Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Land of Stout and Whisky

"Whiskey" - with an "e" is Irish. "Whisky" sans "e" is Scottish

We recently returned home from a two-week trip to Ireland and Scotland. And no, that isn’t a gloat, it is simply an introduction to the rest of this post. I will also say right up front that I did not try any of the few wines that the two countries are now producing – everyone has their limits. I did try some of the beers and the whiskys that the Isles are known for, and was also shocked to discover how much Chilean wine is available in both places.

Yes, I prefer Murphy's but this is still a picture of happy
Ireland, of course, is almost synonymous with Guinness. You can get it almost everywhere, and it is drank by all echelons of society and enjoyed with a combination of passion and patriotism that is hard to compare to anything similar in the United States. But Guinness isn’t the only show in town. While it is true that the microbrew craze has not caught on in Ireland in nearly the same way it has here, there are alternatives. Based on a tip from Aiden, our tour guide, I tried Murphy’s Irish Stout and actually prefer it to Guinness. True, it doesn’t have the adorable advertising campaigns and omnipresence of Guinness, but it does have a bit more body and taste than its bigger rival. It is harder to find outside of Cork and its surrounding area, but is well worth the search.

Crean's from the Dingell Brewery is one of the
few microbrews we encountered. 

Scotland, too, has its beers and its ciders, though given that they name their whisky after the country itself, it is safe to assume that scotch is the drink of choice. And with good reason. My wife was a good sport and accompanied me on two different distillery tours – Glenlivet and Oban. The tours are very similar, as there is not that big of a difference in how one whisky is produced compared to another one. Like wine, you can detect different flavors from whisky to whisky. Oban seems to really emphasize its orange peel characteristic.

I did ask our guide at Glenlivet if in professional whisky tastings the judges spit as they do in wine tastings. She gave me an odd, quizzical look and then replied, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone spit out whisky.” I suppose whisky and wine are viewed and judged differently, though I can’t imagine a full day of scotch-tasting and still being able to judge objectively, or retain any of your faculties to any great extent.

The Oban Distillery. Cold, rainy and windy weather calls for whisky.
While both Ireland and Scotland have their beverages of choice, wine is readily available in both countries. The only American wines I noticed were either the high end wines on exclusive lists, such as Dominus or Opus One, or the low-end hobo wines like Paul Masson that were available in supermarkets in carafes. Most places served either French – Bordeaux Superior or Cotes du Rhone – or Chilean wines by the glass. Many of these were decent, some hardly drinkable, though I always got what I deserved asking for wine in a culture that so favors beer and whisky.