Whilst I have tried desperately to find Irish blood in my background, I have yet to discover any.......I appear to be of sturdy English stock, not that I find that something about which I am ashamed........except in the Irish Republic, where I went chin to chest and muttered under my breath, 'English' when asked how much Irish blood I had in my veins. My obvious signaling of my lower rank among those of true Irish descent was graciously received in good humor.
'Tis to the Irish that those of us of European descent owe our love of distilled spirits...........although I have read of late that distilling came to the Irish by way of the Arabs. The Irish have both a glorious and a terrible history (as do us Southern folk), fraught with great tragedy, but also with magical lore, wonderful music, and unsurpassed use of language. If you get to Ireland, these things are ever close, close at hand. The great beauty of the land never hides the enormous effort spent to tame it, nor the unspeakable unnecessary suffering that has occured there.
Drive along the coast in the midst of a deep and almost malevalant fog and you cannot help but seek poetic language to soften and calm your fearful and wild soul...........that, and a sip of spirit strengthening whiskey.
Unlike the Scots, to whom the Irish gave the secrets of making the 'water of life', the Irish did not use peat fires (at least never to the degree that the smoke from the malting fires flavored the distillate in Scotland) to halt the germanation of the barley when it was at its fermentable best. Thus their whiskey is a softer sip wherein the malt sweetness is allowed complete freedom. Both of the major Irish distilleries, Midleton and Bushmills (I believe there are only the two left now), triple distill their spirits, making for an extremely smooth distillate with few undesirables left to disturb the surface. As I understand it, the Irish whiskies of today put their distillate into used bourbon barrels for aging. Some of the more expensive Irish whiskies will finish their whiskey in used Sherry, or Madeira barrels, a practice common among Scotch makers, who also will employ used Port barrels.
For what it is worth, when I sip Bourbon, I consider myself to be participating in the development of the American character. Whiskey cannot help but reveal the character of its maker. With Bourbon, I am aware of its source and as I sip, I take great delight in being an American and sipping our native spirit. It is robust and full of boisterous character........it is not subtle (with a few exceptions) and is direct and (at least mildly) aggressive.
When I sip Scotch, I am aware that the Scots lived constantly with peat fires and smoke (a peat fire is more than warming to the body, its warmth reaches the soul) and were bound to love that ever present aroma and taste in all they ate and drank. Without American Bourbon barrels and Spanish Sherry barrels, Scotch aging would never have occurred. I remember the Scottish independent and rugged spirit when I sip Scotch.
The French developed Cognac, surely the most delicate spirit anywhere in the entire world. The French tend toward the intellectually sophisticated and precisely descriptive use of language.........not of action. French Philosophers sought answers to vital questions in the mind itself, its thoughts would reveal the world. When I sip Cognac, I think of the French fascination with things culinary and their exquisite palates........Cognac is a perfect reflection of that. My speculation is that it was the ever restive French palate which sought to soften brandy that led to the use of charred barrels. I have great respect for the French cuisine and am aware of that when I sip Cognac.
The English (who have produced no great spirit comparable to American, Irish, Scotch whiskies, or to Cognac, or even wines, but have been content to buy the products of other civilizations) Philosophers sought their answers in observed events and behavior. The English, at the time the Irish and Scots were making whiskey, seemed more intent on conquering both, and to no small degree the rest of the planet.........and they succeeded to a remarkable degree, and, for the most part, did so without horrendous damage for a colonial power. They were importers of spirits and fostered their development with their purchases (without the English, the Spanish Sherry maket would have collapsed).
My theory on the character of a people being revealed in their spirit goes back a long way in Irish history.........to the monks who began to make spirits to cure what ailed you. Alcohol made a great solvent for various herbs and spices thought to provide curative elixirs. And, as one who can attest to the long lasting power of these elixirs for the users, I remember when my grandfather drank goodly amounts of 'Hadicol' (mostly alcohol), a patent medicine still around until the 1960s........ and very likely to make another comeback as herbal remedies become more popular in the face of the cost of drugs. These medicines needed to be at least drinkable, so the Irish monks worked on making a more palatable whiskey. Irish whiskey has become a very easy and soft sip compared to Bourbon or to Scotch. My recent trip to Ireland, during which I fell completely in its thrall, influences my muchly increased appreciation of Irish Whiskey, I make no apologies for that, not here, not now, not ever!
My theory may be a bit of a stretch, so I am reaching and am willing to be corrected in my errors.
On to part two of this Fairy Tale, in which it is revealed that at least three Irish Whiskies are exceptional.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas