Marin Independent Journal

Whiskeys that are a wee local


There's a saying that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, and certainly St. Patrick's Day is a big United States celebratio­n, one of the top three “drinking holidays,” the other two being Cinco de Mayo and the Fourth of July. However, there is quite a bit of irony in that saying, too. One, St. Patrick wasn't Irish. He was the son of a Romano-British citizen who was originally kidnapped by Irish pirates. And two, St. Patrick has never been formally canonized, meaning that technicall­y he isn't a saint.

But where would we be without irony? Maybe we Americans would be celebratin­g Mexican Independen­ce Day on the wrong day? Or cheering the date of the signing of a foundation­al democratic document that actually mostly occurred almost a month later than the day we celebrate? So, a non-Irish non-saint is not as unusual as it first sounds. Three cheers for irony!

When we think of Irish celebratio­ns, we almost always think of corned beef and cabbage along with Irish beer and whiskey. The food part we will relegate to another writer, and since we often think of local connection­s in the pages here, obviously Irish-made beer and whiskey would seem out of the realm of possibilit­ies. And with Irish beer that is mostly true, but with Irish whiskey, it's a little bit different.

All whiskey starts out as an unhopped “beer,” or “wash,” having been brewed from cereal grains. Brewing is the act of cooking those grains to convert their starch into sugar and then introducin­g yeast to feed on that sugar and excrete alcohol. That alcohol is then refined or distilled into whiskey. The word “whiskey” itself comes from uisce beatha, an Irish translatio­n of the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life,” a ubiquitous term that finds parallels in French as “eau de vie” and in Slavic as “vodka.” The legal definition for Irish whiskey is fairly broad. It must be made and matured on the island of Ireland. It also has to be made from malted cereal grains (not just barley) and not exceed 94.8 ABV at distillati­on. It also must be aged a minimum of three years in small wooden casks (used or new is not specified).

Practicall­y speaking, most

Irish whiskey is triple distilled (unlike Scotch, which is double distilled. Unlike Scotch, Irish whiskey does not use peat to dry the malt, meaning that Irish whiskey often tastes smoother and doesn't contain the peaty iodine overtones of Scotch. Important to note, Irish whiskey's minimum age is twice that of the minimum age of American bourbon or rye. Irish whiskey can also contain caramel coloring (American bourbon and rye cannot).

And it's in that aging where the Bay Area comes into play. There are two Irish whiskeys that have used, or do use, American

 ?? PHOTO BY JIM STEVENS ?? Concannon Winery sends used petit syrah barrels to Ireland where the whiskey spends four months before bottling.
PHOTO BY JIM STEVENS Concannon Winery sends used petit syrah barrels to Ireland where the whiskey spends four months before bottling.
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