For a taste of Erin and lots o' luck this spring, try a wee nip from these Irish whiskeys.


The Irish claim that they, not the Scots, were the inventors of uisce beatha, the "water of life" (known later as whiskey). In truth, it was most likely well-traveled monks who introduced distillation to Ireland in the midst of the dreadful Dark Ages.Their potent product, distilled from fermented grain, helped keep the fires of civilization burning for several bleak centuries in the face of fierce tribal warfare, Viking invasion, and lack of e-mail. By the 15th century, the Scots had gotten hold of whiskey, ineptly disguising the theft by changing the spelling to whisky.

In its heyday, Irish whiskey boasted high-profile fans like Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh. By the end of the 18th century, there were 2,000 distilleries in Ireland, but later, Irish whiskey began to dwindle from view. It got just enough of a boost from the invention of the Irish coffee - a cockle-warmer first created in drizzly Ireland but made famous in fog-bound San Francisco - to keep it from disappearing completely off the radar screen.

Then came the spirits revolution of the '90s. Once whiskey aficionados had penetrated every glen and gully on the map of Scotland, they began to look inquiringly toward the Emerald Isle. A millennium and a half after its invention, Irish whiskey was rediscovered. And thank your lucky shamrocks, it was better than ever.

MIDLETON VERY RARE ($125)
Midleton is made by John Jameson & Son, who also make the better-known Jameson brand. John Jameson founded his original distillery in Bow Street, Dublin, in 1780, during the golden age of Irish whiskey. Dublin at this time was the seventh largest city in the world and quite a cosmopolitan place. Local legend reports that Monsieur Hennessy, owner of the famous cognac house, mistook one of Jameson's whiskeys for a grande champagne cognac when he visited Dublin in the 1920s. Quite a compliment, coming from a Frenchman.

Finding that the expansion of the original Bow Street facility was impossible, due to its location in the heart of the city, Jameson & Son built a new distillery in Midleton, County Cork, in 1975. The Midleton Very Rare is a selection of the best spirits from the Midleton distillery. It's a masterful blend, full of elegance and finesse, and one of the pinnacles of the whiskey distiller's art.