photo - Chef Victor Matthews used his own Irish Whisky in preparing whisky glazed pork chops. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Chef Victor Matthews used his own Irish Whisky in preparing whisky glazed pork chops. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Whether sipped or used as an ingredient, Irish whiskey is the beverage of choice on St. Patrick's Day. Here's a primer on all things whiskey.

First, about the spelling - is it "whiskey" or "whisky"? For an answer, we turned to Victor Matthews, owner of Black Bear Distillery in Green Mountain Falls, where he makes moonshine, whiskey and rum.

"The Irish spell it with the 'e' and the Scottish do not," he said. "Most American whiskey derives from Irish sources and is therefore spelled with the 'e'. I am Irish so I use the 'e'."

Now let's look beyond the letters. According to Whiskey Advocate, whiskey is a distilled spirit that is made from grain; all other distilled liquors are made from other sources (brandy, for example, comes from grapes).

Whiskey producers use malted barley or other grains to make the spirit. They soak the grains in hot water to release the sugars and then add yeast to ferment the sugar into alcohol. Finally, they distill the liquor and age it in barrels.

The result is bourbon, scotch or rye. What makes it Irish, according to Matthews, is that it has no saltwater flavors and no peat smoke flavors - all things he hates in whiskey.

"It takes years to do everything right," he said.

Matthews, chef and dean of his Paragon Culinary School, uses whiskey in cocktails and various recipes.

"I have used Irish whiskey in marinades and sauces, especially my Irish bacon and bourbon demi-glace. It's good over pork chops or steak," he said. "I usually serve that meat over colcannon, which is Irish mashed potatoes with greens in them. So my fine-dining entree would be grilled, double-cut pork chop with whiskey bacon demi and colcannon."

Matthews also makes an Irish jerk using Irish whiskey (instead of rum as is done for Jamaican jerk) and suggests adding the spirit to any corned beef recipe to create a St. Patty's Day meal.

For a sweet ending to your Emerald Isle feast, Irish coffee is a no-brainer. But Matthews has one more dessert suggestion: combine Irish whiskey with molasses and reduce it to cook off some of the alcohol. When it's cool, add it to the creme anglaise base in a homemade honey ice cream recipe.

Freeze, wait and prepare to be rewarded.