Everyone in your crew making the move from vodka cranberries to whiskey punch? You're not alone. Before you go hitting up your local liquor store for more Jack Daniels, read this primer on what to know about the real stuff. By Meghann Foye, REDBOOK.
"What would you like to know?" asks Sean Muldoon, the North Belfast native and founder of the much acclaimed high-end cocktail tavern The Dead Rabbit, ready to show off his prize collection of whiskeys and punches. We've just met at his bar, which opened six month's ago in New York City's financial district. Muldoon's made it his mission to collect more than 60 different kinds of Irish whiskey, which to his estimation, is more than any other bar in New York City. I ask him to tell me everything he knows about the spirit, only to realize that could take years. Instead, I settle on the basics:
1. Just drink it. I ask Muldoon what you should look for when tossing the stuff back. The pete-y aromas? Smokiness? Any other words I'd written down from Google? "Nah," he says, dismissing the question. "I've never found that doing that adds to anything. Just enjoy it," he says, finishing off the glass he's poured for me.
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2. Irish whiskey is easy drinking compared to its American cousins. "American Whiskey has typically got much more of an alcoholic burn and has deeper, fuller caramel and oak characteristics. As I said already, everybody gets their own thing from what they taste in whiskey. I personally get extra sweetness, vanilla and caramel in the American styles. Irish Whiskey on the palate is lighter, much more subtle, and easy drinking. With it I tend to get honey, light vanilla and dried fruits such as peaches and apricots. It is less full and sweet on the palate and in my opinion it would appeal more to someone who is trying whiskey for the first time," explains Muldoon
3. Yet, it's complex. Intrigued by the connection between Muldoon's layered tales of New York's drinking history and the character of the spirit he's pouring me, I email Allison Patel, who distills her own American whiskey called Brenne, and she confirms my suspicion. "Whiskey is like a story told slowly," writes Patel. It gets its tan hue from time spent aging in an oak barrel, anywhere from seven to 12 years or more, during which it develops a whole profile of flavors and aromas. However, caramel coloring is sometimes added to ensure that the color remains consistent from batch to batch. As you drink it, those subtle aromas slowly reveal themselves, opening up in your palate long after you sip. Part of the fun of sipping whiskey is enjoying "the length on your palette," explains Muldoon.
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4. Find your style. Neat, with a drop or two of water, or on ice. A whiskey neat leaves the greatest chance that you'll feel the slight burn. Adding water opens up the aromas, but always pour your own. "No man ever waters another man's water," repeats Muldoon. (The Dead Rabbit has ceramic water dispensers on the bar for just this purpose.) Over ice leaves the most diluted version, but it's a great way to drink it during the summer.
5. Rethink the punch. Like we reported in our summer cocktail trends story, there are many bars doing their own versions of whiskey punches. Dead Rabbit can probably be said to be the originators of the trend, serving them by the jug or by glass downstairs and as welcome drinks upstairs. I try a version that's leaps and bounds away from the Jack Daniels-spiked whiskey sours of my college years.
6. Don't serve it alongside pickle juice. Muldoon's partner and the Dead Rabbit's head mixologist Jack McGarry, tells us this as he revs up his first traditional locomotive-like cocktail shake, which is the true way to commingle all the components of a cocktail. He doesn't elaborate, but I'm guessing he's tired of people coming in and ruining the quality of all their handpicked selections with this summer's strangely popular shot formula: the pickleback.
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After trying these five selected by Muldoon to start your own whiskey "journey," I would recommend skipping the picklebacks, too:
*Bushmills Black Bush: A great starter whiskey with a slightly alkaline aftertaste.
*Crested Ten (a variety made by Jameson): Sweet and honey-like. "What Jameson should be," says Muldoon.
*Tyrconnell: A single malt with a long aftertaste containing interesting, funky notes.
*Inishowen: A deeper, smokier, fuller whiskey that slowly opens up in your mouth.
*Red Breast 12: My favorite of the bunch, with the fullest, cherry-like aftertaste.
As I tell Muldoon my observations, he gives me a stony look that says, "Okay, that's fine, but really, you don't have to overthink it."
A final thought to drinking whiskey? Just try one and when you do, just enjoy it.
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