Wise man that he was, JB Priestley knew that 'Man, the creature who knows he must die, who has dreams larger than his destiny, which is for ever working a confidence trick on him, needs an ally.' His was tobacco. Mine happens to be Irish whiskey.Confront the Irish whisky lover with Nature and he must commune with it. A world seemingly without values twinkles and hums after a Midleton's Rare slides down the oesophagus; life becomes miraculous and everything picturesque. With a nippie sweetie in his hand, a decanter of Crested Ten by his side, a hipflask of Black Bush in his pocket and a gill of Power's already in his bloodstream, the Irish whiskey devotee feels that he has life taped; he is envied as well as enviable; a sane man in a mad world. Lifting an Irish to his lips, the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile of rapture, his eyelids become leaden and a gorgeous mellowness shoots down his ganglia. Whiskey is his boon companion and his source of poise.Mastering the fine art of whiskey with an 'e' requires great dedication and long hours of diligent study, often without supervision. The palate must be educated and re-educated, the nostrils fine-tuned. The road to expertise is an arduous one. Irish whiskey is an aesthetic discipline. It is a highly specialised art form. Certain rudiments must be respected. Fundamentals must not be ignored.The first essential, neglected by many and a key prerequisite to accomplished tippling, is a sound grip and a solid stance. The 'Fan Grip', where all four fingers are splayed around the glass which, in turn, is hugged tightly to the chest between sips, and the 'Pincer Grip', where the glass is held at the bottom between thumb and forefinger, are the most common, although it cannot be too strongly impressed upon the novice that the best grip is the one with which he or she feels most comfortable.The second essential is position: although the vertical position has much to recommend it the student will soon realize the advantages of the prone or so-called 'sitting position', which can be maintained for much longer periods and is equally effective for left-handers and right-handers alike.The enthusiastic Irish tippler must remember the six golden rules of Irish whiskey appreciation. The true connoisseur always raises his glass
to the light before drinking to check the drink's colour and consistency as well as to keep tabs on the generosity of his host. Secondly, it is sacrilege to adulterate a Paddy with more than a quarter of an inch of chlorinated urban water. The aficionado of everything Irish always sips and never gulps. Neither does he gargle. That is a sure sign of the charlatan and dilettante. Swilling must be performed pensively. Swoons must be heartfelt.The only true test of a whiskey is the Morning After. Because of its great purity, Irish whiskey is less likely to give you a whopping hangover. Its only side-effects, according to some, is to double the size of your family. Not because it is an aphrodisiac but merely because, if you drink too much, you begin to see two of everything. The last rule is perhaps the most important. Theory is necessary but only practice makes perfect.Pre-Prohibition, over 400 different types of Irish whiskey could be found in the USA, and before blending was perfected, Irish whiskey was king. Whether as an early morning hair-of-the-dog, a mid-morning noggin, a lunchtime aperitif, a mid-afternoon livener, a supper-time toddy, an accompaniment to your post-dinner coffee, a mid-evening relaxant or late-night antibiotic, Irish whiskey is thankfully still both a valued friend and a much loved source of strength. To the lucky few.