By Mike Danahey
In Ireland, the number of distilleries, either in production or under construction, has grown from a mere three to nearly 40 in just eight years.
“There are now distilleries working in Dublin for the first time since the John Powers distillery shut down back in 1976. They even have an Irish Whiskey Museum in the city center,” notes Martin Duffy.
Duffy - a brand ambassador, spirits educator, and all-around engaging guy - will be offering such information in three whiskey classes, all on Saturdays, on the weekends leading up to St. Patrick's Day - Jan. 28, Feb. 4 and Feb. 25 at the Irish American Heritage Center. Each session is $30 and set to start promptly at 4 p.m. in a classroom setting before heading have a full serving of Irish whiskey in the center's 5th Province Bar at 6 p.m.
“We will cover the production, history and current state of the Irish whiskey industry,” Duffy says.
Last fall, staff at the Center asked him about holding Irish whiskey classes at the facility since Irish whiskey is s interwoven into Irish heritage and history, Duffy says. And while learning lore, in class, thirsty students will taste samples of five different styles of Irish whiskey - single pot still; single grain; single malt; and two blended types.
“Due to a few slight, but important, differences in production, Irish whiskey typically has a lighter, sweeter character than most Scotches,” Duffy says. “The ‘e’ that you will see in the spelling of whiskey in Ireland (and the U.S. as well) may have stemmed from differentiating itself from Scotch once the two came in competition in foreign markets, but the true reason may have been lost in the mists of time.”However you spell it, sales are soaring, with whiskey accounting for almost 30 percent of spirits sales in the United States in 2015 and revenues at more than $2.9 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.
As for the whiskey’s popularity once more, Duffy says, “Whiskey offers inherent flavor, which many other spirit do not. There is also an old world sophistication in whiskey that many young drinkers strive for. Plus, rarely do you see friends gather around a bottle of vodka on a chilly winter’s night (outside of Russia maybe).”
He adds, “It breeds camaraderie and chatter like no other spirit. Then, add to this that some older expressions of whiskey are becoming quite the collector's items as well.”
Duffy also feels whiskey has things going for it - history, heritage, nuisances and variety - that aren’t readily available in most other spirits.
“In Ireland, I also believe that after many years of the population drinking vodka and sweet cocktails, they are returning to the pride that whiskey and stout have been their national identity and among their many contributions to the world on whole,” Duffy says.
Ireland, of course, offers stories along with its spirits, with one of the more recent tales taking a sad turn.
The founder of Dingle Distillery, Oliver Hughes, was only 55 when he passed away last year of a heart attack.
“That distillery, which started up in 2012, was at the time, the only Irish owned distillery in production,” Duffy says. “Oliver did live to see his spirit age the minimum three years to be called whiskey. He had also started up the popular Porterhouse Pubs and Brewery, which have garnered worldwide acclaim. His brewery and distillery still carry on, and people all over are awaiting their first sip of the aged bottlings.”
As anyone who’s been can tell you, Irish stories also frequently come with some stunning scenery - as do the the spirits.
“It is hard to beat the Dingle Peninsula, but Bushmills does have the Giant's Causeway and the Irish Sea a short distance to the north,” Duffy says. “Now, with all of these other distilleries coming along in Donegal, Galway, Cork and Kerry, they will have no shortage of beautiful locales to choose from.”
In fact, Duffy says he has given whiskey-centric tours of Ireland to friends, stopping off at distilleries, or sites of closed distilleries and great whiskey pubs, accompanied by tasting out some lovely Irish drams.
“I had talked with a few industry folks about putting together a professional tour service, but by the time we go anything going there was already some locals conducting tours. You snooze, you lose,” he says.
Duffy says he was in Ireland last in September of 2014 and he tries to stop over anytime he’s in the neighborhood.
“My job with Glencairn brings me over to Scotland about once a year, which does afford me a good jumping off point for a trip to the Auld Sod,” Duffy says. :Mainly though, I travel North America for the company, with trips to most of the key whisky and spirit events in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Nashville, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Sarasota, Louisville, New York, Montreal, British Columbia, Minnesota, San Diego, Baltimore, Madison and other parts unknown.”
Hey, I get to traverse northern Kane County for my job.
“I was thinking of going to Spain, but Elgin sounds really tempting right now,” Duffy says.
He probably means the one in Scotland, not along the Fox River.
The Irish American Heritage Center is at 4626 N Knox Ave, Chicago.
Tickets will not be sold at the door and are available online at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-irish-whiskey-class-tickets-30106934652
The Facebook pages for each event -
Jan. 28 - https://www.facebook.com/events/1951755818385177/
Feb. 4 - https://www.facebook.com/events/1309930182361645/
Feb. 25 - https://www.facebook.com/events/1196435770436013/