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The American Mixologist Online® Newsletter Vol. 14, No. 18 All Rights Reserved
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A Three-Minute Primer: Irish Whiskey

Whiskey distilling originated in Ireland in the 6th century. By the end of the 19th century, there were over 160 active distilleries producing 400 brands of Irish whiskey. It was exported to every port of call in Europe, the British Empire and America, exceeding the worldwide sales of all other types of whiskey combined. Irish whiskey was the world's spirit of choice.

The 20th century, however, was not kind to the native spirit of Ireland. Domestic hard times and an industry unwilling to keep pace with technology cost Irish whiskey its position of preeminence.

Then two unrelated historical events nearly brought the mighty Irish whiskey industry to a screeching halt. The first began with the Irish War of Independence in 1916, followed by a series of civil conflicts and culminated in a trade war with Great Britain. The ensuing trade embargo effectively denied Ireland access to the markets throughout the entire British Empire.

From 1919 to 1933, the United States was undergoing a social upheaval of its own—Prohibition. As a result, Irish distillers were denied entry to the American market. The cumulative effect was devastating. At the same time, producers of Scotch whisky were thriving. Exports skyrocketed and they have never relinquished their dominance of the marketplace.

There are several significant differences between Irish and Scotch whiskies. The malted barley used in the production of Irish whiskey is dried in closed kilns, rather than over peat fires as is the practice in Scotland. Irish whiskeys therefore lack the peaty smokiness found in many of Scotch whiskies. Unlike Scotch, Irish whiskey is made from both malted and unmalted barley. Irish distillers triple-distill their whisky—compared to the Scottish preference for double-distilling—and prefer to develop the character of the whiskey in the vat, rather than post-distillation blending preferred by the Scots.

Today there are roughly 20 brands of Irish whiskey. Ireland's standards of quality are such that there is no such thing as a mediocre Irish whiskey. To connoisseurs, this noble whiskey is something of a treasure.

MASTERING THE IRISH COFFEE
While the famed Irish Coffee actually originated at the Shannon airport, it gained its celebrity status originated at the Buena Vista Café on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. The drink's popularity has skyrocketed over the years, making the smallish establishment an international phenomenon.

Walk into the café and you'll see a long row of coffee mugs arranged on the Buena Vista's bar rail. The bartender will walk back and forth pouring the drink's necessary ingredients into the waiting glasses. The drinks are then finished with whipped cream just moments before being served to the waiting throng.

The appeal of the Irish Coffee is nearly universal despite its simplicity. The drink is made with a splash of simple syrup, a hefty portion of Irish whiskey, a near fill with hot, freshly brewed coffee and a whipped cream garnish. Instead of a garnish of whipped cream, many prefer to finish the drink off with a layer of frothed milk and a dusting of powdered cocoa.

Naturally, not all Irish Coffees are created equally. The Irish Coffee Royale features an additional shot of Kahlúa. Another version includes some Baileys Irish Cream and a touch of Irish Mist. There are now a number of superb Irish liqueurs on the market that can be featured in a signature Irish Coffee.

One overlooked ingredient that is imperative to making a superlative Irish Coffee is the freshness of the brewed coffee. Bitter or over-heated coffee is a sure-fire way to ruin a perfectly good drink.

Have fun and experiment. Few hot drinks can compare to a well-made Irish Coffee.

