No need to take a trip to the emerald isle—DC mixologists are embracing Irish whiskey.
Single-malt or blended, with honey or stone-fruit notes, Irish whiskey offers an unexpected range of tastes for a variety of drinkers.
Thanks to an increasing interest in whiskey, the demand for the Irish variety has inspired a renaissance in DC. A bevy of handcrafted and unique products have attracted new drinkers who appreciate its lighter body and delicate range of notes—around the world and here, too, says Rachael Ewing, whiskey sommelier for Rí Rá Georgetown (3125 M St. NW, 202-751 2111).
Revenues from Irish whiskey sales have jumped 576 percent since 2003, up to $500 million, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), and wholesale purchases have soared 485 percent since 2002. “Irish whiskey is the fastest growing category within the spirits industry,” says DISCUS spokeswoman Alexandra Sklansky.
Like Scotch, Irish whiskey is aged at least three years and made from barley, but there are many differences. For example, Irish whiskey can be a single malt or a blend of grain and barley, and it is typically a mix between malted (barley soaked in water and allowed to germinate) and unmalted grain. Irish whiskey is often distilled three times to give it a lighter flavor, unlike Scotch, which is distilled twice. Peat, which gives some Scotches earthy or smoky characteristics, is rarely used in the Irish whiskey process.
“Irish whiskey has a huge amount of potential,” Ewing explains. “We’re seeing things that haven’t been available in a long time.” Her favorites include Redbreast , the malted and unmalted barley mix that presents grassy and grapefruit notes, and Tullamore D.E.W. 10-year-old single malt, which is finished in port, sherry, and Madeira casks to create mellow honey flavors and a dark, stone-fruit tang.
“You can find an Irish whiskey for anybody’s palate,” adds Samantha Barney, head bartender at Irish Whiskey Public House (1207 19th St. NW, 202-463-3010). The Public House carries 66 different types of Irish whiskey and several rare varieties, such as the Green Spot 12, one of only 200 bottles produced that goes for $149 a dram. The Knappogue Castle 12, a lightly bodied emerald whiskey with brown sugar, oak, and marshmallow is a top seller.
“A well-made Irish whiskey can stand on its own next to a great Scotch, bourbon, or Cognac,” says Jamie MacBain, head bartender at Bourbon Steak (2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-944-2026). “It’s best enjoyed how you prefer it.”
That means it’s exquisite to drink neat or in cocktails, from the classics to innovative new tipples, which is often how novice Irish whiskey drinkers find their favorite, MacBain says.
Go on. Try one, maybe two. You might just get lucky