In October of 2017, Tim Herlihy and a few likeminded compatriots were in a rented 1970s Volkswagen van named Poppy, hurtling through Ireland amidst the chaos of Hurricane Ophelia. The car could only reach 50 mph, but even when it did it felt like it was doing 100, trembling noisily and chortling exhaust. As they navigated the countryside in the worst storm to hit the island in 50 years, they experienced moments of sheer terror. Yet their pursuit was worthwhile and pure, because their pursuit was whiskey.
It all culminated in the book From Barley to Blarney: A Whiskey Lover’s Guide to Ireland. Co-written with Conor Kelly, as well as Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry—the proprietors of the famed New York Irish bar, The Dead Rabbit—the tome is a comprehensive guide, loving ode and living testament to the past, present and future of Ireland’s greatest export.
Over the course of two month-long fact-finding trips, the writers visited 22 distilleries across the country, and 111 of its finest pubs—the top 50 of which are featured in the book.
“There are roughly 8,000 pubs in Ireland, so we have 50 friends and 7,950 enemies,” jokes Herlihy, who serves as the U.S. Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. “The three of us are here [in the states] for asylum, I think.”
The sites included in From Balrey to Blarney range from the grandiose to the cozily quotidian, hopscotching from Slane Whiskey Distillery, a castle “cradled in a natural amphitheater,” where everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan have performed, to O’Brien’s, a pub in County Kildare that Herlihy notes “is really an extension of the O’Brien’s family living room.”
“I always find that the good ones have a story on every wall,” Herlihy says, of his favorite Irish watering holes. “It’s a place where you go to make friends and you can take friends, but if you’re looking to go dancing, you can look somewhere else.”
The quintessence of the Irish pub—welcoming, convivial, un-self-serious—is one reason why Irish whiskey is in the midst of a resurgence, particularly in the United States.
“Whether it’s Irish people, Irish pubs or the whiskey itself, we’re a friendly people. We’re a friendly spirit. We have no real pretentiousness to us,” Herlihy observes. “I say that, too, about Irish whiskey. If it’s scotch, it can be at times a bit serious. Whereas Irish whiskey, you think of people toasting or cheers-ing with their friends at the neighborhood bar.”
From Barley to Blarney won’t be published until next month. In the meantime, you can try making the Short & Sweet this weekend for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s one of a dozen original cocktail recipes created for the book (not to mention, Herlihy’s personal favorite).
The Short & Sweet
From the book: "This is a twist on the classic Bajan Corn 'n' Oil cocktail. In the original, the dark rum floats on top of the whiskey (the 'corn'), like a glistening slick of oil. Our version showcases the distinctive aromatic quality of the rum-casked whiskey, as well as its heavier alcohol content."
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon Cane Syrup
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
0.25 ounce Velvet Falernum
0.5 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
2 ounces Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask
Assemble the ingredients in the order listed in a mixing glass with ice. Stir with a barspoon. Pour into an Old-Fashioned glass. Pinch an orange twist over the surface of the drink and discard. Enjoy.