What’s Going On with Irish Whiskey in Its Homeland?

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Jameson global cocktail consultant Oisin Davis, left, prepares a ginger and rhubarb punch with whiskey.

Rock music reverberated throughout Dublin’s Academy concert hall as Jameson’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration kicked off in March with a performance from local band Kodaline. Way down in the basement, Jameson global cocktail consultant Oisin Davis was on his tenth demo of the night, mixing up a batch of whiskey-spiked ginger and rhubarb punch at breakneck speed. He’s incredibly enthusiastic about the use of Irish whiskey in cocktails, talking up classics like the Emerald (Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, orange bitters), as well as bars that are using a Guinness reduction in place of simple syrup in an Irish whiskey Old Fashioned. He dumped an entire bottle of Jameson into the punch bowl, smiled and warned us not to steal the metal mugs that he likened to Game of Thrones props.

“I would say that Irish whiskey offers exceptional versatility,” Davis later tells me, pointing out three reasons why he thinks it works in so many cocktails: First, there’s the the triple-distillation method, which is how most (but not all) Irish whiskey is produced, creating a smoother flavor and mouthfeel. Second, most Irish whiskey is not at all peaty. “This means that other components brought into an Irish whiskey cocktail don’t get drowned out,” he says. Finally, he credits its sweet but not cloying flavor profile. “This is why we can enjoy the likes of Jameson in a Hot Toddy, an Irish Coffee, a classic cocktail from the 19th century or a brand new punch or sour.”

Dublin’s Academy concert hall hosts a Jameson St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Irish whiskey is indeed undergoing a resurgence, with top-selling brands like Jameson offering new expressions like the beer cask-finished Caskmates, as well as offerings from other Midleton-produced brands like the Irish oak-finished Midleton Dair Ghaelach and Green Spot’s wine cask-finished Château Léoville Barton. This all makes sense, considering how popular bourbon has become over the past decade, offering some serious competition.

Though it may seem that Irish whiskey is gaining newfound attention, its use in American cocktails dates far back, according to Pernod Ricard national mixologist Kevin Denton. “Irish whiskey is one of the historical cornerstones of American drinking,” he says. “Before Scotland’s malts were all the rage, people were drinking far more pot-still Irish whiskey.… The trend of mixology took a bit longer to catch on in Ireland, but to be sure, there is no shortage of use for Irish whiskey in cocktails.”

For those experimenting at home, Denton recommends directly swapping out single-pot whiskeys like Redbreast in cocktails that call for bourbon or rye but says that lighter blends like Jameson require a bit more finesse. “Start with Old Fashioned variations to see how your Irish behaves when mixed with bitters,” he says. “Next, try a Gold Rush (two parts Irish to one part honey syrup, and one part lemon juice). And of course, don’t forget ginger. The ubiquitous Jameson Ginger is ubiquitous for a reason. Reach for ginger beer and a healthy squeeze of lime as an alternative to the more traditional ginger ale.”

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