WASHINGTON — Forget the phony, food coloring-fashioned green beer. This St. Patrick’s Day, if you want to drink like the Irish, reach for an Irish whiskey.
At Jack Rose Dining Saloon in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, head bartender Benny Hurwitz oversees the city’s largest collection of Irish whiskey, with 90 varieties and counting. He said the spirit is currently experiencing a revival — but it hasn’t always been on top.
Irish whiskey is one of the world’s original whiskeys. Depending on who you ask, it may have been the first.
“There’s somewhat of a debate between the Irish and Scottish of who created whiskey, but [Irish whiskey] dates back to the 1600s,” Hurwitz said.
By the mid-1800s, Ireland was home to a number of distilleries, and Irish whiskey was the most popular spirit in the world.
However, at the peak of the country’s whiskey boom, Ireland experienced its own version of prohibition. For religious reasons, about 3 million people on the island took a pledge to stop drinking, Hurwitz explained.
Shortly after, America crept into the prohibition period and Ireland entered into a trade war with Britain. The combination of events led to the decline of the Irish whiskey industry, which helped Scotland rise to the title of the world’s largest whiskey producer.
“Irish whiskey has actually seen quite a rise and fall, and we’re now back, full-circle,” Hurwitz said.
In fact, high-end, premium Irish whiskey saw a 736 percent growth from 2002 to 2016, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, and in 2016, Irish whiskey volumes were up 18.7 percent to 3.8 million cases. (In 2002, Irish whiskey volumes were well below 1 million cases.)
Irish whiskey, which is made from malted and unmalted barley, is relatively easy to drink, Hurwitz said — especially varieties that blend pot-distilled and coffey-distilled spirit. Unlike American bourbon (made from corn, rye and barley), Irish whiskey is aged in older, seasoned barrels. This imparts less of an oak flavor on the final product.
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“It is definitely approachable for the newbie,” Hurwitz said.
If you need advice on where to start when it comes to Irish whiskey, Hurwitz has some advice.
“I’m always going to recommend that you take a sip neat and then let your palate adjust, take another sip neat, and if it’s still a little too much, add a couple drops of water,” he said.
“A lot of these approachable blended Irish whiskeys are at about 80-proof, which is the minimum proof to be considered whiskey, so start there.”
In the summer, try the whiskey on the rocks. And of course, it always goes great in a cocktail.
“There’s really no wrong way to drink whiskey,” Hurwitz said.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Hurwitz shared one of his Irish whiskey cocktail creations. It draws from two classic cocktails: the old fashioned and the Irish coffee. If you don’t want to make it at home, you can find it on the menu at Jack Rose.
The Black Irish
- 1.5 oz. Jameson Black Barrel whiskey
- 0.5 oz. whiskey-based honey liqueur
- 0.5 oz. cold brew coffee
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Lemon twist
In a tall glass, combine the bitters, whiskey, liqueur and cold brew, then fill with ice. Using a long spoon, stir the ingredients.
“You want to make sure you dilute your cocktail properly. One of the most important ingredients in almost every cocktail is the water that you’re adding,” Hurwitz said, explaining that the water helps to bring out the sweeter and smokier flavors of the drink.
Then, strain the drink into a smaller glass over a large cube of ice. Twist a strip of a lemon peel over the cocktail to add some freshness and serve.