On Friday, the opening day of Rochester’s two-day Irish Fest, Patrick Davitt will be giving tours of what he considers a most magical realm.
Davitt is a whiskey connoisseur. And to properly survey this realm, he believes whiskey should be treated with a kind of reverence: Tasted, not drunk, experienced, not swilled.
The Irish monks, who developed the distillation process for whiskey centuries ago, called it the “water of life.” And when you have had the chance to roll on your tongue a fine-tasting Connemara, once hailed as the “World’s Best Irish Single Malt,” few things are more transcendent, Davitt said.
“As I describe it, the clouds parted, the sun began to shine, and I could hear the angels sing,” he said about one such experience.
This weekend, in a celebration of all things Irish at the downtown Peace Plaza, Davitt plans to introduce up to 50 people to similar experiences during a whiskey-tasting tour as part of Rochester’s Irish Fest.
“People who have heard about Irish whiskey have no idea what’s there,” Davitt said. “The last thing they’re going to do is go into a liquor store and buy a half-dozen bottles and see what they like. (The whiskey tasting) will give a person an opportunity to experience a wide variety and decide, ‘Gee, you know, I really like that.'”
Staff will pour no more than three-quarters of an ounce of each whiskey into a glass. Participants will drink from glasses specially designed to deliver the liquid straight to the middle of the tongue, the better to savor it. And an Irish representative will be on hand to talk about what makes each whiskey distinctive and unique.
“By the end of the event, this is really intended to give an opportunity to learn about whiskey — what are they like, why are they different, what makes them taste different,” Davitt said.
Tickets for that event cost $50. The event will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Kahler Grand Hotel’s Elizabethan Room.
And then at 9 p.m., the whiskey tasting will retreat to the Lord Essex Pub for the VIP experience ($150 for one person, $225 for a couple) and the sanctum sanctorum of whiskey experiences. The ticket includes a room at the Kahler Grand that night (you might need it) and an Irish breakfast in the morning.
The whiskey-tasting will be one part of a celebration this Friday and Saturday that will be returning to downtown after a one-year hiatus at the History Center of Olmsted County. It will be a fest guaranteed to engage and excite the senses. Three stages will be set up at the Peace Plaza, where storytelling, music-playing and step-dancing will take place.
“It’s a family thing. It’s a family event,” said Daniel Van Hook, the organizer of the fifth annual Rochester Irish Fest, which is expected to draw about 2,500 people over the two-day event.
Van Hook said holding Irish Fest at the history center was a “great” experience, but “it cost us too much money.”
“We kind of lost our butt last year, so we’re pulling it back down to the Peace Plaza again,” Van Hook said. “People like the downtown. It just feels more local.”
Irish Fest will kick off on the Peace Plaza at 4:30 p.m. Friday and run to 10 p.m. It will continue on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Live Celtic music and dancing will be featured on the three stages, ending with a square dancing-style Ceili dance Saturday evening.
Family and kids-oriented entertainment will be on the grassy side of the plaza over the two days, featuring sing-alongs, storytelling and dance lessons. There also will be face-painting, potato races, fishing in the River Lee, arts and crafts, as well as trophies for various contests like the most freckles and the reddest hair.
Rochester’s Irish Fest is somewhat distinctive in that it’s held in September, not on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Van Hook says there’s a good reason for the irregular scheduling.
“It’s too damn cold on St. Patrick’s Day, and besides, there’s so much going on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said.