How to Toast St. Patrick the American Way
Around St. Patrick’s Day, it seems everyone’s thoughts turn to drinking. And drinking a lot! While we know there’s so much more to Irish culture than just beer and booze, we do love all the holidays. In the American tradition of celebrating our Irish friends, we figured we’d take this opportunity to focus on Uisce beatha. That’s Irish for Whiskey.
Translated to Water of Life, drinking whiskey might conjure up images of friends gathered around a roaring fire in a quaint country home surrounded by green, rolling fields. Maybe there’s music, laughter, storytelling …
Well, it’s just as likely that scene is set in Kentucky as it is in Killarney. America has long had its own strong tradition in making, drinking and loving the brown stuff.
You Don’t Know Jack: Whiskey 101
Can’t tell your brandy from your bourbon? You’re not alone.
For starters, brandy isn’t even in the whiskey family at all! It’s basically distilled wine made from grapes or other fruits. As for bourbon? Well, one of the things we love most about bourbon is that by definition it must be American Made.
So, how do you break down the big umbrella that covers whiskey? The most basic factors are ingredients, aging and location.
The first thing all types of whiskey have in common – whether they’re from America, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, or Japan – is that they’re all made from fermented grains. Whiskey is a catch-all for any spirit made from a mash of grains like barley, corn, rye, oat, and wheat.
For a whiskey to be considered a bourbon it has to be made of mostly corn – 51% or more. Rye? 51% or more rye. So, the type of fermented grain has a lot to do with the classification of different whiskeys. Simple enough, right? Well, that’s just one part of the equation.
After a fermented mash is distilled, it’s set to age in pretty specific settings. Here’s where you further classify your particular brand of brown booze. When you hear a whiskey called a single malt, single barrel, or a blend, what is referenced is the distillery and barrels where the whiskey was made and aged. Different countries have different requirements on the proof of the drink, the type of barrels used, and the length of time it must be stored.
What about Moonshine?
It’s the charred, wooden barrels that give whiskey much of its color, flavor and scent.
Homemade, bootlegged liquor often isn’t aged in barrels, so it never takes on the dark, amber color of proper whiskey. That’s why poteen, white lightning, moonshine and any other name you want to call illegal booze is usually as clear and colorless as it is strong.
Bourbon must be aged in brand spanking new, American, charred white oak barrels. Yes, that’s right: Bourbon is 100% Made in USA. We’ll get to more of that later …
For the most part, location and its ties to whiskey classification is pretty self explanatory. In fact, even the spelling of whiskey versus whisky gives you a hint where it was made. Scots Gaelic got anglicized to whisky while Irish Gaelic got anglicized to whiskey. Scotch is made in Scotland. Irish Whiskey is made in Ireland. Bourbon in made in the good ‘ole U.S. of A. Rye gets a little more complicated, but that’s a story for another blog.
Bourbon: “America’s Native Spirit”
In the early 1960s, Kentucky representative John Clarence Watts introduced legislation preventing any imported whiskey be labeled as bourbon. Kentucky representative Thruston B Morton introduced a Senate Resolution declaring bourbon a distinctive product of the United States. After overcoming a bit of opposition from folks who had their hands in importing foreign liquors, a resolution declaring bourbon solely and distinctively American was passed in 1964. It’s said the opposition finally caved and recited this poem:
“Is there a man with soul so dead,
“Who never to himself has said,
“This is my own, my native bourbon?”
From then on, Bourbon officially became “America’s Native Spirit.”
Neat? On the rocks? How to order your whiskey
Classifications and history are all well and good, but what about getting down to the actual drinking of the stuff?
One of the most common ways to drink whiskey is neat. A neat pour is a straight serving of room temperature whiskey, without ice, water or mixers. Some people prefer it with a bit of ice – on the rocks – or with a small splash of water to ease the strength of the drink and to open up the flavor. One thing to watch out for is that you don’t add more ice than you want your drink diluted. Remember – it melts! A great way around that are whiskey rocks. Made from recycled soapstone, they chill your drink without watering it down.
We certainly won’t judge if you end up sipping whiskey from a plastic to-go cup, but if possible it’s best to drink from glass. Remember how much a charred barrel affects the taste? Well, whiskey will pick up a bit of anything it’s in. Plus, if you’re indulging in an aged, quality spirit, don’t you want the full experience of sipping from something a bit more classy? Check out this Whiskey and How To Enjoy it Kit from Boarding Pass. Not only does it come with a guide book to teach you more about whiskey, you get two hefty eight ounce whiskey tumblers and leather coaster to rest them on.
Whether you’re celebrating your love for Ireland, looking for a sanctioned excuse to skip a day of lent, or you just like whiskey, enjoy! Raise a glass, toast your health, tell a story or sing a song. No matter what you call whatever is in your glass, those traditions are alive and well on both sides of the pond.