The Irish spirit
Whiskey vs. whisky
By Linda A. Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
The Irish are serious about their whiskey (spelled with an “e”) — so serious that the Gaelic term for this beverage is Uisce Beatha, meaning “water of life.”
Rich Gerrish, spirits marketing specialist for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, noted that Irish whiskey is one of the oldest recorded distilled spirits. (No one knows for sure, but it is believed that monks introduced the distilling process in the sixth century.) To be an Irish whiskey, law states, the spirit must be distilled in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland and matured in wooden casks in one of these two areas for at least three years.
What makes Irish whiskey different from Scotch or American whisky (no “e”)? Traditionally, the Irish version is made with malted barley dried in a kiln and distilled three or more times. This gives it a lighter, softer flavor. Scotch whisky’s barley is dried over a peat fire, and thus it has a smoky flavor. “Many think the Scots stole the distillation process from the Irish. There is a big debate about that,” Gerrish said. For American whisky, “by law, it must have 51 percent corn as its base ingredient.”
Owner and chef Ray Gardiner of Cú Na Mara Irish restaurant in Bristol sells 21 different types of Irish whiskey, many that he offers in groups of four, similar to a wine flight, so people can compare the varieties. It is the largest selection of Irish whiskey from New York to Canada.
“Irish whiskey is distilled in steel casks and then put into oak barrels to age. It gives its favor a spice and cleanliness on the palate,” Gardiner said.
“I think Irish whiskey is smoother,” said Keith Murphy of Murphy’s Taproom, where customers will find half a dozen different varieties. “Scotch is a little harsher, and American whisky has a grain flavor.”
Both Gerrish and Gardiner pointed out that the Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Ireland, is offering a special 1608 anniversary bottle to honor its 400 years in the business. “It was just made available a couple of weeks ago, and we offer it by the glass.” Gardiner said. “I’ve had customers come in to try it and then they go buy a bottle to save for later. In another 20 years it will be even better. And we give them the chance to taste it before they buy an expensive bottle.” (The NH Liquor Commission lists the price at $99.99 for a 750-ml bottle.)
Chef-owner Brian Shea of the Barley House said women tend to like the Redbreast Irish Whiskey for its light, smooth taste. He also noted that any of these whiskeys can be served as a shot, on the rocks, or poured in a brandy glass.
Gardiner uses the whiskey as an ingredient in many dishes, including his popular chicken medallions with Irish whiskey cream (see the recipe below). He also said to switch the vinegar in a favorite salad vinaigrette to the whiskey for a unique Irish twist.
“If someone drinks bourbon or scotch, they should give Irish whiskey a try. They will experience a whole new flavor. It’s like comparing red and white wine with Champagne,” Gardiner said..