Irish Whiskey: Keep It Simple for St. Pat's

Don't gild the lily tonight when you're celebrating St. Patrick's Day. That's the advice of whiskey connoisseur and former front-of-house man for Branch Water Tavern, the effusive Evan Turner.

"Keep it simple. Drink it neat. Those products are best consumed straight," he said on the phone yesterday afternoon about Irish whiskeys like Bushmills or Jameson.

"The same rules apply with Irish whiskey that apply with American or Scotch whiskeys: a drop or two of water and leave it at that." It's the temperament of the stuff that lends itself to such a subtle backdrop, he noted. "Irish whiskeys are a lot more mellow than Scotch and certainly drier."

And although Turner bemoaned the fact that "really great Irish whiskeys are hard to find here, like John Powers and Paddy's," he does tip his hat in the direction of Jameson's for the casual St. Pat's drinker.

"Jameson has upscale whiskeys now that are just absolutely delicious," he raved, momentarily. "If I could buy enough of the gold label stuff, I'd take a bath in it."

Of course, you don't have to just limit yourself to whiskey today. And I'm not talking about Guinness.

"There are other Irish stouts to drink," he laughed. "A good pint of Harp lager and a nice shot of Jameson's is a nice way to start and finish St. Patrick's Day."

One of the reasons I miss Turner so much at Branch Water is his tendency to lapse into animated storytelling and history lessons. Well-traveled and extensively educated, he's like a favorite history professor come to life. And those inclinations extend to St. Patrick's Day too, which he's quick to point out shouldn't be celebrated as the boozy, green-beer-swilling holiday it's become.

"Have a nice shot or two of Irish whiskey and take a moment to sort of give tribute to all that the Irish have given to western civilization," he emphasized. "A lot of the things that the Greeks developed would have died out if it weren't for Catholic priests in Ireland that kept Greek writings and literature all alive through the mass hysteria that was the Dark Ages."

"The Irish did a lot for us, and they continue to do a lot for us. Were it not for them, the world would be a much worse place."

But which to choose of their most famous whiskeys: Jameson or Bushmills?

"That's the old joke," Turner laughed. "One is Catholic and the other is Protestant. I can never remember which is which, though."

According to the Accidental Hedonist, Bushmills is considered Protestant while Jamesons is considered Catholic. Pick your poison accordingly and remember to always say "Sláinte."

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Katharine Shilcutt