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Whiskeys and Creams and Stouts ... Oh, My!!

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 9, 2006 10:13PM

2006_03_guinness.jpgChicagoist would place even money that, as we're writing this, some of you are already gearing up for a weekend of unabashed Dionysian excess while decked out in emerald hues.


St. Patrick's Day, at least the parades, brings out what one Chicagoist-o likes to call the "junior varsity." They come out on St. Patrick's Day and use the occasion as an excuse to binge on alcohol like a sixteen-year-old with the keys to Dad's wet bar, but don't quite go past those beers with the green labels or dye added. St. Patrick's Day (or week, since the parades are being held a good five or six days before the actual day itself) is a great time to indulge in three libations the Irish introduced to drinkers everywhere - Irish whiskey, Irish cream liqueur, and Irish stout. Even there, some of us don't branch out from holy trinity of Jameson's/Bailey's/Guinness that becomes so ubiquitous this time of year.

We're going to be blasphemous and offer some alternatives after the jump.

It's easy to find a variety of stouts. Stout developed as a variant of porter, made with roasted malts - most often roast barley. Irish stouts are typically dry with a coffee-like taste. Guinness is the most popular, followed closely by Murphy's Irish Stout. Two stouts that we highly recommend trying are O'Hara's Celtic Stout and Young's Double Chocolate Stout. The only place we ever sampled O'Hara's on draft was at Carmichael's Steak House; it's worth hunting down nonetheless in that it makes Guinness taste like a three-day old cup of coffee. Asking for a Young's Double Chocolate could get you pummeled beyond recognition if you're among actual Irish, but life is in the living. Young's is a English Stout, which means that it already has a sweeter taste than Irish stout. The double chocolate stout is brewed with chocolate malt and dark chocolate. The result is a stout that's rich in flavor without being overly sweet. It is a heavy beer, so forget about making a black-and-tan or half-and-half with this stout; the specific gravity of Young's is just too heavy to allow it to float atop a pale ale or lager for long.

Irish Whiskeys are the beta template of whiskeys; the original recipe since improved upon by the Scots and perfected by Kentuckians. Irish whiskey is distilled from barley, but not all of it is malted. Peat or other smoke is rarely used in the drying process. Irish whiskey is also triple distilled in large pot stills, resulting in a smoother, more rounded, and sweeter flavor than Scotch. Irish whiskey distilleries place more of an emphasis on the distilling process than scotch distilleries, who emphasize the skills of a master blender. There are only three distilleries in Ireland - Bushmills (laying claim as the world's oldest licensed distillery), Midelton (the largest distillery in Ireland; makers of Jameson's, Power's, and Tullamore Dew) and Cooley, which is nearing its 20th anniversary of existence and has the distinction of being the only distillery of the three that's still Irish-owned. There will be a MAJOR push in coming weeks for Cooley's Michael Collins Irish Whiskey and single malt irish whiskey. It's worth the hype. The single malt in particular is amazing: slightly peated but with the sweetness of the barley still cutting through.

Irish cream is made with the introduction of Irish whiskey and other sweeteners to cream. Baileys is the gold standard in Irish cream. Others to check out if are Carolans, O'Leary's, Bushmill's Irish Cream, and McGuire Irish Cream. Of these we recommend trying O'Leary's and Carolans. Carolans isn't as thick as Baileys, but has a sweeter flavor that makes a great addition to coffee; O'Leary's is impossibly thick while still using some choice Irish whiskey.