Irish Whiskey at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

This year’s annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival features Northern Ireland, the Mekong Delta, and Roots of Virginia.

The Northern Ireland section of this huge outdoor festival (located on the National Mall in Washington D.C.) includes an exhibit on distilling Irish Whiskey. I attended a panel discussion with folks from Bushmills, a four hundred year old Irish distillery. On hand were the president, the head cellarman and the woman in charge of packaging. A right Irish bunch, all of them, and clearly proud of their work.

One of the sad stories they told (sad stories are an Irish tradition) was about oak barrels. To be called “Irish Whiskey,” the spirit must be aged in oak. Ireland used to be covered with Oak forests but they were all destroyed so Bushmills now uses barrels made mostly from American oak. But at least they are recycling – many of the barrels have been previously used for aging American bourbons since bourbon rules require that brand new oak barrels be used for every batch. The Bushmills folks suggested that this was due to the rules being made “by the folks who sell oak” rather than the folks who make bourbon. Bushmills reuses their barrels several times before replacing them.

I headed over to the Bushmills exhibit area after the talk in hopes of getting a taste. But unfortunately, this post ends with another sad Irish story, depicted in the photo below.

No samples
(Thanks to my friend Dave for the photo. His blog has lots of great photography and poetry.)

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival continues through July 8th. Here’s a schedule and more details.


5 Responses to Irish Whiskey at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

  1. No samples?! Fascist pigs 🙂

  2. beeractivist says:

    Yeah, I don’t know why. It seems like they’d be able to get a license for an event like this. And seriously, what could celebrate Virginian “folklife” heritage better than a good-old whiskey drinking festival? Whiskey’s roots in Virginia run deep. Mount Vernon now sports a fancy new recreation of George Washington’s original distillery.


  3. Tim O'Brien says:

    well, it’s a good festival to go to. as you may know a guy named Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins played that gig in 1968. I’ve tracked down a recording of it, but it’s stuck inside a warehouse in PA where the Smithsonian keeps some of there archives….

  4. beeractivist says:

    Cool that you tracked it down. Bummer that you can’t get to it.

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