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Irish Whiskey: the “Water of Life”by Julie Goldstein

Considered by many to be the “father of all whiskey,” Irish whiskey is the oldest and perhaps most highly regarded whiskey of them all. It is said that the Irish have been distilling their crafted blends since as early as 521 A.D. The name “whiskey” came from the Anglicization of the Gaelic term uisce beatha meaning “water of life.”

Irish whiskey eventually became extremely popular worldwide. In the 1880’s phylloxera—tiny sap-sucking insects that are a cancer to grape vines—destroyed the cognac crop in France, giving Irish whiskey consumption a serious international boost. The Irish took great pride in their specially crafted pot-distilled batches, more often than not distilled three times (single-malt Scotches were generally distilled only twice). These smaller quantities of crafted blends, casked for three years, proved to be conducive to more mellow and complex blends of whiskey.

The luck of the Irish, however, did not last for long, as the invention of the Coffey Still in 1826 allowed the competition to market a more efficient, quickly produced, yet less flavorful product. Then in the twentieth century, another blow: the United States added the Eighteenth Amendment, a.k.a. Prohibition, to the Constitution, thereby closing its doors to all alcohol imports. Increasingly detrimental to the character of Irish whiskey was the illegal production of poor quality bootlegs in the States during the Prohibition era, truly a rough time in the U.S. for all hard spirits in terms of quality. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933 the general public—who had, of course, been drinking the whole time—had become accustomed to the inferior quality, believing that all whiskey should taste like the mouth-burning sludge of the 20s and early 30s.

Twenty years later the Irish regained their luck—whiskey-wise, anyway—when The Buena Vista Café in San Francisco began to serve Irish coffees, using quality Irish and Irish-style whiskies (To actually be an “Irish whiskey,” said whiskey must be distilled and aged on the Island, like Old Bushmills and Cooley. That said, there are several fine U.S. crafted “Irish-style” whiskies.) The craze took off as tourists requested the smooth spiked coffee at their local bars.

Back in Ireland, another cozy beverage enjoyed on a cool evening is the traditional hot whiskey, a relaxingly enchanting cocktail of whiskey, hot water, lemon, sugar, and cloves that is sure to warm the coldest heart. Enough of these might even have you believing in leprechauns.

Much like the smooth small-batched whiskeys that the Irish are renowned for producing, Tuthilltown Spirits is celebrated for their own similarly crafted blends. Located nearby in Gardiner, Tuthilltown is New York State’s first whiskey distillery since Prohibition, producing spirits that vary from Irish styles to bourbons to local apple vodka. The distillery was originally a historic gristmill, which used waterpower to grind grains into flour. We recommend trying one of their whiskeys for this refreshingly sweet cocktail.

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