Whiskey! Blueshirts! Free food! It was like a perfect storm of things I love. Sean Montcrief’s Movies & Booze On Tour is a snappily edited mix of bants and booze, and this time the setting was the auditorium/screening room in the Jameson Heritage Centre in Midleton. It’s only a stroll from my house – and a stagger back – so I was delighted to be there. The event was being used as a stage for the single pot still range of whiskeys from Midleton, so there were a couple of fairly amazing samples, but more about that later.
The show opened with Bishopstown GAA stalwart and LGBTFGTD Jerry Buttimer. He spoke about the confusion he felt growing up knowing deep down inside that he was a Fine Gael supporter, and how coming out as a blueshirt helped him make his peace with the world. He also mentioned that he is gay. He spoke for a bit about marriage equality, and told the story of coming out to Enda Kenny whilst seated under a large portrait of Michael Collins. Dev must have been spinning in his grave, fretting about all the comely maidens at the crossroads with nobody to dance with.
After that came Alice Taylor, who spoke on her specialist subject of ‘yore, days of’, then it was Giana Ferguson, one of the people behind west Cork’s Gubbeen cheese – so if there was a theme to the line-up on the day, it was tradition, craft, and heritage.
Whiskey encompasses all these – the Irish have been making it in much the same way for centuries, and while the process has been modernised and streamlined, there has been no speeding up or cheapening of the method. In an age when the race to the bottom in production has seen horse flesh in our lasagna and collapsing sweatshops in the Third World, you have to appreciate companies that cherish quality, and still have respect for both the customer and the product.
After that it was Irish Distillers bigwigs Peter Morehead and Brian Nation, the production director and master distiller respectively. I’ve seen both of them speak at a few events now and always enjoy it, as they are the Ying and Yang of Cork accents; Peter with his splendid Montenotte tones, Brian with the sort of pure Cork accent you just don’t hear anymore.
At this point we got down to some drankin’. We had a Redbreast 12 and a Redbreast 21, just to show contrast. Redbreast is one of my favourite whiskeys, and one of the first premium ones I tried. I’d recommend it to anyone as an introduction into both pot still whiskey and the slightly more illustrious expressions from Midleton; €65 a bottle might seem like a lot, but when it comes to a quality whiskey like this, it’s worth it.
It’s a silken, rich drink, with what they call ‘thick legs’ – if you swirl it in the glass, it runs down the sides in thicker rivulets, due to it’s slightly lower viscosity. Redbreast is often compared to Christmas cake – it’s depth and warmth suggests log fires, brandy butter, stewed winter fruits, dark berries; it is succulence and opulence in a glass.
When my dad heard that I had taken to Redbreast, he said ‘Oh that’s a popular one with priests’. I said ‘Really?’ and he responded with ‘Well, it was with our local priest anyway’. Oddly, he was right – the firm who made it, Gilbeys, also supplied the churches of Ireland with their altar wine, so when the priests would order a load of Jesus Juice, they’d throw a bottle or two of Redbreast on the order too.
As if that blessing wasn’t enough, in more recent times Redbreast has won whiskey of the year several times, and whilst also being one of the best Irish whiskeys, it also happens to be a pot still product.
I’ve written a lot of boring nonsense about the history of whiskey (and frontiersmen like this guy), so if you want to know the difference between pot and patent whiskey in detail, you can read this. Basically the pot still is the fat bellied, swan-necked copper still you think of when you think of whiskey. Then, about a hundred years ago, a Corkman created the genesis of what would become known as the Coffey – or patent – still, which makes purer, less flavorsome alcohol in a more efficient, cheaper fashion. The Irish never really embraced the Coffey still when they had the chance – but the Scots did, and their industry has been whupping ours since.
Barry Crockett, Master Distiller Emeritus, brought back single pot still whiskey in a big way, and has helped created such classics as the Powers John’s Lane Release, a pot still whiskey so flavoursome it’s like a puck in the gob. If you want to try a traditional Irish whiskey, created in the same way as our forefathers did it hundreds of years ago, a single pot still whiskey from Midleton is as close as you will get without a DeLorean.
The afternoon’s entertainment, epicurean and otherwise, was a great celebration of all the good things Ireland has to offer, be it food, drink, music – courtesy of Nicole Maguire – or just Jerry Buttimer talking about a guy approaching him in a gay club to ask where his council house was: “I thought he was going to ask me to go home with him, but it turned out he didn’t have one.”
Many thanks go to the good people at Burrell PR (that’s Susan Burke from the firm making me look old in the first pic) for allowing me to be part of the fun. All the above photos were taken by the fantastic Rory O’Toole. Cork food blogger Billy Lyons – who was food blogging before it was cool – also wrote on the event, and you can read his coverage here.
I tend to become quite tedious when I talk abut whiskey, but if you’ve read this far I’m going to assume you will put up with anything. So do me a favour and drink more of it. The Irish invented it and have been making it now for a thousand years; it is a testament to our creativity and skill, an enduring spirit that contains the essence of our landscape. It is a liquid history of all we have achieved on this small rock on the edge of Europe. So it behooves all of us to cherish and celebrate it – in short: Enjoy being Irish, responsibly.