Is the world's oldest distillery in Scotland? If you said yes, then you are incorrect. The oldest operating distillery is in Ireland.
I'm quite fond of Irish Whiskey. You may note that Irish Whiskey is not spelled Whisky like in Scotland. Irish Whiskey has the addition of the E at the end in a fashion similar to the way Whiskey is spelled in the United States.
Why? I believe through my research that the extra E is meant to discuss a higher quality spirit that those without the E. This was a historic reasoning that had something to do with quality of a specific spirit. I don't care to discuss the personal history, you can do that yourself. This history pit country against country. It was certainly not inclusive.
Oh, they spell Whisky without the E in Scotland. Whatever. I think that the exclusion or inclusion of the letter E is confusing to the consumer. But like any interesting puzzle the historical reasoning is out there on the web.
Back in the late 80's I had chance to travel to Ireland for the first time. This lush country, with gorgeous,1000 shades of deep green vistas set against limitless skies. This is where passionate crafts-people, embrace the ancient methods of distillation. The distillation arts in Ireland harkens back to a time when living off the land actually meant something.
I was fortunate to stay in Dublin- a young, raucous city filled with vivid splashes of color and light set against dark skies and brooding classical architecture. It's a magical place- well geared to intellectuals and also thirsty entrepreneurs. There are authors and artists from all over the world that make their way to Dublin to study, to drink and to make history. You can go into dozens of bars, listen to traditional music and meet poets, dreamers and best of all, drinkers.
The pubs are filled with lads and lassies who come to seek solace in a fine pint of dark and a glass of uisce beatha or water of life. The pubs of Dublin and her denizens make this city go round and round.
I tasted Irish Whiskey for the first time at the historic horseshoe bar at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. I was immediately hooked on the friendly, yet potent sweet water.
Ireland has amazing farmland well suited for growing grain. The soil in Ireland is rich in many of the nutrients necessary to grow grains. Grain just happens to make excellent many alcoholic finished products.
You have a thirsty country, much rain- generally miserable weather in the winter... Made even more lovely with a finished product made from fermented grain.
With grain comes distillation- and with distillation comes Whiskey. Irish Whiskey, is a unique product. It tastes like no other Whiskey in my opinion and it helps me dream. Dream you say? Drinking Irish Whiskey for me- unlocks a liquid history of searching for round-towers and seeking lovely wool sweaters woven in specific ways to identify the wearer. Irish Whiskey is part of the deeper social thread but is easily enjoyable in a lovely Irish Coffee.
I have the ingredients, but it's just 8:53 in the morning. Not a good time to start drinking when a man has writing to do!
Ireland is no stranger to the craft of distillation as witnessed by Kilbeggan. Their handsome bottle reads 1757. No, this is not a misprint. 1757 is when the distillery was established. And 1757 means that this spirit is from the world's oldest operating distillery. Not surprising to me. Kilbeggan is a new brand to the United States although by the bottle not so new to the world! Kilbeggan uses a 180 year old pot still. I believe a pot still gives great character to a spirit. There has to be something said to the distillation vessel. It must contain memories of some sort. It's not just cold metal. It has a soul.
But does this make the spirit within the handsome bottle good? I think so. Please let me tell you about my thoughts.
Open the tall narrow bottle, classically finished in dark lettering over a pale yellow label. There is a hint of maroon and gold highlighting some important facts about the distillery. Several places on the bottle the numbers 1757 appear. The distillery is quite proud of their lineage and heritage.
Open the top and pour a healthy portion into a glass that resonates with you. From very moment that the magical liquid hits the glass I can smell the aroma of honey and hand-scythed grains. There is a bit of smoke way off in the finish, but nothing like drinking Scotch.
The beginning of the mouth-feel is peppery fire from the 80 proof spirit. The aroma of Kilbeggan is haunting and centering in the room. I want to have a taste. It's soft, creamy in the mouth and quite beguiling on the top of my palate. Flavors of toasted nuts, fleur de sel, caramel and Irish Soda Bread (with extra raisins) predominate.
Add to this a healthy slathering of creamy yellow Irish butter, still warm over the toasted Soda Bread. This tiny slurp of Ireland just goes on and on with a multi-minute finish.
This is very sophisticated stuff. I'm especially enjoying the aroma in the room. Bacon fat, maple syrup and hot tea. Yum!
As a food writer I love to give the literary connections to flavors I've tasted in my childhood. This directional ability seems to translate well to the world of spirits writing.
As a cook, I find it interesting, to identify many of the flavor profiles that are available in spirits. Sure they all have brooding alcohol, that's the point! People drink for pleasure. It tastes good and some even have a kick!
Flavor has everything to do with it.
Irish Whiskey is Irish history in every sip. For me to taste creamy butter melting over a thick slice of freshly toasted Soda Bread is to encourage you to find a bottle of Kilbeggan.
Two Cocktails For Kilbeggan
1. The Sheep in the Road cocktail- meaning that group of sheep don't appear to be getting out of the road!
Makes two rather lovely cocktails
6 Oz. Irish Breakfast Tea- chilled
4 Shots Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
Local Honey Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio of Honey to water, heat, then cool. refrigerate)
To a cocktail shaker add the Kilbeggan and the Irish Breakfast Tea
Add 4 Tablespoons of the Honey Simple Syrup
Garnish with a lemon round and a sprig of mint
2. The Cow in the Road Cocktail- meaning, there is a cow in the road up there, watch out!
Makes two cocktails of bewildering strength from the use of warming liquids, you won't taste the alcohol, so please be careful.
Freshly Whipped Cream flavored with Kilbeggan
Hot Chocolate (your choice)
4 Shots of Kilbeggan
Sugar to taste
Make your hot chocolate and add to pre-heated mugs
Add the Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
Sip and when the cow jumps over that wall, know that there is a pub just up the way. Someone will come to the pub and tell you to move your car!
2 Shots of Kilbeggan
Glass (preferably clean)
a bit of cool water
Preparation... Moisten your brow with the water, drink the Whiskey and have another