Pat Evans. File photo
Recently, on a trip to Spain, my wife and I made a new travel commitment: stop in an Irish bar in every city we visit.
There are Irish bars in practically every city across the globe and they’re all pretty much the same, so it’s almost a sort of comfort stop.
Shortly after getting home, I had a call with Kevin Pigott, the global ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. and certified Irishman. He happened to be in Spain around the same time we were, visiting Irish pubs, as many Irish residents spend time in Spain during the winter.
Anyway, there was no real point to that little ramble except to introduce Pigott, who I chatted with in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, one of my favorite holidays – because, well, you know.
So grab a Guinness, dram of Irish whiskey or my dad’s favorite beer, Harp, and settle in for this quick Q&A.
Pat: OK, let’s start with Irish Coffees, because I’ve been seeing those getting a lot of traction lately. How are they in Ireland?
Kevin: Once upon a time it was probably a tourist drink and maybe a make it at Christmas. But during the pandemic, a huge amount of people reverted to the small pleasures in life. I think we all gained a new found respect for coffee, it’s not as big as in America, but we’re going that way. We’ve had an influx in now small coffee shops.
That’s part of the backdrop. The Irish coffee, it’s an iconic drink. The story is quite crazy, made during World War II and the American connection is huge. We were a tea drinking nation and it was Americans in Europe. We added cream, sugar and whiskey; it was made to brighten up the coffee, weak coffee. Then we put a little cream cap on this, all the things with the history of it.
What’s happened to bring it into the mainstream again is cocktail bars have started to elevate it and innovated in how they serve it. It’s gained new found popularity, and like espresso martinis, alcohol in coffee works well.
Pat: How does St. Patrick’s Day help boost Irish whiskey? Is it a nice marketing advantage in a world where bourbon and Scotch seem to dominate?
Kevin: Other Irish whiskies don’t champion they’re Irish in the same way we do. We tout it. We’re green on the bottle. We scream Irish; that’s our identity. We’re form a small town in the country.
St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a moment of national pride. We get the moment in the sun to express ourselves, show our quality of whiskey. In the mid-1880s Irish whiskey was a majority of global whiskey sales and now its less than 10%. We’re seeing growth, six million cases, that’s huge. That resurgence is showing, Irish whiskey and Guinness get a national shout out.
It’s an opportunity for people to try Irish whiskey and maybe it becomes their jam. But some people aren’t just Irish whiskey people, they just like whiskey. Maybe they prefer Scotch or bourbon, but it doesn’t mean they might not buy a bottle of Tullamore 3-4 times a year. And it’s not just St. Patrick’s Day, it’s St. Practice Day, and now it’s built up to a whole week.
Pat: Obviously St. Patrick’s Day is huge here in the U.S., do you celebrate it big time over in Ireland?
Kevin: Yes, it’s a national holiday and we have the day off work. As an ambassador I’m traveling and working but I like to work it because the atmosphere is electric. People will make a few days of it and cities will put on a lot of festivals. The parade is the focal point, but there’s a huge amount of music, comedy, performance art happening. That’s the entertainment.People will watch horse racing, sports, meet up with friends and house parties. We definitely don’t do a corn beef and cabbage dinner, it’s more a full Irish breakfast kind of day. And it’s just about friends.
We probably don’t celebrate it the same as the U.S. As a people we’re social but not on as of a big scale as the US. We’re a bit introverted in our thinking and, in Tullamore, people will go out, see the parade, meet friends and maybe wear a little green. It won’t be a green jumpsuit, but maybe a cardigan.
Irish whiskey to pour a dram on St. Patrick’s Day
Along with Tullamore D.E.W., here are a couple of great Irish whiskies I’ve been in trying out the past couple of weeks.
Glendalough Double Barrel Whiskey, a fun single grain whiskey aged twice, first in bourbon barrels then in Spanish sherry barrels.
Writers’ Tears is a name after my own heart, and it is pretty delicious as well.
Redbreast 12-Year is one of the smoothest whiskies around.
The entire Bushmills portfolio is a fun exploration, but its 10-year is a extremely affordable yet complex with plenty of approachability.
Teeling Whiskey is a cool brand that ages its whiskey in five wine casks, though it has a bit sharper bite than other Irish whiskies.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a blend of three separate versions of cask aged whiskey and it’s perfect for cocktails and mixing, but perfectly fine on its own.
I was a huge fan of the Clonakilty single malt that was aged in Bordeaux barrels, it was extraordinary subtle and full of vanilla notes.
Proper Twelve, Connor McGregor’s brand, recently released an apple flavored whiskey, which despite its aggressively sweet aroma that is reminiscent of green apple Jolly Ranchers, was actually pretty tasty.