Straight Up: The Trouble With Irish Whiskey (and James Joyce Cocktails)

Straight Up: The Trouble With Irish Whiskey (and James Joyce Cocktails)

Nora Maynard
Mar 14, 2008

"Bushmills? That's Protestant whiskey!"
- Detective Jimmy McNulty, The Wire

Bushmills vs. Jameson. When it comes to this subject, Irish whiskey-drinkers seem to be as divided as the Emerald Isle itself. What is it exactly that makes the preference for one of these iconic brands over another more loaded than, say, a predilection for Pepsi instead of Coke?

In short, it's all about geography – and the political/religious associations that come with the turf. While Bushmills hails from the town of the same name in Northern Ireland (predominantly Protestant), Jameson is distilled in Cork and bottled in Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland (predominantly Catholic). Both companies have been in their respective locations for centuries, and for better or for worse, the factionalized identities have stuck.

But this all seems a little beside the point in the era of large liquor conglomerates: Jameson is now owned by the French company Pernod Ricard (which, by the way, at one time also owned Bushmills). And Bushmills is currently owned by the U.K. conglomerate Diageo, which includes the quintessential Irish beer Guinness in its holdings.

Add to this that Jameson was founded by a Scotsman (and that St. Patrick himself was born a Roman Briton) and it seems to make better sense to choose an Irish whiskey according to its taste. These are some of our notes:

(Both labels offer a wide array of products, including single malts and premium blends, but for simplicity's sake, we stuck to the basic blends.)

Jameson: mellower, smoother, darker, "leathery", more reserved

Bushmills Original: fuller-bodied, brighter, brassier, a little more apricoty and citrusy

And while either is quite fine for sipping on its own, both play quite nicely in a cocktail. So, in celebration of St. Patrick's Day – and Hungry Reader month here at The Kitchn - we bring you the James Joyce:

James Joyce Cocktail (adapted from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan)
makes 2 drinks

3 ounces Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounce triple sec
1 ounce fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

- Nora Maynard

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