Master distiller, Darryl McNally, from the Dublin Liberties Whiskey Company, shines a light on the complex and intriguing spirit that is increasingly our cup of tea.
HOW DID WHISKEY AS WE KNOW IT TODAY COME INTO EXISTENCE? The alembic drum, which was used for making perfumes, was brought to Ireland in the sixth century by Christian monks. The Irish soon realised that they could use this for more than just making perfumes. It was written in the Book of Leinster in 1176 that Sir Robert Savage fortified his troops with an ‘amber nectar’ before going into battle ... I believe this to be early whiskey.
SO WHISKEY-A-GO-GO? For many years then it was made illegally, until in 1608 when a license was granted to distil in an area on the north coast of Ireland known as an Rúta. For years Ireland led the way in whiskey production and eventually even taught the Scottish how to make a decent dram. In time, we took the art of distillation to America.
WHY IS WHISKY SO LAUDED THESE DAYS? Whisky, including Irish whiskey, is now seen by many as the go-to drink. People are moving away from vodka-based drinks to quality, well-made spirits which stand out as premium, drinks that have a craftsmanship to their making.
And like food, people want to know everything about whiskey – its origin, quality, who makes it, and so on. Millennials, delightfully, want to know the ins and outs of everything, particularly when it comes to food and drink. Whiskey has plenty of depth in that regard.
WHAT ARE SINGLE MALT/SINGLE POT/GRAIN? The authentic style of Irish Whiskey is ‘Single Malt’. That’s made from 100 per cent malted barley, however due to taxes being put on malted barley there have been several other styles developed over the years. ‘Single Pot’ means a mix of malted and unmalted barley has been used. It’s put into a pot still but not guaranteed to be fully malted barley, usually it’s only around 50 per cent and then other cereals make up the remainder. A different process, known as column distillation, where this component is made from normal barley, wheat, and maize in a different process makes ‘Grain’ whisky – a much lighter spirit and usually mixed with either Single Malt or Single Pot to create a blended whiskey.
SHOULD YOU DRINK WHISKEY NEAT? Not always, it depends on your preference. I like mine with one cube of ice and allow the cube to part-melt. Others like it neat, some prefer it in cocktails or with a mixer. It also depends on the quality of the whiskey.
WHAT’S A GOOD COCKTAIL THAT ALLOWS THE WHISKEY TO SHINE? Jillian Vose, pictured, beverage director from The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York created some remarkable cocktails when we launched The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey recently in Ireland. A favourite was the Cloak & Dagger – Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey, Grapefruit, Lemon, Almond, Horchata, Applejack and Tiki Bitters, all served in a very pretty tea cup!