IRISH WHISKEY WHO'S WHO
The following is an informal "Who's Who" in the world of Irish whiskey. So pull up a stool and enjoy a wee dram or two of the good stuff. Life's too short to waste a minute of it sipping anything but the very best. Slainte!
  • BLACK BUSH — Created in 1934 at the Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Black Bush is comprised of a blend of 80% malted barley, triple-distilled in copper alembic stills and aged a minimum of 9 years in Oloroso sherry oak casks. (80 proof)
  • BUNRATTY EXPORT POTCHEEN — A clear, unaged, grain whiskey made by the firm Bunratty Mead & Liqueur Company. Not dissimilar to American moonshine, potcheen was made illegally in the hills and rural areas of Ireland for centuries. (90 proof)
  • BUSHMILLS — First produced in the town of Bushmills in 1608, Bushmills is triple-distilled from malted Irish barley and spring water from St. Columb's Rill. The whiskey is comprised of a blend of 5-year-old whiskies aged in ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. (80 proof)
  • BUSHMILLS 10-YEAR SINGLE MALT — Produced at the Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Bushmills Single Malt is triple-distilled from malted barley and aged a minimum of 10 years in bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. (80 proof)
  • CLONTARF — Produced in Dublin by the makers of Buru Irish Vodka, Clontarf Irish Whiskey is triple-distilled from grain and spring water. It is aged in bourbon barrels and filtered through Atlantic Irish oak charcoal. The distillery also produces Clontarf Single Malt and Clontarf Reserve, a blend of single malt and grain whiskies. (80 proof)
  • CONNEMARA SINGLE MALT — Produced at the Cooley Distillery in Dundalk, Connemara Single Malt is a pure pot still whiskey double-distilled in a traditional pot still using malted barley dried over a peat fires. (80 proof)
  • JAMESON — Produced since 1780, Jameson is now crafted at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork. Jameson Irish Whiskey is triple-distilled in traditional pot stills from malted and unmalted barley and aged a minimum of 6 years in bourbon barrels and sherry casks. It is the best selling Irish whiskey in the world. (80 proof)
  • JAMESON 15-YEAR — Produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, limited edition Jameson 15 is triple-distilled in traditional pot stills from malted and unmalted barley and aged a minimum of 15 years in bourbon barrels and sherry casks. (80 proof)
  • JAMESON GOLD — Produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Jameson Gold is a traditional blend of pure pot still whiskies aged in both new and seasoned oak casks. (80 proof)
  • JAMESON 1780 — Produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Jameson 1780 is triple-distilled in traditional pot stills from malted and unmalted barley and aged a minimum of 12 years in bourbon barrels and sherry casks. (80 proof)
  • JOHN POWER — Produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Power's Irish Whiskey is a blend comprised of approximately 70% pot still whiskies, with the remainder being grain. There is no malt used in the blend. Founded in 1791, John Power & Son was the first Irish distiller to market their whiskey in bottles. (80 proof)
  • KILBEGGAN — Produced at the Cooley Distillery in Dundalk, Kilbeggan is triple-distilled in pot- and continuous stills from a blend of malted, unmalted barley and grain, and lime-softened water from the nearby River Cran. (80 proof)
  • KNAPPOGUE CASTLE SINGLE MALT — Produced at the Cooley Distillery in Dundalk, vintage-dated Knappogue Castle Single Malt is double-distilled in small batches in copper alembic stills. The malt whiskies used in its blend are aged in 180-liter white oak barrels and are selected by international whisky expert, Jim Murray. (80 proof)
  • KNAPPOGUE CASTLE 1951 SINGLE MALT — This rare, pure pot still whiskey is the most exclusive and expensive Irish whiskey available in the United States. Only 300 bottles are released for sale each year. The malt was triple-distilled in 1951 at the B. Daly Distillery in Tullamore, County Offaly. After distillation, it was placed in sherry casks to mature. The distillery closed several years later. The whiskey remained in the casks until 1987 after having been aged for 36 years. (80 proof)
  • MIDLETON VERY RARE — Produced since 1825 at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Midleton VR is a vintage-dated blend comprised of triple-distilled, barley and malted barley whiskies aged 12-21 years in "first fill" American oak bourbon barrels prior to blending. No more than 50 casks a year are bottled, and each bottle is issued with a certificate of authenticity. (80 proof)
  • REDBREAST — Produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Redbreast Irish Whiskey is made entirely from malted barley and spring water and is triple-distilled in heavy copper pot stills. It is then aged in oak for a minimum of 12 years in bourbon barrels and sherry casks. John Jameson & Sons in Dublin first introduced the Redbreast brand in 1939. (80 proof)
  • TULLAMORE DEW — Created in 1829 at the Cantrell & Cochrane Distillery in County Offaly, Tullamore Dew is now produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork. The brand is triple-distilled from grain, barley and malted barley. It is aged in bourbon barrels and sherry casks. (80 proof)
  • TYRCONNELL SINGLE MALT — Created in 1762, the brand is now produced at the Cooley Distillery in Dundalk. Tyrconnell Single Malt is a double-distilled pot still malt aged 5-6 years. (80 proof)

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