Irish whiskey and an interview with Tim Herlihy for St. Patrick’s Day

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Tullamore D.E.W. at Piper Down
Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix at Piper Down

In late February, I headed to Piper Down in Salt Lake City to meet up with Irish brand ambassador, pub historian and whiskey expert Tim Herlihy from Tullamore D.E.W.

His mission: visit all 50 states in the 30 days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day on an Irish pub tour to see what every state has to offer and share some Irish history and insight along the way. (You can follow his adventures @tullamoretim on Instagram.)

Oh, and he’s drinking some whiskey too.

With his mesmerizing Irish accent, we began with the smooth and friendly original Tullamore D.E.W. and a toast:

“To cheating, stealing, fighting and drinking. If you cheat me, cheat death; if you steal me, steal a heart; if you fight me, fight for one another and if you drink, drink like you and me.”

Bellied up to the bar, we learned that last St. Patrick’s Day, Piper Down hosted nearly 3000 people celebrating the holiday as well as thousands more during the city’s annual Saturday celebrations. Food, drink and live music are all on tap today as well.

Whiskey Cocktails

Although whiskey is making a comeback in popularity, many drinkers might not yet be ready for a whiskey neat so our discussion flowed to whiskey cocktails.

“Irish coffee is finally a drink that’s getting treated like a cocktail,” says Herlihy as he describes the “brilliant Irish coffee” made with serious focus on heavy whipping cream and use of Libbey Irish coffee glasses he enjoyed at Reilly’s Irish Pub in Anchorage, Alaska.

“This time of year I always get asked for green drinks,” Herlihy continues begrudgingly. And the largely forgotten Tipperary cocktail satisfies that demand. “It’s Tullamore D.E.W., Green Chartreuse, vermouth and an orange twist. It’s a really good Irish whiskey cocktail.”

Perhaps the best know whiskey cocktail is the hot toddy. It’s warm, comforting and keeps you well. The inventor of the hot toddy was an Irish-born physician named Robert Benton Todd who basically prescribed the hot toddy as a cure for everything. “He often said that it was cheaper to heat your drink than heat your house,” Herlihy states.

And with each whiskey–this time the 12 year old Tullamore D.E.W.–his toasts grew.

“May you work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, sing as if no one is listening, dance as if no one is watching and live each day as if it was your last.”

The History of Food and Drink on St. Patrick’s Day

“Up until 1961 you couldn’t drink in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day,” he continues. “It’s a holy day so the bars and liquor stores didn’t open. Because it’s a national holiday and all the kids are off school, it’s a big family day.”

When asked about the food traditions of Ireland and particularly those of St. Patrick’s Day, he explains, “In American it’s corned beef and cabbage.” But corned beef and cabbage isn’t Irish, it’s Irish-American. “We would eat bacon and cabbage but when we immigrated to the U.S. we couldn’t afford bacon so corned beef became the substitute,” he explains. “I wouldn’t know where to take you for corned beef and cabbage in Ireland.”

But the dishes we know as Irish stew and shepherd’s pie are traditional. “We’re big into our stews. Anything with potatoes works as well.”

What people tend to forget, though, he says, is, “We’re an island so we’re big into our seafood as well. We have great smoked salmon. Our cattle are grass-fed all year round. We have fantastic beef and dairy but it just gets forgotten about. I think we get lumped in with England and Scotland when it comes to our food. Everyone gets surprised when they come to Ireland.”

As we raise our glass of Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix, Herlihy recounts its history. “The Phoenix was released to celebrate the opening of our new distillery in 2014.” Tullamore is a town in the heart of Ireland and has the unfortunate distinction of claiming the first aviation disaster in history when in 1785 a third of the town burned to the ground after a hot air balloon burst into flames and crashed. The town rebuilt and the Phoenix rising from the ashes has since been the town’s crest—their coat of arms. “We returned distilling to Tullamore for the first time in 60 years,” and the name recounts a “firey story so we have a firey whiskey.”

In honor, Herlihy says the whiskey prayer.

“This is to our whiskey that are aged in barrels, hallowed be thy drink. They will be drunk, I will be drunk, (responsibly of course) at home and in the tavern. Give us this day our favorite spirit and forgive us our livers. Forgive our spillages as we forgive those who spill against us and save us from hangovers. Thine is the whiskey, triple distilled, the Irish whiskey. Go in peace.”

Erin go Bragh

As you raise a glass and toast to Ireland today, I’ll be thinking of Tim celebrating the closing of his 50 state Irish pub tour tonight at The Dead Rabbit in his adopted home of New York City. “It’s a great holiday. Second only to the Fourth of July as America’s biggest drinking holiday.”

Sláinte!

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