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St Patrick’s Day – Celebrate the ‘non’ traditional way!

Philippe Boucheron

Philippe Boucheron

To celebrate Paddy’s Day, our food and drinks writer, Philippe Boucheron uncorks Whiskey with an ‘e’ for Irish Excellence

On the 17th March (this Wednesday) the Irish all over the world celebrate the feast day of St Patrick, their patron saint, who incidentally came from Wales!  As well as countless pints of Guinness they will be enjoying their other national drink – whiskey which was first created in Ireland around 630 AD.

It all came about in the fourth century when crusading monks from Rome watched with fascination while Arabs using alembic stills made perfumes from rosewater. They asked themselves what would happen if they did the same to their rather coarse wines – the result was brandy! Two hundred years later Irish monks visiting Rome witnessed this phenomenon, and since they had no wines repeated the experiment with their beers to produce the very first whiskey.  Some five hundred years later Irish monks landed in Scotland taking with them the two great blessings of civilisation – Christianity and whiskey.

Unlike the vast majority of Scotch whiskies, which are only distilled twice, Irish whiskies are distilled three times in vast copper pot stills.  In addition the heads and tails – the first and last parts of every distillation – are not, as in Scotland, returned to the still but passed immediately up the rectifying column to be turned into gin, vodka or simply industrial alcohol.  All of this helps make Irish whiskey the cleanest and purist of spirits. Oh, and by the way, Irish is spelt with an ‘e’ for excellence.

Indeed, up until the 1914-18 war Irish whiskey was far and away the world market leader. Then came two disasters from which it has never fully recovered.  The first of these was the Irish Troubles of 1917 and then, in 1920, the obscene American experiment of Prohibition.   This was the Volstead Act that became the 18th amendment to the US Constitution and was repealed in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Understandably ‘true Brits’ felt that it was no longer patriotic to drink Irish, while the American market that supplied so many ex-pats just stopped dead. To add insult to injury bootleggers started giving Irish names to their bathtub hooch so that when Prohibition finally ended the American appetite for Irish whiskey had long gone.

It was at this stage that Joseph Kennedy, the US ambassador to London and father of the future President Jack Kennedy, approached some leading Irish distillers proposing that since Prohibition was going to end they should give him the sole agency for their whiskies.  The distillers discussed this idea with the leaders of their new republic, who were shocked that an ambassador, a servant of then the most powerful nation in the world, should even consider such an illegal act.  They turned it down out of hand.  Joe Kennedy promptly went to Glasgow and did a deal with the Distillers’ Company.  The rest is history.

Irish whiskey can always be found in our better bars and pubs as well as on the shelves of discriminating wine merchants and even superior supermarkets. Look for Jamesons, Irish Distillers export flagship brand, as well as the slightly sweeter Paddys’ or the more patrician Powers.  At home I drink 12-year old Jameson and for pleasure sip Red Breast, a premium pot stilled 12-year old malt so-loved by the Irish clergy that it became known as the ‘priest’s bottle’.  All of these come from the giant Middleton Distillery in Co. Cork.

Then there is the luxurious Bushmills 16-year old from the County Antrim in the north, where they have been distilling whiskey continuously since 1609. This quite extraordinary whiskey is aged first in a combination of once used Bourbon barrels and old Oloroso sherry butts before finishing in old Port pipes.

Also keep your eyes skinned for the Tyrconnel.  This whiskey, from Cooleys distillery in Connemara, is named after a racehorse that won the 1876 National Produce Stakes at the outrageous odds of 100 to 1.  Take my tip, it’s still well-worth a punt.
Search for somewhere to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the Midlands HERE

Or if you want to be more ‘Traditional’ why not order a pint of the black stuff with a  traditional Irish Stew?

Click pic to view your local ‘O’Neils’ Irish Bar locations

Guinness and Ale Pie from O'Neils, Sutton Coldfield

Guinness and Ale Pie from O'Neils, Sutton Coldfield

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