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A great day for the Irish: Kieran Folliard's new whiskey, and a lesson in the Irish brogue

Well, it's St. Patrick's Day, which we Americans, as we tend to do, have transformed from a religious festival into a big, drunken public party. This is not necessarily a bad thing — after all, look what it's done for Mardi Gras. We have an especially democratic impulse in this country that good times are meant to be shared, and so today everybody is Irish, and everybody gets to have some fun. This is evidence of a theory of mine, and that theory is as follows: Democracy, like everything else, is a little better when you can figure out how to turn it into a gala.

It's one of the two big annual Irish-American events in St. Paul, along with the Irish Festival in the spring, and I get the sense that the latter is treated as somehow being more for the Irish-American community, whereas St. Pat's is a big commercial ruckus. And so it is, with the Irish Festival setting aside tent space and time for lectures on the finer points of traditional Irish music and history, and you'll see far more attendants with green tartan kilts and full-sleeve tattoos of Celtic knots. Today, in the meanwhile, is the one where people wear flashing green shamrock necklaces, and oversized novelty leprechaun hats, and drink green beer and generally create a spectacle. But then, today the Irish Music and Dance Association takes over Landmark center and offers all sorts of educational opportunities, and so it's not all carousing.

For example, today author Erin Hart will be offering a lecture called "Into the Mysterious Bogs: True Tales from Irish History into Ripping Good Mysteries," which is not really the sort of thing you expect a lot of smashed paradegoers to drop in on. A few years ago I attended a lecture on Irish theater in Minnesota, and found out not only that Tyrone Guthrie was a distant cousin to movie actor Tyrone Power, who was famous for tearing his shirt off and brandishing a sword, but also that there used to be an Irish theater company out of Kieran's Irish Pub called The Titanic Player, which you probably all knew about but must have existed during one of my many sojourns out of state.

Kieran Folliard
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Kieran Folliard

This is going to be a big day for the founder of Kieran's, Kieran Folliard, but, then, yesterday was as well — he launched a new whiskey in an event that moved to each of his four pubs over the course of several hours, with pipers leading crates of the whiskey through the streets. Today, one imagines, all of it will be drunk. Folliard is betting that a lot of it will, anyway: He's ordered 500 cases of the whiskey, with each case containing 12 bottles, and is determined to sell it all in six weeks. I'd guess he has a pretty good sense of how possible this may be — up until now, his pub The Local had sold more Jameson than any other place in the world for several years running. He'll be using 2 Gingers where he previously used Jameson, though, so The Local's record is likely to end this year.

I met with Folliard this past weekend to discuss the new whiskey and taste a sample of it. It's a drink that, for the moment, will only be available in his pubs, but he's open to the possibility of offering it through liquor stores down the road ("If there's a bonfire in the pubs, maybe there will be a forest fire outside the pubs,” was how he put it). The whiskey goes by the name 2 Gingers, and is represented, on the bottle, by two ginger-headed women toasting each other. Most people will have the whiskey through the pubs' signature cocktails, the Big Ginger, which is a whiskey and ginger ale drink, and the Skinny Ginger, which is the same thing, but made with diet ginger ale.

Nonetheless, the drink was designed to also be drunk straight. "It absolutely had to be able to stand on its own two feet as a sipping whiskey,” Folliard told me. The whiskey is distilled and blended for Folliard at Ireland's only independent distillery, Cooley, which has for years offered up a variety of small-batch, carefully made Irish whiskeys. This includes Connemara, which is the only Irish whiskey to be made using peat, which gives it a flavor somewhere between the sweeter Irish whiskeys and the Scotch whiskys. Folliard met the brewery's founder, John Teeling, years previously, and was struck by a newspaper piece the man had written arguing that the future of Ireland's economy depended on innovation and new enterprise. And so, when Folliard really seriously began considering offering his own whiskey, Cooley was an obvious choice.

2 Gingers Whiskey
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
2 Gingers Whiskey

How is 2 Gingers? It's quite good, but, then, Irish whiskey typically is — it's usually sweet, with a strong malt flavor, and most Irish whiskeys are triple-distilled for smootheness. 2 Gingers is distilled only twice. "Scotch whisky distillers like to say it only took them two times to get it right,” Kieran said. "We may have to say the same thing.” In fact, Folliard and his staff decided to leave off at twice-distilled because it would leave 2 Gingers a bit sharper than other whiskeys, and so it does. But the whiskey is also aged in sherry casks, which is a tony way to age a drink (only 7 percent of Scotches are sherry cask aged), and what happens with cask aging is that the liquor takes on some of the flavor of the cask. Sherry casks tend to give things a sweet and fruity quality. So while 2 Gingers does have a hint of a bite to it, the decision to stop distilling after two rounds is likely a smart one — any more and it might have become cloyingly sweet. Whiskey should always have a bit of an edge, like the fellow who claps you just a bit too hard on the shoulder when he greets you.

I have one other Kieran's tale to tell today before I don my glowing shamrock necklace and novelty leprechaun hat and head on out in search of parades. Not long ago, I met with a fellow named Stevie Ray at Kieran's — if you're at all familiar with the Twin Cities comedy and improv scene, you probably already know Ray. He's had his own club for years, now operating out of the Chanhassen Dinner Theater, and has worked as a stand-up comedian, and is behind Improv in the Park. But Ray also offers courses in how to speak in various dialects, including the Irish accent. So I asked him to meet me at Kieran's and teach me some of what I might need to know to affect a passable brogue. This is not the sort of thing that can be very well represented in text. So I've filmed the lesson, which you'll find below.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's off to the parades.

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Comments (2)

Ok, its 10:30 in the morning and now I'm officially dying for a glass of Irish whiskey. Thanks Max!

For a moment, I thought it was FANCY Ray who was teaching the speaking o' the Irish to Bunny.

Now that would be good...