Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Timing, as they say, is everything, and while I’ve struggled for 10 years to come up with appropriate subject matter for St. Paddy’s Day, Ireland is not exactly known for its wine. One could add a tiny drop of green food colouring to a glass or bottle of white wine to play along, I suppose, but that’s not really terribly authentic.
But back to timing. A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a trip to Victoria where I enjoyed fabulous visits with many family members and friends who live on the island. And despite cooler than usual weather — locals were apologizing at every turn because the grass and most of the trees were still brown and the daffodils and tulips weren’t up yet and the famed cherry blossoms hadn’t even budded, let alone bloomed — I managed to truly enjoy myself in one of my two favourite cities in the country (the other is Halifax, if anybody cares). I love being near the ocean, and I don’t care if it’s Pacific or Atlantic or Caribbean (although the latter certainly is my No. 1 choice). By the sea is where I want to be!
Anyway, on what turned out to be a particularly cold and windy day, I’d planned a get-together with my great friend Carman, who’d retired and moved to Nanaimo from Calgary a couple of years ago, and who’d driven down from his new home to have a long overdue visit with me. We had much reminiscing to do, since the last time we’d been together was 2013. So about 1:30 p.m., we plunked ourselves down at the historic and gorgeous Irish Times pub in the heart of the downtown area, and proceeded to get reacquainted.
Since we’d arranged to spend the entire day together and were going to my favourite restaurant in Victoria for dinner (I obviously haven’t tried them all, but Il Terrazzo has been extraordinary each and every time I’ve been there over the last eight years), I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for what I knew was in store for me just a few hours later. So I had a bowl of the Irish Times West Coast Chowder, which is 90 per cent fish and made for a more than hearty late lunch. With clams, smoked salmon, scallops, calamari, and more, this was absolutely the best chowder I’d ever had. And for $8 a bowl, I thought it was a great bargain, too. But most food items at the Irish Times are very reasonably priced, and I can’t wait to go back there again. I paired the soup, which was more like a seafood stew, with a glass of the Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay, which is $21.99 a bottle at Manitoba Liquor Marts, and which I very much enjoyed. Boasting tropical fruit flavours along with floral notes and citrus scents and tastes, this slightly oaky Chard was the perfect balance for my gutsy chowder. It was so good, I even had a second glass.
Once ensconced at the Irish Times, and with the conversation flowing easily as it does between old friends, it seemed foolish to move on, given the cosiness, the atmosphere, and the fact that all we wanted to do was chat. But more wine didn’t seem like a good idea (I can’t believe I just wrote that!). So given our surroundings, and the multitudinous choices available on the menu, we decided to share a flight of Irish Whiskey. The options were plenty, but when I spied Jameson on the list, the decision was made.
We were served a tray of four glasses, each containing a half-ounce of, in this order, Jameson Caskmates ($39.99), Jameson Select ($49.99), Jameson Black Barrel (also $49.99), and Jameson Gold Reserve ($92.08). Prices quoted are for 750-ml bottles at Manitoba Liquor Marts. We, of course, didn’t know the prices at the time, and while we both knew that in these sorts of tastings, one starts with the lesser of the grouping and moves up to what’s considered the premium beverage, we had a great time sipping the shots in order and then giving each other blind tests to make sure we were tasting what we thought we were, unbiased by a particular glass’s position on the board.
At the end of it all, we were both in total agreement — a major accomplishment for us! We couldn’t stand Jameson Caskmates, and that was before we even tried the others. Our favourite of the bunch was unquestionably Jameson Black Barrel. Our second choice was the Jameson Select. We preferred the expensive Jameson Gold Reserve to the Caskmates, but not by a lot. So it was atypical for me, but nice for a change, not to be enamoured by the priciest offering, but instead be most impressed by the mid-priced whiskey.
So if you’re planning to do up your St. Patrick’s Day in fine style, might I suggest a bottle of Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey? In my books, it’s more than worth the extra money — it’s only about a third more than the basic Jameson, which sells here for $33.99 a bottle and didn’t even make the flight I sampled. Rich and full with exotic fruits on the nose, and tasting of oaky vanilla with hints of maple, cedar and juniper, the Black Barrel is a perfect way to celebrate the annual occasion when everyone is considered Irish for a day.