St. Patrick’s Day has always been about family—whether it’s the family you inherit or the family you choose. Named a national holiday in Ireland in 1903, it holds deep religious meaning for Catholics.

David Mulvehill, owner of O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub and Five Points Cocktail Bar, is originally from Tullamore, County Offaly. He remembers spending the sacred day with his kin—attending a service and enjoying a nice roast for dinner. In 1986, Sister Cities International named Dublin, Ireland, the sister city of San Jose. While our Irish population isn’t as high as some cities around the country, we have people like Mulvehill to keep some traditions alive with celebration, family, food and my favorite: Irish Whiskey.

The Latin term for distilled spirits is aqua vitae—or “water of life.” The Gaelic translation, uisce beatha, gives us the phonetic formation “whiskey.” After generations of small-scale production around Ireland, King James I granted the first distilling license to Sir Thomas Phillips of Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1608. The Bushmills Old Distillery Company ultimately laid claim to the license. The distillery was founded in 1784—making its certification the oldest, continuously used distilling license in existence.

Distillation of whiskey in Ireland has been refined in recent years—the guidelines were updated in the 1980 Irish Whiskey Act—but the process remained largely unchanged for generations. Whiskey was a major export for Ireland in the 1800s and is currently the fastest-growing spirit in the world. According to the Irish Whiskey Association, the industry has grown by more than 10 percent for the last half-decade.

World War I saw the restriction of raw materials such as barley—the cornerstone of the spirit—and coal, which slowed the production of whiskey in Ireland. By 1919, civil war added to the restrictions, as well as a halt on some exports. Prohibition in the United States in 1920 effectively ended American imports. Together, these events significantly hurt the Irish whiskey industry. While 30 distilleries were in operation during the late 1800s, just a handful survived by the mid-20th century.

Irish whiskey’s modern era began in 1966, when John Jameson & Son, John Power & Son and Cork Distilleries Company (producers of Midleton Irish Whiskey), merged to form Irish Distillers. A new facility in Midleton, County Cork, was built for the three distillers to produce together. Jameson, Powers, Redbreast, Paddy, Midleton Very Rare and many other brands have been distilled at this facility ever since.

Mulvehill moved to the states in 2001 and settled in the South Bay. Both of his bars foster a sense of community and camaraderie, like all true Irish pubs do.

“It’s a social thing,” Mulvehill says, explaining that the pub is the gathering place for the people of the town. “If you were drinking at home, without the social aspect, something was wrong with you!”

The pub is in decline in today’s Ireland, as strict drunk-driving laws have contributed to the closure of family-owned pubs in small towns and rural areas where the distance between the pub and the home can be many miles. This has left a generation without the culture provided by these social hubs.

As long as Mulvehill remains at the helm of O’Flaherty’s and Five Points, the Irish pub tradition will remain alive and well in downtown San Jose. Both of his bars mark St. Patrick’s Day with celebrations beginning March 12.

The Plucking Good Band, from Ireland, performs traditional Irish music all weekend at O’Flaherty’s. For the athletic types, completing the Shamrock Run on Saturday gets you a pint at O’Flat’s. And, as in previous years, O’Flaherty’s and Five Points will combine through their shared back patio (soon to be the site of Mulvehill’s newest bar) on March 17. To finish off the festivities, Five Points is holding its 3rd Annual Irish Coffee Competition on Thursday, March 19th.

My love of Irish whiskey spans my drinking career. It’s still my drink of choice when I reach for a simple tipple. The world nearly saw the end of this spirit, only for it grow larger than ever less than a century later. As of 2014, Tullamore D.E.W. is once again distilled in Tullamore. From a scant three or four distilleries in the 1960s, there are 25 today with another 24 planned across the island.

Whatever your plans are this weekend, please remember to be safe and to drink responsibly. Celebration is about family and friends, even if they need that green beer. Sláinte!

Syrus Fotovat is the bar manager at Braise in Willow Glen.