Wednesday 17 March 2021 11:00 am

City Spirits: Irish whiskey might be the star, but gin hits the spot too

Above most other calendar dates, March 17 presents itself as the perfect opportunity to throw your inhibitions to one side, and party like its, well, 461AD.

St. Patrick’s Day falls on this date each year. But why March 17? This was the day that the man who became the foremost patron saint of Ireland, passed away in 461AD.

Little is known about St Patrick’s exact birthplace (some say Scotland, some say Wales) or indeed his full name, but today his legacy lives on, as around the world revellers find themselves raising a drink to the day that bears his name and celebrating with the milk and honey from the Emerald Isle.

Read more: City Spirits: Raising a toast to the Queen Mother

What a time it is for this land of plenty, famed for the finest delicacies from its verdant fields, and when it comes to a tipple or two, Ireland brings its A-game to the party.

Let’s start with whiskey, the spirit that runs St. Pat close as the island’s most loved saint. Up on the north coast is one of the world’s oldest licensed distilleries, Bushmills.

An elemental place, a stone’s throw from the Giant’s Causeway (which itself, legend has it, was the result of a giant’s stone throwing), Bushmills is the island’s leading distiller of single malt whiskey, which is made in almost the same way as single malt Scotch, yet with the addition of a third stage of distillation. This gives the whisky from Bushmills a smooth note, which makes it a seriously easy drink and one to try if you’re looking for something with a rich, easy going note. Try their 16 year old expression, matured in Oloroso sherry it is a wonderful example of first-class whiskey-making.

Bushmills Live At The Old Bushmills Distillery
The Old Bushmills Distillery (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)

For those looking for something a little more unusual, seek out a bottle of Kinahan’s. Their unconventional approach to wood maturation sees their most recent release, titled ‘Special Release Project #48’, showcasing Irish whiskey matured in casks that formerly held Armagnac. Limited to just 600 bottles globally, this is one for the treasure hunters out there.

The flag bearer for Irish whiskey has to be Jameson, and a quality drink it is too (if you’ve not had a chance to try the Black Barrel, as step up from their standard release, give it a go and you’ll see why Jameson has endured as the quintessential Irish whiskey for so long). An exile from Dublin, Jameson is produced in Midleton, near Cork and if you’re looking for something just that little bit special with which to celebrate not just St Patrick’s Day, but any occasion really, look no further than Midleton Very Rare.

First launched in 1984, only three Master Distillers have had the freedom to produce Midleton Very Rare and the current expression, the 2021 release, is the first for Kevin O’Gorman who took up the role of Midleton Master Distiller last year. The limited release expression contains whiskeys aged for between 15 and 36 years, and brings together Single Pot Still whiskey – more on that style soon in this column – and Irish grain whiskey, all produced and matured at Midleton, in a wonderfully complex, buttery and delicate mix that brings to mind mille-feuille topped with fruit compote.

So far, so good, but all these whiskeys are high end fare, designed for sipping and special occasions. What of the P-A-R-T-Y vibe St Pat’s day has become so famous for?

Well, aside from a Jameson and Ginger Ale, turn to gin.

“Gin?”, we hear you cry! “Isn’t that a bit, erm, London for St Patrick’s Day?”.

Not at all. Irish gin is leading the way with some of the best craft distilleries in Europe. Boatyard distillery in Enniskillen makes a phenomenal ‘double gin’, which delivers powerful juniper notes and makes a fulsome gin and tonic.

Glendalough distillery in County Wicklow makes the most moorish Wild Spring Botanical Gin. It works wonders in a martini, cut simply 50/50 with a good quality dry vermouth, stirred down and served ice cold.

Of course, you could just crack open a can of Guinness at home on St Patrick’s Day, but I’m sure that’ll be the first order for most when the pubs re-open soon. 

Pubs re-opening, eh. Now there is something we all should be praying to the saints for.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!