And not only is there rhyme to my madness, there is also reason. My inspiration comes from a trip to the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery in Co. Westmeath, Ireland. Touring the old distillery, we started with the brewing vat, which uses wash from the local river and is heated with steam. Barley is them ground and milled using gigantic millstones before it heads into a massive "mixer" which separates the liquid (wort) from the leftover grain (which goes back to the local farmers for animal feed). A stroll outside invites an invigorating spray and rush churning water from Kilbeggan's water-powered mill.
|Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery's Water Powered Mill|
The wort is then moved to vats holding 50,000 liters to start the fermentation process. Yeast is added at this point, resulting in a mild beer-like alcohol called wash. Next comes distillation. You may be familiar with the typical triple-distilled Irish Whiskeys, but Kilbeggan is actually only double-distilled, which allows it to keep a bit of sweetness. At this point, it is extremely high in alcohol. Distilled water is added to this resulting liquid before it is allowed to mature in Sherry or Port barrels for at least 3 years. Fun fact - in order to truly be labeled Irish Whiskey, it must be matured for at least 3 years.
So, that's a very watered-down version of my tour, but you know, I don't want to give away all the secrets. You're definitely gonna want to make a trip to Westmeath to experience it all yourself. Right? Thought so. Okay, so if learning the process of whiskey-making is inspiring, naturally the process of whiskey-tasting follows suit.
|The oldest working pot still in the world|
|One of the youngest whiskey distillers, Andrina Fitzgerald talks us through the pot stilling process.|
|Smokestack at the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery|
And though I tried many, MANY whiskies that morning...mmm hmm, it was totally like ten in the morning...I'm just focusing on the "regular" Kilbeggan right now. Kilbeggan has this sort of airy, sweetness about it. This sweetness comes from Kilbeggan's 185 year old pot still, the oldest working pot still in the world, actually. The top neck on the still is very thin, allowing the sweetness to escape through the top, while the heavier, harsher residue falls back to the bottom.
But you know what inspires me the most, don't you? Why yes, food. You know me so well. After our tour and our tasting, we headed into The Pantry Restaurant, located in the Kilbeggan Distillery. My Fillet of Fresh Pollock in Lemon Pepper Batter was good. The Marie Rose Tarter Sauce that accompanied it? It made the dish. But the true beauty of the meal was dessert. I wasn't very hungry at this point, so I asked for a half portion (one scoop) of the Famous Kilbeggan Whiskey Ice Cream (pictured further down in this article). While it may have looked like a simple scoop of vanilla, it tasted anything but! Creamy beyond compare. Each bite saturated with the sweet taste of Kilbeggan Whiskey. It was so good that I sincerely wished that I had ordered both scoops. And still do to this day.
|An assortment of Whiskey from Kilbeggan ready for tasting.|
|Master Blender Noel Sweeney guides us on our Kilbeggan tasting course.|
But instead of crying over what could have been, I decided that as soon as I got a bottle of Kilbeggan in hand, I was making ice cream. Instead of being a total copycat and just making straight-up Whiskey Ice Cream, I wanted something to fold into it. Whiskey + Cherries = perfection. Just sayin'.
So start this ice cream the day before you want to make it. You will not want to skimp on the booze-soaked cherries. You will, however, have a hard time keeping your fingers out of them while they're infusing, so put it in a cupboard and walk away. I used both the cherries and some of their resulting liquor in the ice cream...but since the liquor is red, it sort of gives your final product a dirty sort of tinge. So if you want to try to keep it white, hold off on folding in the cherries until the ice cream base is done churning, and add unused whiskey in place of the cherry-infused. That said, even if it's not white-as-snow, it is insanely delicious. And the remaining cherry-infused whiskey makes a tasty digestif or mixer.
|Famous Kilbeggan Whiskey Ice Cream at The Pantry Restaurant (inside the Kilbeggan Distillery)|
Oh and let me tell you - the force is strong with this one. Non-whiskey-lovers need not apply. Whiskey lovers might also like this Fruit 'n Whiskey Cranberry Relish, this Whiskey Caramel Apple Pie, or this Irish Cheddar Whiskey Fondue. - and if you're a fan of a good, peaty whiskey, you might like this Peated Whiskey Nut Fruitcake.
So, tell me about something...a dish, a drink, a smell...that you discovered while traveling and just had to come home and recreate in your kitchen. And if you'll excuse me, I'm heading off to enjoy a dram of whiskey and some Friday night television. Pure excitement (no really, I love Grimm, and make a point of actually being home to watch it). Sláinte!