Just ask the stars of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"
Earlier this autumn the lead actors of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia unveiled a permanent expression of their whiskey, Four Walls. It’s particularly on-brand for the trio, seeing as they do, very technically, portray bar owners on the enduring sitcom. And while there’s nothing novel about the arrival of yet another celebrity spirit on shelves (a conceit they actually poke fun at in their most recent season), the exact style they came to market with is anything but expected.
Four Walls is a non-age stated blend of Irish whiskeys and American rye whiskey. A commercial spot featuring the three stars — Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day — comically suggests that the recipe came together through a serendipitous collision of the liquids. But in reality it was a far more calculated process.
“The point of blending is to produce a whiskey with traits that simply wouldn’t be there if you dropped one of the blend components,” explains Rupert Egan, master blender for the brand. “With Four Walls, each element is chosen as a workhorse for a known task.”
Indeed, the Irish are no strangers to blending their native juices. They’ve actually been doing it for over a century, most commonly through combining lighter grain whiskey with the more robust and earthy styles typical to Single Pot Still expressions. You’re undoubtedly already familiar with at least one prominent example: Jameson’s is the most widely-consumed Irish whiskey on the planet.
But those popular bottlings would never dare incorporate whiskies from across the Atlantic. National pride notwithstanding, the most practical reason why the categories have stayed on their respective sides of the pond is due to labeling laws. Actual Irish whiskey can only contain liquid that was distilled, matured and bottled on the Emerald Isle.
Then there’s the small fact that Irish and American whiskies stand apart stylistically. The former tends to be gentler and rounder, the latter bolder and oakier. Nevertheless, as Egan points out, they are not nearly as divergent as they seem.
“In many respects, with its mixed mash bills, American whiskey and Pot Still Irish whiskey might be seen to have grown up in the same house, but one emigrated across the waters and the other stayed put,” he contends. “So when you add American Rye Whiskey back to Irish Single Malt and Grain Whiskeys it feels like a homecoming.”
Proof of concept already existed in the form of Keeper’s Heart, which came to market in 2021 as a similar blend of Rye and Irish. It has since expanded its portfolio to include an Irish/bourbon blend released last year.
“We came in wanting to make an Irish-American mix, but I felt very strongly that rye was going to be the right way to do it as opposed to bourbon,” says Howerton. “I just like that spice.”
So it’s something for which he campaigned strongly when building the brand. As the undisputed whiskey geek of the trio, Howerton prizes plenty of rye offerings from WhistlePig and Michter’s along the top shelf of his home bar.
“But rye is still a little too niche,” he tells Food and Wine. “We weren’t trying to create a whiskey for me, we were trying to create a whiskey for everybody, while also servicing people like me. This is a multiple-empty-bottles-behind-the-bar, not one-full-bottle-on-the-shelf kind of drink.”
The proof is in the sipping; nothing is too pronounced in the amber-hued elixir, and that’s likely by design. At 40% ABV it’s meant to be accessible, something that many might embrace as an upmarket Jameson alternative.
Still, Four Walls undeniably exhibits admirable characteristics from both arms of its lineage. The nose is all Irish grain; barley sugar, cereal, fresh cut grass. The presence of rye doesn’t emerge until the first sip, in whispers of savory spice and mint. By the time it goes down, though, it’s difficult to separate where the Irish ended and the rye began.
“Each knows what to do and they get along like a house on fire,” adds Egan.
To get it dialed in, the would-be booze impresarios made a trek to Ireland, where they sampled casks alongside some of the country’s most iconic whiskey makers, including John Teeling. They tasted dozens of potential variations and immersed themselves in the intricacies of the process.
“I’ve always been more of a beer-and-a-shot-of-whiskey kind of guy,” explains Day. “So for me it’s been fun sort of getting an education on this stuff. I have a terrible ability to retain things, but I really enjoy the ride.”
And he means that literally. Product development has afforded the three longtime friends an excuse to travel together overseas, sharing plenty of drams along the way. For Howerton, these experiences are emblematic of the emotional connection he feels for the category.
“Glenn is the whiskey geek but we’re all passionate about what we’ve made and had a lot of fun making it together, seeing it come to life over the last few weeks of bringing it to our first markets of New York and Philadelphia,” adds McElhenney, who prefers sipping his whiskey in Manhattan form.
“When I first saw the mockups of these new bottles it was at the Great Northern Distillery [in County Dundalk, Ireland] and I cried,” Howerton confesses. “I’ve had some of the best nights of my life with my buddies sipping on whiskey. So to have my own version of that, it just means a lot to me.”
The It’s Always Sunny gang has been delivering laughs for nearly two decades. Their whiskey, nevertheless, is no joke.
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