5 things I’ve learned about…Irish Whiskey

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the March 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine will include (among other things) my review column on Irish Whiskey!  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. Compared to just about every other whiskey, Irish whiskies are lighter and smoother. In general, they don’t have intense peat, intense caramel from barrel aging, or deep dark colors (golden vs. amber). At their best, they have a gentle finesse. Many are honeyed (vs. burnt toffee flavors) or have floral or even light tropical fruit flavors.

2.  Irish whiskeys are building quite a fan base on American shores — the category racked up an astonishing 25% increase in U.S. sales between June 2010 and 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group. Damn!! What other spirits category can claim that…beyond candy-flavored vodka?

3.  So what’s the appeal? Frankly, Irish whiskey is approachable and affordable, but still complex enough to be interesting.

4. But it appears that no one has told the Irish whiskey distillers that they’re hot stuff.  Scotch tends to be accompanied by reams of marketing materials and boastful claims on the back of the bottle; American whiskey is pretty macho in its claims too, and tends to have flashier packaging. Marketing materials and bottle labels for Irish whiskey don’t tell you much, and the bottles generally are plain. Attention PR and marketing pros!

5. Ironically, just as bartenders are rediscovering Irish whiskey, they’re finding that very few are used in classic cocktails. No worries, they’re happy to create new ones. The Redbreast 12-year is called for in a handful of new craft cocktail recipes, but Jameson seems to be called for most of all. This time of year in particular, look for the cheerful abomination known as “The Pickleback”:  a shot of the Jameson basic blend, served with a “back” of pickle juice.

If you have a favorite Irish whiskey or cocktail featuring Irish whiskey, please add a comment, I’d love to hear about it!

Let’s Get Pickled: Kimchi Cocktails

Kimchi Bloody Mary - Photography by Jessica Boucher

Kimchi Bloody Mary - Photography by Jessica Boucher

Just when you finally got used to crazy ingredients like chile peppers and wasabi in your cocktails, I’m going to throw you a curve ball:  kimchi cockails!

Kimchi is a Korean side dish – usually pickled and fermented Napa cabbage, but I’m told that there are as many kimchi recipes as there are Koreans. In other words, the vegetable can differ, and so can the pickling liquid and technique. But considering the recent spate of nifty books on pickling, not to mention the recent International Pickle Day, which had a fair kimchi representation, and the simple pleasures of the Pickleback cocktail, it seems time to put new meaning behind the words “Let’s Get Pickled.”

So we’re talking kimchi cocktails today, folks. If you’d like something easy to make, I recommend the Spicy Kimchi Bloody Mary, which uses a new product called Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi – one of the kimchis on show at the International Pickle Festival. But if you’re feeling more ambitious, may I suggest…


Gin Kimchi - Photography by Sara Remington

 The Gin Kimchi

 I first heard about this drink two years ago, when Scott Beattie, then of Cyrus, presented drinks from his gorgeous “Artisanal Cocktails” book at Tales of the Cocktail. It’s beautiful, complicated, and features pickled ginger and daikon (a Japanese radish) — but no cabbage.

1 1/2 oz. Sarticious gin

3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 oz. Ginger-Shiso syrup (recipe follows)

8 pieces Pickled Ginger (recipe follows)

8 pieces Pickled Daikon (recipe follows)

5 small shiso leaves, cut into chiffonade

3/4 oz. Bundaberg or Cock’n Bull ginger beer

Combine the gin, juice, and syrup in a mixing glass and give it a stir. Add the pickled vegetables, the shiso, and enough ice to fill the mixing glass. Cover and shake a few times. Add the ginger beer, and pour it into a stemmed water glass or a tall collins glass to serve.

To make Ginger-Shiso Syrup (makes 1 cup)

1 cup simple syrup, chilled

2 drops essential oil of ginger

2 drops essential oil of galangal

1 drop essential oil of perilla (shiso)

Combine the simple syrup and essential oils in an airtight container. Cover and shake well to mix the oils into the syrup. Keeps for about 2 weeks, refrigerated.

To make Asian Pickling Liquid (for Ginger & Daikon – makes 1 2/3 cups)

1 cup rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup mirin

1/3 cup filtered sake

1/2 cup sugar

Combine the rice wine vinegar, mirin, and sake in a stainless steel saucepan over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the sugar, and stir until it dissolves. Allow the liquid to cool before pouring into an airtight container.

Pickling shorthand: The daikon and ginger each are sliced thinly and (in separate batches) marinated in pickling liquid, which is brought to a boil, poured over the vegetables, and then allowed to cool. A red beet is added to the ginger to create that pretty deep pink color. 

The full recipe is about 3 pages long…not exactly blog friendly. But if you aspire to make the cocktail and want more detail than I’ve provided, I encourage you to buy the book. You’ll want to try the five-spice Waverly Place Echo cocktail anyway, trust me!