Tullamore D.E.W. ambassador talks Irish whiskey, the secret to a proper toast

Plus what makes a good Irish pub ahead of St. Patrick's Day.

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click to enlarge Tullamore D.E.W. U.S. Ambassador Tim Herlihy. - Erik Cattelle
Erik Cattelle
Tullamore D.E.W. U.S. Ambassador Tim Herlihy.

As the music flows and pints are poured, I’m sitting with Tullamore D.E.W. U.S. Ambassador Tim Herlihy. Our meeting place is a popular Irish pub with a thatched roof in the middle of Tampa (bet you can guess which one).

I learn the venue is a favorite of the Ireland native and whiskey expert, which begs the question: What makes a good pub?

“With pubs in particular, there is always a story on every wall,” he tells me. “Look at some of these walls, then you ask the bartender — they have a layer of extra story.

“It’s friendly, it’s hospitality. Come in for a business meeting, or come in the next and it’s shorts and flip-flops. Most of that comes down to the bartender.”

As we chat, another Irish gentleman approaches, politely interrupts and introduces himself to Herlihy. As they both discuss the towns from which they hail, it’s clear this sort of interaction is common among strangers in a pub. It’s the typical, hey-heard-your-accent-where-ya-from-nice-to-meet-ya-have-a-great-day-slainte! salutation.

“With the Irish pub, you’re going to get to know everyone around you — whether you like it or not,” jokes Herlihy. “But it’s the instant atmosphere to it. When someone walks into the door, it’s not an unusual thing just to get immediate chatting, or turn around and look at someone in a welcoming way. It’s community, it’s friendliness. If you were to put it to one word, it’s the friendliness.”

Before we drink to that, we must toast. It’s a big part of Irish tradition. Understandably so.

Herlihy makes Toast No. 1 (and the ones that follow): “May you work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening, and live each day as your last.”

I’ve made a home or two at the pubs Herlihy speaks of. But what’s the story behind Tully, as the world’s second largest Irish whiskey brand is lovingly known? The distillery’s journey begins in none other than Tullamore, located right in the heart of Ireland.

“The D.E.W. is named after Daniel Evan Williams,” Herlihy says. “His story is, he went to work there at 14. We no longer hire 14 year olds — time has moved on. [And] at 25, he became head distiller and general manager of the distillery.”

D.E.W.’s passion was the distillery. That’s why, in the late ’1800s, he used all of his money from the various businesses he owned to buy it, lending his initials to every bottle of whiskey made thereafter. Then, using what was considered cutting-edge marketing at the time, the phrase “give every man his D.E.W.” was born.

For the uninitiated, the original Tully blend has delicious depth. Honey and vanilla up front — sweetness from grain whiskey. On the nose is green apple and citrus, which is present thanks to malt whiskey. A little bit of spice at the finish from pot still whiskey is also in there.

The combo is smooth and friendly, but with welcome character. Look for the green label.

“But we don’t have to just look at it,” Herlihy says. Good point.

click to enlarge The OG next to the new Rum Cask. - Erik Cattelle
Erik Cattelle
The OG next to the new Rum Cask.

Toast No. 2: “Here’s to cheating, stealing, fighting and drinking. If you cheat may you cheat death. If you steal, may you steal a heart. If you fight, may you fight for one another. If you drink, drink like you and me.”

In Ireland, there are three styles of whiskey. First is corn-based grain whiskey, which tends to be light, sweet and delicate. Made from malted barley, tons of citrus and fruit notes, malt whiskey is second. And the third, only done in Ireland, is pot still whiskey with a spicy, creamy texture — and a certain viscosity that leads to a mouthfeel complemented by pepperiness.

While each can be enjoyed solo, Tullamore D.E.W. marries the trio in one bottle. The crew’s triple-distilled approach results in an anything-but-boring spirit. OG Tully gets aged in three types of barrels, too: bourbon, sherry and old Irish casks.

What’s cool is that Tully — and the Irish whiskey category as a whole — has started to tinker, and its experiments are maturing and coming of age. Enter the brand’s newest Tully finished in XO Caribbean rum casks, a process that imparts rummy raisin notes and a hint of sweet, ripe banana. Celebrating the longtime connection between Ireland and the Caribbean, the blend has a darker finish than the OG and is 43 percent alcohol by volume, which adds to its fullness.

Tullamore D.E.W. XO Rum Cask Finish works great in an Old Fashioned, but could even hijack a classic rum cocktail. Try making a pina colada or a daiquiri with this one.

By now, you know the drill. We can’t sample the Rum Cask, available on shelves throughout Florida, until cheersing.

Toast No. 3: “There’s good ships. There are wood ships. There are ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.”

The toast is a poetic art form steeped in tradition, dating back to medieval times. There was etiquette, there were rules, and they often revolved around practical survival.

According to Herlihy, always stand for a toast, as to reveal yourself. Raise your glass — never lift, always raise — to help it be blessed. Clink your neighbor’s glass, a sign of sharing spirits. Slam (may I recommend a gentle tap?) your glass onto the table to banish demons from the vessel. Always use your right hand, to show your fighting hand has become your drinking hand.

The customs are the secret to a proper cheers, which could also be said is a key element of St. Patrick’s Day revelry. Luckily, alongside all that toasting, Herlihy has some advice for those observing the holiday on Saturday.

How does one best celebrate? He suggests kicking off with a traditional Irish breakfast, typically consisting of the following: bacon, sausages, baked beans, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and hash. Don’t forget to grab an Irish coffee, either.

Next head off to the local parade, where you might keep a hip flask handy, though it’s really about hanging out with family and friends. Oh, and corned beef and cabbage is a must as well. The meal is a fine spread that’s sure to keep you tuned and ready to celebrate.

Finally, Herlihy offers a few cocktail ideas for fans of his Irish whiskey. His go-to sippers include Irish Gold Rush (a shaken mix of Tully, lemon juice and honey on the rocks) and Irish Maid (Tully, elderflower liqueur, muddled cucumber and lemon juice shaken and served either up or on the rocks — whichever you prefer).

And Irish coffee, of course.

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