary distilleries are smooth and versatile enough to go with everything from appetizers to desserts. Today’s newer brands incorporate different flavors, aging, and even peating techniques, giving them unique characteristics that make pairings pop.
Breads and appetizers: Select a lighter brand that contains lots of fruit and vanilla notes. If we’re thinking breads, nothing beats a classic Irish soda bread.
Entrees: If the entrée is a full-flavored fish like salmon or a lighter meat like lamb, try a peaty single malt Irish Whiskey. Not as overpowering as a scotch, it has the same smoky characteristic that pulls flavors from the food. Steak is, of course, no stranger
to whiskey, but if you want to do it right, a medium rare filet matches perfectly with a peppery, spicy brand.
Desserts and Cheeses: Dark chocolate is the perfect match for a flavorful single malt known for rich notes like vanilla, fruit and oak. On the other hand, a cheese plate full of strong, hearty selections pairs best with an Irish Whiskey full of sumptuous, big flavor notes like sherry and smoke that won’t easily be overpowered.
Rogue Apple or Cinnamon Nicotine Pouches: The sweet, crisp taste of Rogue apple or bright, spice of Rogue cinnamon make for a perfect match with Irish whiskey’s full flavor. Find all of our nicotine pouch flavors in our store.
Like its mother nation, Irish whiskey endured its share of glories and hardships, but it has persisted for over a millennium. Whether a wee dram with mates, a casual party cocktail or a flight of brands, it’s a traditional drink that boldly meets today’s tastes.