Speaking Volumes: Toasting the luck of the Irish

March 13, 2013 

"Arrah!" This Irish expression of excitement is the perfect phrase describing the growls coming from my stomach as I prepare to take that first bite of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day each year. Although this holiday is generally washed down with a pint of green beer, but any Irish whiskey works just as well.

There are four types of whiskey -- Scotch, Bourbon, Canadian and Irish -- with Irish being the oldest type as its origin dates back to the sixth century. On a recent afternoon, O'Bricks Irish Pub and Martini Bar in downtown Bradenton proved to be the perfect establishment to set up a side-by-side tasting of different Irish whiskeys from the Bushmills, Jameson and Tullamore Distilleries. Bushmills and Jameson both date back to the 1780s, while Tullamore was founded in 1829.

When drinking Irish whiskey, one of the first considerations is whether to drink it neat or on the rocks. Whiskey purists believe that neat -- or in other words -- straight is the only way to imbibe; while others like to drink whiskey on the rocks in order to dilute and further soften the flavors of the whiskey.

The Bushmills Original has spicy vanilla flavors, and although it is quite tasty, it is also a great whiskey to mix in cocktails such as Irish coffee. The Bushmills "Black Bush" is soft and silky, with nutty overtones.

Jameson Irish Whisky is spicy and nutty, with a very stout whiskey flavor. The Jameson 12-year is also spicy and nutty, but it also contains hints of white pepper and orange peel. As one would expect from age-blended whiskey,

the 12-year whiskey has a much fuller mouthfeel than the regular Jameson.

The Tullamore Dew is very smooth and complex, with whiskey flavors that are not overpowering. It is perfect for sipping neat. The distillery's slogan -- "Give every man his Dew" -- is still in use today.

Although it may be customary to drink green beer or Irish whiskey to wash down a meal of corned beef and cabbage, there is one particular wine that is truly deserving of a toast to the luck of the Irish -- the Concannon Vineyard 2010 Conservancy Crimson & Clover Red Wine. The winery was founded by James Concannon who was born in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day. In 1865 at the age of 18, Concannon left his homeland to sail to America in order that his dream of owning a winery could come true.

Concannon was the first Irishman to successfully establish a winery in the United States. The Concannon winery has four generations of family involvement behind it. The name Crimson & Clover shows that Concannon is proud of their Irish heritage. The 2010 Crimson & Clover is an interesting blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. This wine contains red fruit flavors, with a hint of vanilla and retails for $15.

So exactly what is best drink with corned beef and cabbage? It really depends on whether you like Irish whiskey or beer. In reality, the perfect drink is one that you share with your friends. And remember to toast to your friends with the Gaelic phrase -- Sláinte! -- or in other words, "To your health!"

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines.

His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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