Over the long Easter weekend, UK bar owners were found excitedly ripping open toy rabbits with beady eyes replaced by stitched red crosses and backs jaggedly sewn together, barely containing their soft fluffy insides.
No this wasn't some kind of mass Easter bunny slaughter, for these sacrificial rabbits had more than stuffing inside. That seam down their backs was evidence of a previous surgery where each grey toy had its innards replaced with a bottle of Dead Rabbit Irish whiskey.
And if anyone can launch a serious drop of spirit by forcing bar owners to destroy a fluffy toy, it's the owners of The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York.
Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, the duo behind the world-famous bar, worked with Quintessential Brands to create its eponymous whiskey, in particular with master distiller Darryl McNally from The Dublin Liberties Distillery - which will produce the whiskey once it opens later this year.
‘We never set out to create a whiskey,’ McGarry told Imbibe. ‘Quintessential approached us and when we found out the juice they were sitting on and that they were investing €15m (approximately £13m) in a distillery in the heart of Dublin with Darryl we agreed to start working on the whiskey and its branding.’
This isn’t a new relationship for McNally, who has worked with Muldoon and McGarry championing Irish whiskey on the American bar scene.
‘For a long time, there were only three Irish whiskey distilleries, now there’s going to be over thirty in the next few years,’ said Muldoon.
'There are simply not enough proper distillers with Irish whiskey experience, so to have someone of that calibre involved in this project brought some authenticity.'
The outcome of the collaboration is an unusual blended whiskey that’s been aged for five years, including a final nine weeks spent in small virgin American oak casks, and bottled at 44% abv.
‘What we noticed from other Irish blends was a lot of green content that tended to be quite sweet,’ said McGarry. 'Our whiskey still has that greenness, but because it’s finished in virgin oak, the spice balances it out, as does that higher abv, which gives it an additional bite. The maturation profile makes it a great segue for American whiskey drinkers.'
That final resting period in the virgin half-sized casks was tested between two and ten weeks, with the final found to be too spicy, or as Muldoon puts it ‘it had lost its Irishness'.
The whiskey doesn’t yet come from The Dublin Liberties Distillery, which is still under construction, and all involved are keeping their lips tightly sealed about its origins. It does mean, however, that the liquid will be evolving once the stills are up and running. And McGarry and Muldoon say there’s sure to be other expressions of the whiskey to be released over time.
While the five-year minimum age statement was partly selected for flavour – finding a sweet spot between the typical three-year blends, which the duo feel are too young, and the other more-common seven-year blends – it also ties in nicely with The Dead Rabbit’s five-year anniversary.
The new whiskey won’t be jumping into every cocktail at The Dead Rabbit though.
‘It’s in a couple of drinks here – but not in the Irish Coffee for the moment,’ said McGarry. 'Similar to Ian Burrell in the rum trade, just because we have our own Irish whiskey, we still love other whiskies whether they’re pot still, single malts or blends. We love the category.'
Picking its target markets carefully, the brand team will be focusing on New York and New Jersey state-side, and then Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh and London on this side on the pond.