In 2020, after a nearly 90-year absence, McConnell’s, one of the most famous and storied names in Irish whisky, was reintroduced to a grateful—and thirsty—market by Conecuh Brands. Just one year later, according to a new report by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), sales of Irish whisky experienced double-digit growth, making it the third-fastest-growing spirits category overall, with domestic sales up 16.3%, from $185 million to $1.3 billion. In fact, it is now forecast to overtake Scotch in the U.S. as even more discerning drinkers discover the subtle complexity and strength of character that distinguishes top-shelf Irish whisky. And just in time, the Irish Whiskey Festival is returning to New York, exposing even more new fans to the storied spirit, produced by iconic NYC Irish cocktail mecca The Dead Rabbit.
“The fact that there is now a second dedicated Irish whiskey festival in NYC is testament to the seemingly unstoppable rise of Irish whiskey across the United States,” as William Lavelle, director of the Irish Whiskey Association, tells Forbes. One brand that’s definitely worth discovering: McConnell’s, originally established in Belfast in 1776, and the oldest whisky brand ever to come from Ireland (spelled without the extra “e” as it was nearly 250 years ago), featured in The Dead Rabbit’s cool new drinks book, Paddy Drinks: The World of Modern Irish Whiskey Cocktails, just published by Mariner Books.
“To make great whiskey cocktails, you need to understand whiskey, which means going to the very beginning—to the distillery,” as Mariner notes.Hence Paddy Drinks offers an illustrated guide of the stages of production and the differences between the various types of whiskey, plus flavor wheels and tasting notes along with 90 creative cocktail recipes that have all been featured at The Dead Rabbit over the years.
The Dead Rabbit notes that McConnell’s is “a fine blend of Irish malt and Irish grain whiskey aged for five years in select bourbon casks, which brings out undertones of vanilla sweetness with superb classic Irish whiskey quality coming through in the background.” They use it in a complex, “tropical, creamy and indulgent” cocktail called the Beauty Spot, which mixes the iconic whiskey with absinthe, a matcha–Coco López mix, pineapple juice, pisatchio orgeat, crème de cacao, apricot eau-de-vie, and half-and-half that’s sure to implode your notion of what an Irish whiskey drink should be.
It’s fully in keeping with the innovative spirit of the revived brand. Next year McConnell’s will open a new distillery blending traditional techniques and state-of-the-art equipment in a historic building in Belfast near its original home. And also in time for St. Patrick’s Day, author and photographer Natalie Migliarini of Beautiful Booze (@beautifulbooze) has created two cool cocktails that showcase the range and personality of the spirit, which comes in a beautifully-designed bottle with a cork stopper and distinctive dark-green label: the McConnell’s Smoked Honey Old-Fashioned, and the McConnell’s Irish Buck.
“The Old Fashioned is one of the best cocktails to mix for allowing a spirit’s profile to be the star,” Migliarini says. “My first sip of McConnell’s was eye-opening, and while the profile is super-elegant, my tastebuds just loved the lingering honey and spice. Before I mixed it in a cocktail, I decided to sip it a little more, and found that the lightly smoky finish was something I also wanted to emphasize. This led me to smoking my glass with rosemary, accentuating the smoky finish, while adding a wonderfully herbaceous element.”
As for her version of the Irish Buck, “We have visited Ireland a number of times in our travels and whenever we are there, we just have to order a drink with cloudy apple juice,” Migliarini relates. “The acidity and sweetness of the fresh apple juice pairs so deliciously with the profile of a great Irish Whisky like McConnell’s. Using it as the primary modifier in this Irish Buck gave the cocktail a unique and delicious finish that complimented the spicy ginger beer.” Make mine a double.
McConnell’s Smoked Honey Old-Fashioned
2 oz. McConnell’s Irish Whisky
0.5 oz. Monin honey syrup
2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 sprig rosemary
Smoke double Old-Fashioned glass with torched sprig of rosemary
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice
Stir to mix and chill ingredients
Strain into the smoked double old-fashioned glass over fresh ice
Garnish with orange twist
McConnell’s Irish Buck
1.5 oz. McConnell’s Irish Whisky
1 oz. cloudy (unfiltered) apple juice
0.5 oz lemon juice
2 oz. ginger beer
1/2 an apple
1 sprig mint
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake to mix and chill ingredients
Double-strain into a highball glass over fresh ice
Garnish with a mint sprig and apple fan
Image Source: Goncharov_Artem / Shutterstock