March 17, 2015 | Quote

A Real Saint Patrick’s Day Seisiún

You’ll perhaps not be surprised to learn that my favorite bit of Irish culture and history involves Irish whiskey, for which I developed a taste as a young foreign correspondent covering the Troubles in Northern Ireland back in 1978. But it was not until a return visit to Ireland decades later that I learned the history of the spirits of Erin. Here it is in a shot glass:

From 1850 to 1910 Irish whiskey was far more popular in America than whiskies from Scotland. But in 1914, German U-boats constrained the trans-Atlantic trade. Then, in the early 1920s, the Irish Free State was formed, and British companies, in retaliation, stopped distributing Irish whiskeys abroad. In 1920 the U.S. Congress enacted Prohibition. Phony Irish whiskey continued to be sold illegally, leaving a bad taste, literally and metaphorically, even when bars began replacing speakeasies following repeal in 1933.

That may explain why Joseph P. Kennedy, father of a teenager who would go on to become the first Irish Catholic president of the United States, traveled not to Ireland but to Scotland to buy whisky distribution rights.

When World War II began, American GIs were deployed to England and Scotland — not to neutral Ireland — where more than a few picked up the scotch habit. Over the years since, scotch’s popularity has steadily climbed.

But here’s the good news on Saint Patrick’s Day 2015: A new Golden Age of Irish whiskey has begun. Big investments have been going into four working distilleries that are again turning out premium expressions in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Among my recommendations: the 18-year-old Jameson Limited Reserve; the Connemara peated single malt; the 16- and 21-year-old single malts from Bushmills; Redbreast; and Kilbeggan’s blended Irish whiskey. Sláinte!

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington policy institute focusing on national security. FDD’s unofficial motto: “If we don’t drink, the terrorists win.”