|An 1890s tavern poster|
The portal is about to open on a season dear to the Gaelic and Celtic folk of Ireland and Scotland and, indeed, their millions of descendants all over the U.S.
March 21 brings in Alban Eiler, known elsewhere as the spring solstice or vernal equinox. Weather be damned, it means spring has arrived and will last until June 20, the longest day of the year, when we will encounter Alban Heruin, the summer solstice.
In between, we have such frolics as St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 and Tartan Day in early April 6. The precise date depends on local activities.
St. Patrick’s Day honors the patron saint of Ireland who drove the snakes into the sea where they became sharks, politicians and TV reality show producers.
Tartan Day celebrates that time in A.D. 1320 when King Robert the Bruce and his Scottish Parliament sent off a letter called the “Declaration of Arbroath” to the Pope in Rome, asking him to get the English off their backs. That worked so well that England rules Scotland to this day.
Both historic events, as well as the arrival of Easter, spring and a bunch of other traditional religious and secular days, will in this span be marked in many communities with once-a-year church attendance, parades, festivals, dances, silly hats and drink specials at your favorite pub — featuring Scotch and Irish whiskies, in particular.
The line between Scotch and Irish distillations is blurry for some (although the Scots, along with Canadians, spell whiskey without the “e.”) The difference comes primarily in the malting stage.
For Scotch whisky, malted barley is dried over peat fires, which allows the smoke to penetrate the grain and create its signature smokey flavor. For Irish whiskey, malted barley is dried in closed ovens and never comes in contact with smoke.
In addition, Scotch whiskies usually are distilled once or twice, Irish whiskies three times or more, thus increasing their purity and smoothness. In some instances, further aging in used bourbon or sherry casks or a bit of blending creates a crossover taste between the two categories.
As is the case with most such things, there is no right or wrong, best or worst. There is only personal preference.
Whatever your choice, happy holidays.
Check out my New York Drinks Events Calendar, the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere.