Conor McGregor toasts his win over Aldo and ‘the Irish running the game’ with a Barry Crockett Legacy.
Conor McGregor toasts his win over Aldo and ‘the Irish running the game’ with a Barry Crockett Legacy.
Few people have any real idea what public relations actually entails. I certainly didn’t until I managed to blag my way into a summer internship in a high-profile firm in 2001. It was a great experience – it was a well-established Dublin-based company that mostly dealt with luxury brands and business-to-consumer stuff. It was also quite the education – up to that point I had no clue how to even answer a phone properly. Thankfully on the first day someone took the time to tell me that picking up the phone and yawping ‘hullo’ down the phone was simply not the done thing. I somehow mastered answering the phone in a semi-professional manner, and a few other basic tasks – I was basically Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, only with a flat east Cork accent.
During my time with the firm I got to work with and meet lots of great people, but learned early on that it’s not all smiles and sunshine. PR agencies are the firewall that protects the client from the media-driven outrage-athon, and they get little thanks for it. So always be nice to the PR firm. And I’m not just saying that because I got this in the post today:
I first met the guys from Burrell PR around this time last year when they helped organise the broadcast of Sean Moncrieff’s Movies and Booze on Newstalk down in the distillery in Midleton; you can read my coverage of the event here. The focus there was also on this great drink. Redbreast was the first pot still whiskey I tried and it is still one of my favourite whiskeys. As Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett describes it, it’s Christmas cake in a glass – stewed winter fruits, toasted nuts and oak, and that rich warm glow, a velvet thickness that just wraps itself around you. If you are looking for a gift for the whiskey fan – be they novice or nerd – Redbreast is a great, affordable option; at 65 yoyo, it is actually great value for money… in whiskey terms, at least. Again, I’m not just saying that because I got a bottle of it as a present. And anyway, I don’t think a post about whiskey on Ireland’s least successful blog qualifies as ‘leveraged coverage by a key influencer’ or even makes me as a ‘bribe unit‘. But as today is my last day off before nine days straight working in one of the busiest A&Es in the country, it really did lift my spirits. So thank you.
The Finnish language has no gender. That is to say, its pronouns are gender neutral and the language completely lacks grammatical gender. One example is the word ‘han’ – a gender neutral word that means both he and she, meaning that when relating a story about a boy and girl on a date, you have to be extra careful when relating who said and what and to whom. The Finns themselves would say that this facet of their incredibly complex language has led to one of the most equal societies in Europe. And they may be right. Sometimes it can be see just how gender-codified our world is. I see it daily in my work – patients will address male nurses as ‘doctor’ and female doctors as ‘nurse’. Granted, it is mainly the older patients – the same ones who occasionally call me doctor or even ‘Father’. But we gender codify everything – jobs, films, books, breeds of dog, and even food and drink. Which brings me, as almost everything does, to whiskey.
The whiskey scene is completely gender polluted – go to almost any event and it will be packed with young male hipsters or old ‘George-from-Glenroe’ types (I’m the latter). You may see the odd wife or girlfriend, but overall, they are the minority – recent statistics suggest that globally women make up just 25% of whiskey drinkers. It is a fantastic drink, not just because of its incredible complexity and depth, but also because it is innately Irish – it is a travesty that more than half the population might be slow to try it because it is seen as ‘a man’s drink’. But joining a whiskey society can seem daunting, as they often bear a passing resemblance to a Star Trek convention.
So the River Lee Hotel is trying to change that. They held a whiskey-tasting evening specifically aimed at women in the surrounds of their beautiful hotel, a stone’s throw from the old Crosses Green and North Mall distilling sites.
The event was hosted by Karen Cotter, above, currently master distiller of the micro-distillery in Midleton. She guided the audience through the classic Redbreast 12 year old, Jameson Black Barrel, Powers 12 year old – and the wonderful Green Spot, allegedly the biggest hit with female drinkers.
Those in the distilling trade say it’s because Green Spot has a lightness, a fresh, almost-menthol like finish that goes over well. However, the suggestion that the female palate needs a lighter whiskey is ridiculous – women have been scientifically proved to have a better sense of taste than men, so they should get even more from one of the big hitters like Powers John’s Lane or cask-strength Redbreast. In fact, one of the marketing team at Jameson told me she believed Green Spot was a hit with women simply because it looks like a bottle of wine.
Anyway, enough mansplaining – here’s the blurb:
The River Lee Winter Whiskey Club celebrated its inaugural session with a special masterclass entitled ‘Women & Whiskey’ led by female distiller Karen Cotter. Gathered with Cotter was a largely female audience who experienced a tasting flight of Ireland’s finest whiskeys on the night, including Redbreast 12 year old, Greenspot, Jameson Black Barrel and Powers 12 year old.
Karen Cotter, distiller at the Microdistillery at the Jameson Experience Midleton, which is part of Irish Distillers, said: “Jameson has led the current surge in popularity of Irish whiskey – we’ve grown from less than 500,000 cases in the mid-1990s to 5 million cases this year. Jameson’s signature smooth taste profile, Irish character and authenticity have won legions of fans globally and we have effectively communicated with consumers through marketing properties such as film and St. Patrick’s Day. Ultimately, it’s the taste of the product that secures its success and future potential – and we’ve got that in spades across our whole portfolio.”
Research reveals that women make up just 25 per cent of whisky drinkers worldwide*, but that number is increasing as cocktail culture becomes embedded in society and the appreciation of provenance and taste grows. Woman are joining the ranks of self-confessed whiskey aficionados such as Christina Hendricks and Lady Gaga, who credits Jameson for helping her song writing.
The River Lee has a number cultural events planned for the Winter Whiskey Club in the New Year including Whiskey & Culture with Sean O’Riordan, Whiskey & Fashion with the Irish Year of Design and Whiskey & Music with Triskal Arts Centre and Other Voices.
For more information on upcoming Winter Whiskey events at the River Lee or to make a reservation visit www.doylecollection.com/hotels/the-river–lee–hotel.
Here are some pics from the event:
And if you think this entire post is just sexist nonsense, just be glad I didn’t go with any of these titles:
As far as I’m concerned, the more people drinking whiskey, the better for both consumers and the industry. Here’s to diversity.
That is the Twitter equivalent of those montages in the A-Team when BA transforms some old rusted car parts into a Black Hawk stealth chopper.
Mark Reynier’s crack team have taken an old Guinness brewery and turned it into a state-of-the-art distillery in a very short space of time, and are now ready to distill. It seems like only yesterday that the whisky world was asking ‘where the hell is Waterford?’ when Reynier resurfaced there, but since then he has put in place an incredibly detailed and transparent traceability system for his grain supply, and has deconstructed and reconstructed the brewery to suit his need – that need being, specifically, to bring some ‘mindfuckery’to Irish whiskey. But more than that, he is bringing honesty; no dressing up Cooley stock, no vagueness about sourcing grain, and a respect for the past without exploiting it; ie, no marketing bullshit. If he follows the Bruichladdich template, this will be about terroir, experimentation and hopefully the same wild spirit of adventure. And at least the weather is better than Islay.
Here’s a short film about what he has done in the sunny south east:
That gif tells you all you need to know: Whiskey! Craft! Fire!
If, however, you need more information, there’s this:
It’s always enriching when established brands and emerging talents come together, so have the schedule for the Jameson Black Barrel Craft Market which runs from November 27th – 29th should not be missed.
The free three-day craft market which is a project between Jameson and and emerging talents of the Irish craft community will feature some amazing talent who are pushing the taste buds of craftsmanship. Inspirational makers like Hazel House, Grand Grand, Liadain Aiken, Garvan De Bruir, Hen’s Teeth Prints,, Mamukko, Bonagrew and Bryans Master Cobblers will be exhibiting their products at the fully covered market.
The venue the The Bernard Shaw backyard on Richmond Street in Dublin 2 in association with Bodytonic will be completely transformed for the event, it will feature a full schedule of barber shop services, artisan food pairings live craft demonstrations, music acts, and whiskey tastings throughout the weekend.
Years of experience and craft go into the precise selection of whiskeys used to produce Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel which was the Gold medal for best blended Irish whiskey under €60 at the recent Irish Whiskey Awards, the latest release from the Jameson Family. Made from a blend of rich pot still and a small batch grain whiskey, this special whiskey is uniquely matured in hand-crafted flamed charred black barrels for a rich smooth taste.
So if you’re interested in whiskey and want to see what the best of Irish crafts take over a superb venue for the weekend,go along and have a great time and you may even pick up the perfect gifts for Christmas.
Friday 27th November
5:00pm – Craft market opens for trade
5:00pm – DJ set by Sarah Byrne (Faune//War)
5:45pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley
6:15pm – Live music by Corner Boy
7:15pm – DJ Sarah Byrne (Faune//War)
7:30pm – ‘Meet the Masters’ hosted by Jameson’s Master of Maturation, Kevin O’Gorman
10:00pm – Craft market wraps for the night but its business as usual for The Bernard Shaw.
Saturday 28th November
2:00pm – Craft Market opens for trade
2:00pm – This Greedy Pig DJs
3:45pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley
4:30pm – Live music by The Young Folk
5:30pm – This Greedy Pig DJs
5:45pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley
8:00pm – Craft market wraps for the night but its business as usual for The Bernard Shaw.
Sunday 29th November
2:00pm – Craft Market opens for trade
2:00pm – DJ Handsome Paddy
3:00pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley
3:30pm – Live music by Cry Monster Cry
4:15pm – DJ Handsome Paddy
4:45pm – ‘Meet the Masters’ hosted by Jameson’s Global Ambassador Dave McCabe”
5:15pm – Live music by Cry Monster Cry
6:00pm – DJ set by Handsome Paddy
8:00pm – Craft Market wraps for the night but its business as usual for the Bernard Shaw.
No tickets necessary – over 18s only
And the video, if you need visuals on all that:
Still not convinced? Did I mention the free whiskey?
I was meant to have a vasectomy two kids ago. My wife and I had what is known as ‘the gentleman’s family’ – a boy and a girl – and we were officially done. She went back to work, and while her wage, combined with my salary, wasn’t a king’s ransom, things were going to be ok. We talked about our sadness that we weren’t going to have any pitter patter of tiny feet in the house, but we knew it was the best to keep it to two. I made vague plans to get meself fixed, and we continued with life, and life continued with us.
One month into her new job, she felt a bit odd. Odd in a familiar way. Another little person came along nine months later. Which was fine, it was going to be grand and I’d get that vasectomy someday soon now. A few months later, she started to get that familiar odd feeling and hey presto, welcome to People Carrier Town, population me and my four kids. I am now at the stage where when I tell people how many children I have I sometimes add ‘with the same person’ at the end, as it sounds like I might be a feckless Jeremy Kyle-style Johnny Appleseed, roaming east Cork knocking people up. Four is a crazy number of humans to create – when I told a friend of mine that my wife and I were expecting again his response was ‘dear god man, she isn’t a clown car you know’.
So this was the point where I actually picked up the phone and booked a vasectomy. The Catholic in me would say the procedure was atonement for forcing my poor wife into four pregnancies, but really it was more like the moment in Se7en when Kevin Spacey’s serial killer character walks into the cop station and asks to be arrested. So to help me go through with it – and to help pay for it, as the procedure is 450 – I wrote about the whole experience. You can read the entire lot here, it is quite hand-wringy and po-faced, but it generally covers all of it – including some basic guidelines for shaving your genitals. See kids, newspapers still got it.
The features editor liked the article and sent it off to media outlets ahead of publication. I’m not sure why it took off the way it did – it was possibly that this is an issue that most men don’t talk about, despite it being incredibly common. For whatever reason, this was the point where my 15 minutes of shame began.
First was the Ray D’Arcy show on Today FM. Ray was on holidays, so it was Paddy from the Undertones instead. Teenage kicks indeed. It went fine, I even got to reference The Simpsons when talking about the squirm factor of talking about the procedure – ‘it’s like when you see someone getting hit by a football in the groin, even if you’ve never been hit by a football in the groin’. Well, the sound engineer got the reference anyway.
Then it was on to Red FM, where I was interviewed by Neil Prendeville, because if you’re going to openly discuss your genitals with someone in the media, he really is the ideal person. Neil was great, we laughed about the whole thing, which is the sometimes best way to approach sensitive topics like this. I assumed at this point that this would be it – one national and one local radio station had covered it, so the others wouldn’t be interested anymore, right? Wrong. Later in the week I had the sublime pleasure of going on one of the most listened-to shows in the country, Today With Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1. On I went, along with a relationship expert and Dr Andrew Rynne, who is a bit of a pioneering legend when it comes to vasectomies, having once been shot by a former patient.
At this stage I was an old hand at being on radio, and afterwards I trundled back to the office to enjoy the hate hoots of co-workers and slump back into total obscurity. Not quite. I was asked to go on Ireland AM on TV3, because nothing says ‘breakfast TV’ like an old guy talking about his sausage and eggs. We agreed a date – November 7th, which as I’m sure you know is World Vasectomy Day.
The researcher told me they were trying to get an expert or two on with me as Mark Cagney was away on holidays, meaning it’d just be me and the lovely Sinead Desmond talking about my junk. The seventh arrived, and as my dawn taxi slid through the grim industrial estates of Dublin’s hinterlands, I thought ‘this must be what it’s like to get trafficked to a snuff movie’ – and, much like a snuff movie, TV3 only paid my taxi fare one way. We eventually got to TV3’s studios, which is basically a big industrial unit in the middle of several other industrial units. I was greeted by an intern who was running up and down corridors trying to do seventy million jobs at once; she told me she was also interning at a radio station in the evenings. Life in the media: Non-stop glamour.
After some awkward loitering near the complimentary muffins, and even more awkward loitering near Lovely Girl Emeritus Sinead Noonan, I was ushered down to make-up to be beautified. Having a face that is already a full-scale Dale Winton shade of tangerine, I didn’t need much pan stick, just a ton of powder to try and tone down the mirrorball effect of my skin. Then it was off to backstage to lurk behind the set and let the fear take over. Rugby legend Shane Byrne was on before me, then they cut to break and it was hammer time. I was ushered over to the couch. Shane shook my hand and said ‘fair play’ while wincing. Not sure if that was about getting the snip or just being stupid enough to go on TV and talk about it. So down I sat with the lovely Sinéad. They had failed to get anyone else on, so it was just the two of us, talking about my frank and beans, as you do. I don’t remember much from the interview, I talked about family, getting the snip, public reaction to the article, and how online comments sections are just a Fight Club for the terminally deranged. And then that was it. Somebody shouted ‘cut’, possibly ironically, and it was over. I got my pan stick and powder removed, and went off to visit a relative who was being treated in the Blackrock Clinic. I got there, and having been too nervous to eat brekkie, decided to get a coffee and non-complimentary muffin. While sitting there I felt a tap on my shoulder, and looked up to see a woman looking at me with a somewhat furrowed brow. I assumed she was about to ask me if I was wearing make-up (I was), but no, it was much better than that.
‘Sorry, but were you just on TV? On Ireland AM?’
Oh my god yes I was. Yes I was and now I was being recognized in public, like Kim Kardashian or Larry Murphy!
‘Well you were very, very good. Well done’.
I said thanks a million, that I hoped I didn’t look thick (I am), and we went our separate ways, me to bury my face in a muffin, her to whatever, I don’t care as I’m the famous one in this story. It was only afterwards I realized that I should have pointed out to her that I was in the Blackrock Clinic to visit a relative, and not to have my genitals reattached, or to transition to another gender, or anything bollock-related. Oops.
My pubic publicity tour was made all the more surreal by the fact that I got my redundancy notice midway through it all. So it wasn’t just my Johnson that was totally without purpose – soon the rest of me would be too. But it was fine – one of the reasons I wrote about getting the snip was how I feel about journalism: I feel that anyone who works in a newspaper needs to be have that bright light shone upon them from time to time, to be able to hold themselves up to public scrutiny, just as their industry does to others.
Apart from that, I felt that this was something worth talking about. A vast portion of the media obsessively talks about women’s health issues – look at almost any magazine rack and all you will see is women’s bodies being dissected, discussed, probed, analyzed – and when I was going about getting the procedure, I found very little written from the point of view of an Irish male. Maybe I blew it all out of proportion – and I’ve been told I did – but it is a big deal for men, and one that needs to be talked about openly, even if it’s in the form of juvenile banter – as long as we’re talking about men’s physical and emotional health, things can only improve, and god knows we need to do a bit of evolving in that department.
Anyway, after it all I found I was being asked crazy questions, which just show how little people know about vasectomies – so I’ve compiled some of the best FAQs – or ‘fairly awkward questions’ – here for anyone looking for a short checklist ahead of getting it done.
Great question, your junk goes home with you where it always was, only more shriveled than usual. Go home and spend two days in bed. Fun fact – this will be the very first time you have ever spent two days in bed without having a single erotic thought. The time will drag. Get Netflix.
I was asked this by the education correspondent of a newspaper. People I had previously believed to be intelligent beings asked me the most idiotic things. A vasectomy is simply the cutting of the conduits for your sperm – basically your little soldiers now end up swimming around in you, rather than in someone else. Your body then reabsorbs them; think of yourself as a recycling centre, albeit one with fewer depressed eastern Europeans working in it.
There is absolutely no effect on your desire. It’d be great to find a way to stop the endless whispering of the id in the back of your head – ‘What about her? What about her? What about him? What about all of them together like an Irish stew with extra sausage?’. Sadly, it seems that only the blessed black wings of death can silence the endless hunger and thirst of human sexuality. That or watching Oireachtas Report.
Seriously? Yes. Obviously. This is a question I was asked by a female co-worker, and once again goes to show there is very little knowledge around the issue, or men’s health in general. As I said already, nothing changes – you are just sterile. So zero savings on tissues, if that was your prime reason for getting it done.
Yes – think long and hard about having four kids. Obviously I love all my children and can’t imagine my life without them, but there is a knock-on for all of them with each new life. As I pompously pointed out during one of the interviews I gave, parenting isn’t always about the money in your pocket, but about the hours in the day and the love in your heart. With each child, your time to spend with them individually is decreased, and while a house full of life is fantastic, childhood is a brief moment – they are only with you for a short while, and it’d be nice to cherish them as individuals as well as a family unit.
As far as I’m concerned, if even one man reads the article I wrote and feels less worried about getting a vasectomy, then I will consider my 11 years working in the media to have been a success. It is simply a bonus that I also managed to piss off someone who reads the Daily Mail.
All that said, I still think the best part of the whole experience was how TV3 captioned me – not as a journalist, a writer, a father, a shameless self-promoter or anything else – they distilled it all down to this:
Dublin isn’t Ireland. Obviously, it is part of the Republic and we all love it very much, but as a representation of what Ireland is, it is far from the definitive article. When you meet people abroad who tell you they’ve been to Ireland because they spent a weekend in Dublin, there is always the urge to point out that far from the urban sprawls of our dirty-beautiful capital, there are huge expanses of open country, peppered with the odd house, terrible WiFi and breathtaking scenery.
In terms of ‘places that are not Dublin’, Dingle in West Kerry is as good an example as any: Remote, stunning, and devoid of the brash cacophony of The Pale. My love affair with Dingle started after I finished my Leaving Cert. A group of us drove to Schull, spent two days on the lash, then I hitched down to Dingle (this was back in the days when you were able to hitch without ending up in The Hills Have Eyes). In Dingle I met up with my girlfriend and in an abandoned house not far from the village, I lost my virginity to her. It might not seem like the most romantic of spots, surrounded by the ghosts of the faithful departed, but it was, as it always is, a turning point.
Years later I went back to Dingle, this time with another girl, a Scot who was obsessed with Fungi, the harbour’s resident dolphin for the past three decades. On my 23rd birthday, we went out into the harbor and she swam with Fungi in the middle of a solar eclipse. Bizarre. We later went our separate ways, I married and settled down, but this year I went back to Dingle consumed with another great love affair – whiskey. I spent four days in Dingle Distillery – a stone’s throw from the abandoned house I stayed in all those years before. The distillery is compact and bijou, staffed by a group of young lads with enthusiasm and passion to burn.
I got to meet Oliver Hughes, the visionary behind The Porterhouse and the distillery. Oliver is an interesting guy, constantly moving, bristling with energy and ideas. A former criminal barrister, I’d imagine he was a formidable opponent to face across the courts. He was a great host, generous with his time and his passion for the area, where he too had found love, having brought his girlfriend-now-wife there many years before.
While we were there the distillery was visited by one of the Founding Fathers, the title for investors and supporters who bought a cask to help fund the distillery. Bob Dunfey’s name may not mean much to you, but he holds a very important role in Irish politics. Bob and his brother attended a meal during the very early stages of the Peace Process, and shocked the world by inviting Gerry Adams despite the fact that Martin Trimble would be attending. It may not seem like a big deal now, but back then it caused consternation, with many invited guests threatening to pull out. But they didn’t, and it was the start of an incredibly important period of our history.
Bob, who had a background in hospitality, cracked open his cask in the distillery, and shared it with us. It was just another special moment from a very special place.
On one of the evenings Oliver drove us out around Slea Head. We stopped off to admire Inishtooskert, the island better known as The Sleeping Giant. The spot popped into my mind as I read an email informing me that Dingle’s other giant is about to awaken from its three-year sleep:
After three years of careful maturation on the Corca Dhuibhne coast, the first public samples of Dingle Whiskey are just about ready to be pulled from cask! Specifically, we’ll be dipping our glasses into Cask #2 – a first-fill American white oak barrel seasoned with bourbon, filled to the brim with our own triple distilled single malt, left to sit until December 20th and, on that auspicious upcoming occasion, bottled at cask strength for your own full enjoyment! The day that it’s bottled, our little distillate ceases to be spirit and finally takes its place among the whiskeys of the world.
And we’ve been at it a while now. The first-to-start in what has recently grown into an erupting craft distilling movement, the Dingle Distillery’s first three-year-old will also offer tipplers their first taste of Irish craythur crafted outside the ‘big three’ producers in over thirty-five years. Using Irish barley, Irish mash bills, and three small pot stills hand designed by legendary distiller John McDougall, the Dingle distillery aims to make both artisan single malt and single pot still expressions – the first of which is finally ready to call itself whiskey.
We may have started doing this back in 2012, but Irish whiskey takes a while. As the barrels bask in the warm gulf-stream summers and cool winters of the Irish southwest, the oak staves expand and contract, allowing the spirit to breathe and injecting it in return with oaky tannins, sweet vanillins, honeyed bourbon residues and in the case of our own seaside warehouse, a brine-stung breeze that leaves one last signature of place on this famous old process. Whatever it tastes like, this first small batch sample will be unmistakably a spirit of Dingle…
The price for this limited edition whiskey is €350. To order your bottle, contact The Dingle Distillery.
If you’re thinking ‘but didn’t they already release a whiskey?’ then you are sort-of right – they released a Cooley blend as a revenue generator.
I bought one of the last bottles of it when I was down there and even had the cheek to get Oliver Hughes to autograph it. I asked him to sign it ‘to eBay, love Oliver’ – sadly he didn’t, but he did sign it with a wry smile.
As for the blend – I think they regretted releasing it, as they felt it devalued the brand and confused the consumer – but hopefully any confusion will be cleared up on December 20 when the world will finally get a taste of what the land, sea and sky of West Kerry can produce.
Last year was my first time at Whiskey Live Dublin. I got in via a press pass, only to discover that a large part of the ticket price goes to Down Syndrome Ireland, thus prompting me to shamefacedly spend about 30 euro on raffle tickets for the charity. I didn’t win anything, but I had an amazing day. I wasn’t sure what the event was going to be like – I was going on my own, thought I might end up bored, and just felt the whole exercise might be an in-and-out-in-30-mins situation. But while I was one of the first in the door of the venue – then the round room in the Mansion House – I was also one of the last out, some four hours and 30 minutes later. I hadn’t even managed to make all of the stands, as I was having too much fun chatting to just about anyone who came into my line of vision.
The whiskey scene is quite small – domestically and globally – so when you are surrounded by like-minded souls it’s hard not to feel an instant sense of kinship. These are fellow geeks, facedown in a Glencairn, talking about phenolic content, grain vs malt, pot still vs everything else, and us vs the rest of the drinks world. How could I not go back? This year I dragged along my brother in law, and after a giant feed of buttermilk chicken in Crackbird, we sauntered into this year’s venue, the Printworks in Dublin Castle. The place was filling up already, so we got our glasses and hit the floor.
First up was Kilbeggan, where we had the eight year old single grain formerly known as Greenore – light, interesting, mellow – followed by the soon to be extinct 22 year old Connemara peated malt – rich, nutty, and an undervalued whiskey. We were talked through them by a man who knows them best – Master Distiller Noel Sweeney. We sipped our drinks, lamented the passing of Slieve Foy, and that was it – faces flushed, we were in the flow, moving from table to table, having the bants with the reps and sipping some pretty exceptional whiskeys. We also tried the wonderful Longueville House apple brandy, a first for me which is fairly shameful since they are only up the road from me (near Mallow, to be precise). According to the rep, they have been making it for 25 years now, and the original idea came from the fact they had acres of orchards, thus posing the problem of what to do with the apples. Like all inventive Irish people, they decided to make booze – very, very nice booze.
Right opposite their stand was another novel sensory experience – one from the island of Islay, where Irish monks first showed the Scots how to make whisky. Ardbeg is one of those classic Islay malts, heavy in peat smoke and a drink that I refused to believe was whisky when I first tasted it. I hated it then, I love it now: Briny, tarry, sweet, biscuity, spicy, utterly fucking crazy – Ardbeg is an otherworldly drink from an otherworldly land. To celebrate this, they had what looked like a device from Frankenstein’s lab – a contraption belching out plumes of eldritch fog, which was actually vaporized Ardbeg. It’s called the Haar after the soupy sea fog that occasionally envelopes the island.
So we took a drop of Ardbeg, filled the glass with fog, and then made up our own minds what to do next. I, unlike Bill Clinton, inhaled deeply, then took a sip. I can’t say it instantly changed the profile of the whisky, but it really made for an interesting experience – lungs full of gaseous booze, mouth sizzling with phenols, blood rushing to my face as the liquor hit. It was mental. And slightly menthol.
We also visited The Glenlivet stand, conveniently placed next to Pernod Ricard stablemates Irish Distillers. The Glenlivet is currently the number one Scotch in the world, which means they are under severe pressure to fulfill demand. Thus, like many of their counterparts, they are replacing their entry level 12-year-old single malt with a non-age statement (NAS) Founder’s Reserve. The NAS debate reared its head many times during the day. Is it a necessary move – or are drinks firms just diluting their classics and charging the same price? Is age just a number – or is it reflected in the quality of the whiskey? If stocks are under pressure, surely they should just up the price as supply diminishes, and let the consumer make the call on how much they love the product? Or just lower the price on the Founder’s Reserve. It is a polarizing issue in the whiskey scene – the age statement is an important signifier for the consumer, and to lose that is like having half the ingredients of your favorite dish suddenly obscured. My own feelings are this: As an ordinary Joe, I like the reassuring presence of an age statement, but it can also be misleading.
This was brought home to me at the Glendalough stand, where we sampled the seven year old and the 13 year old single malts. I found the seven to be extraordinary – citrus notes and sugar, astringent and smooth, it was a real eye opener to just how different Cooley stock can be. So older does not mean better. At the Spirit of Speyside I took part in the Whisky Shop Dufftown blind tasting, where I sampled seven whiskies from independent bottlers. The last one I tried was incredible – a molasses-coloured malt that had a depth and complexity I have almost never encountered. I found out after that it was a 2007 Adelphi bottling of a Glen Rothes – a seven year old malt from a remarkable cask. Youth does not equate to immaturity, and the reverse is also true – I’m forty and I still wear skinny jeans and listen to heavy metal.
When I was in Speyside I also met this chap, who works with bottlers and single malt legends Gordon And McPhail, who own the beautiful Benromach distillery. He gave us a taste of the organic offering from the distillery; the lengths they have to go to to get the organic certification are incredible, it’s not just a case of using organic barley and leaving it at that. The whole process has to be organic, which means nothing can be burnt, so the malt is steam dried, leaving the drink phenol free. Remarkable stuff – but I still prefer the standard 10.
Then we idled over to my east Cork neighbors, Irish Distillers, where Cork’s Irish Whiskey Society stalwart – and Midleton distillery worker – Eric Ryan was representing, along with Fox And Geese employee Dánú MacMahon, who guided us through a flock of Redbreasts – the cask-strength 12, the 15, and whiskey of the year, the 21. I love the cask-strength – it just takes you right back to that first time drinking whiskey, the fire and heat, gasping for air, eye-watering ‘oh Jesus’ effect, then giving way to that big mouthful of flavor that just rolls and rolls. I offered my condolences to Dánú – her fellow Jameson Graduate Programme participant Karen Cotter got to go to Cannes for a few days, whilst Dánú got to go to Whiskey Live and be bored to tears by me. Mind you, Karen also got to be bored to tears by me already, so maybe they should just make this part of the graduate programme – Module 1: Get Talked At By Boring Old Man In Skinny Jeans.
After that we sauntered over to Teeling, one of the buzz firms of the last few years. They come weighted with great expectations – their dad changed distilling in Ireland, and they are bringing an awareness of branding and marketing to an industry that has sometimes let those aspects slide. They also entered the market with what, to my mind, is one of the best blends in the world. We tried the single grain and the malt, both great but with the malt the definite winner. The Teeling rep was also one of the best we encountered – despite being with the firm only a short while, she was overflowing with enthusiasm and energy, something that can be hard to sustain over the long hours of a whiskey expo.
Another standout were the guys from Tamdhu – they were a joy, despite the fact that I opened by telling them they were representing the ugliest distillery in Scotland. Although I did qualify this by pointing out that it makes one of my favorite single malts. The reps rocketed us through three Tamdhus, four Glengoynes (the 15 is an absolute cracker) and refused to take no for an answer when I tried to decline an Edinburgh Gin. I’m happy they did – it was what I would call a great breakfast drink, infused with pink grapefruit, giving it a tart sweetness that served as a welcome palate cleanser after so many great whiskeys.
The whole event is organized by Ally Alpine of the Celtic Whiskey Shop, who has been celebrating all whiskeys of the world for more than a decade. The shop itself had a big presence on the day, with Mark McLoughlin being the one to talk us through the legendary Taiwanese whisky, Kavalan. Mark informed us that in Taiwan whisky only has to age for two years to earn the classification – but that two years in Taiwan is akin to many more in Ireland. The wet heat in Taiwan means the spirit ages at incredible speed without compromising on flavour. We tried the multi-award-winning Soloist – a super premium malt with a treacle-black color and supernova of flavours. Kavalan has been growing in stature for some years now, so hopefully the often conservative whiskey scene will embrace it as they should. Fun fact: It used to be stocked in Tesco in the UK, but has since almost completely disappeared from everywhere except specialist spirits shops like the Celtic Whiskey Shop.
Round the other side of the stand we tried whisky from Scotland’s ‘land of the lost’ – the region known as Campbeltown. Once the heart of whisky in Scotland, almost nothing remains except Springbank, the newish Glengyle and Glen Scotia. We tried the illusive Springbank and Hazelburn, both smoky and sweet, fruity and dry – a solid bridge between the medicinal malts of Islay and the sweet sherry influences of Speyside.
After those obscure drams, we decided to opt for one of the global stars – Jack Daniels. Remarkably, this was my first time drinking it. Like Kavalan, the heat in Kentucky contributes much to the flavor, but after all the big flavors, I found Gentleman Jack to be a little flat. Perhaps a rematch can be arranged on a date when I haven’t been pounding my tastebuds into dust.
We also managed to stop off at the Arran table. Arran were one of my big finds last year, and they were ably represented by the be-kilted Campbell, the man who showed Roman Abramovich around the distillery earlier this year. Campbell wasn’t there this year, but we still got to have a few drams and some chat about whether or not Roman was going to buy the distillery, as he is obviously quite the fan. We sampled their new release, The Bothy, and then as the clock was ticking, hit the BenRiach and GlenDronach table.
GlenDronach is one of my favorite whiskies – a real sherry bomb. It also comes with a great back story. Allardice, the man behind it, brought some of his whisky into Edinburgh to sell it, and failing to shift a single drop, drowned his sorrows with some ladies he met. The next day, said ladies and more of their acquaintances showed up at his lodgings, demanding to get more of his great whisky, and so a legend was born. After a sip of the Allardice release, honoring its founder, we doubled back to the Muldoon stand for a nip of their award winning Thin Gin and then finished up with their honeyed whiskey liqueur – the perfect dessert dram. And with that, we were gone – but not before I managed to get an autograph.
John Teeling just happened to be passing me, and I just happened to have a copy of Ivor Kenny’s book which he contributed to. In the book John reveals that he was approached to buy Irish Distillers in what was then known as a leveraged buy-out (LBO), and is now known as private equity. There is an excellent book called Barbarians At The Gate about the birth of the LBO which details the takeover of Nabisco – and the beginning of the obscene fees that have since consumed Wall Street and much of the financial world.
But John Teeling didn’t go for the IDL LBO – as he points out in the book (and as he pointed out to me again yesterday), the debt would have been massive, and he also feared the government of the day would come after him, as with any LBO there is massive job cuts. Effectively, borrowed money is used to buy a firm, chop it up, sell it off and repay the debt – with plenty left over for the organisers of the deal. Fun fact: Private equity was actually what Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman was engaged in. So not the most moral end of the takeover business. IDL would have lost up to 300 jobs in the LBO. But John Teeling didn’t go down that road – he left IDL alone, and they have gone on to become a world leader. So Irish whiskey owes him a lot, and not just for Cooley. Meeting him and shaking his hand was a pretty great end to a great day.
Apart from all the great whiskey, there were food pairings, masterclasses, the rugby on massive screens, and loads of free goodies from the various brands. The event is incredibly good value, and a great day out for both the hardcore enthusiast or the casual lush like me. There was plenty I didn’t include above, meeting Finn from Dick Mack’s – the Whiskey Pub Of The Year for the past two years – as well as being told that Jameson are definitely releasing the Whiskey Makers trilogy (something I have since heard is definitely not the case), insider gossip, details of sort-of friendly rivalries, new releases and all the other industry stuff that other writers (ie, Dave Havelin of the fantastic LiquidIrish.com) cover much better than I. My only regret is that I didn’t make half the stands – but sher there’s always next year.
Midleton Master Distiller Brian Nation and Midleton Micro Distiller (please note: still not an actual term) Karen Cotter at the launch of the new Jameson Deconstructed Series, a travel retail exclusive which celebrates the three elements of Jameson – pot still spirit, grain spirit, and wood.
Jameson, the world’s favourite Irish whiskey, has unveiled plans for its first ever Global Travel Retail exclusive range of super-premium whiskeys. The series was previewed this week at TFWE Cannes, the duty-free industry annual showcase event. The whiskeys will launch in 2016.
In the Deconstructed Series, the Jameson Original components have been deconstructed and reconstructed, allowing individual taste characteristics to be amplified in their own distinctive blend. The series includes three brand new unique whiskey styles:
Bold, influenced by pot still whiskey, is an intense and robust whiskey, with a strong hit of spices. Initially sweet and creamy, with an abundance of soft fruits, the Pot Still Spices develop to bring a perfect balance of rich barley notes and mellow baked apple.
Lively, influenced by grain whiskey, offers an elegant and floral taste combined with a citrus lightness. Its soft and sweet taste, drawn from perfume bon bons alongside turkish delight, combines with drying hints of citrus to balance the sweetness. A little chilli oil brings a prickle of spices to the mouth.
Round, influenced by the wood contribution, is a balance of rich and plump charred tones. A perfect harmony of diverse flavours, sweet vanilla fuses with soft ripe fruit and, together, combines with the rich Pot Still Spices on a firm foundation of toasted oak.
Which all sounds somewhat reminiscent of the Masters’ Series trilogy, which went on show at the event last month to mark five million cases sold:
Either way, these releases are obviously meant to act as a gateway dram between standard blends and premium whiskey, designed to lure the casual whiskey drinker into the murky world of whiskey geekdom – a secretive underground scene filled with tweet tastings, personalised Glencairns, club memberships and a stack of books on booze next to the bed. Just say no guys, you don’t want to end up like me:
You just can’t go wrong with Powers. It is my drink of choice on the rare occasion that I actually get out for the night. It’s easily found in most pubs, is reasonably priced, and – to my palate – packs a bigger punch than it’s more popular sibling, Jameson. I always think of Indian food when I see how the average consumer views whiskey – most people think Indian food is basically varying degrees of ‘curry’. Similarly, many people think all whiskey is basically just Jameson, with minor variations. It’s only once you start to explore either that you realise a whole world, previously hidden to you, was there all along.
Jameson, like many blends, is the tikka masala or korma of the whiskey world – the most common introduction to the field, by virtue of its mellow smoothness and accessibility. Powers is probably the dopiaza of the field – with more pot still whiskey, it carries a little more spice and an extra dimension than the world’s most popular Irish whiskey. Powers is a great next step into the whiskey world, but while I love it’s oldschool styling, the younglings might be put off by something that exhibits some of the visual keys of a tube of Euthymol. So pappa’s got a brand new bag:
Not just a slick new label, but some lovely glasswork, as befitting the elder statesperson of Irish distilling.
Here are the official details:
An Irish Icon Awakes
Introducing the new look Powers Gold Label and Powers Three Swallow Release
With over 200 years of heritage distilled into each bottle, the new look Powers Gold Label is as definitive now as it always was – a pot still style whiskey of superior quality and undisputed heritage since 1791.
While the aesthetic has changed, everything that makes Powers Gold Label the quintessential Irish whiskey has stayed exactly the same. True to the Pot Still style of the original distillery at John’s Lane in Dublin, Powers Gold Label is still triple distilled and matured in specially selected oak casks bursting with the same wonderfully complex and spicy flavor.
Powers reputation for excellence and innovation placed them at the forefront of Irish whiskey. In 1866, John Power and Son began bottling their own whiskey, which was unheard of before in Ireland, as it was usually sold by the cask. A gold label was entrusted on the bottle to signify premium quality and guarantee it had come directly from the John’s Lane Distillery, earning its name Powers Gold Label by loyal customers
The new look Powers Gold Label bottle will be officially unveiled at an exclusive event in Dublin in a specially created pop-up bar on Mercer Street, Dublin 2 on October 6th. The event will also give guests an exclusive preview and tasting of a brand new Powers Single Pot Still Whiskey expression, Powers Three Swallow Release ahead of its official launch later in the year.
As it enters the next phase in its iconic 224 year history, Powers Three Swallow Release, distilled and aged to perfection, is the 21st century embodiment of the traditional pure pot still whiskey style that has made Powers famous the world over.
Powers Gold Label is available in all leading on and off trade outlets, RRP €29.49
They have also brought on board this chap:
The new look carries a lot of the feel of the (incredible) John’s Lane Release:
It’s interesting to see Irish Distillers doing things like this – there are going to be a lot of competitors in the market over the next decade, so they are really donning the warpaint. Modernising a classic is a brave move, but shows they are confident that they will reach new consumers rather than alienating an older generation who may not initially recognise their beloved brand of yore. It also builds a strong visual link between the various members of the Powers family – be it entry-point blend, or luxuriant single pot still.
Speaking of old people: I recently got some wonderful agitprop in the post:
Yes, I should have dusted the bottle before I took the photos, but you get the idea – a rock-solid Irish classic has got a well-deserved makeover. Also, this confirms that I am officially in the pocket of Big Whiskey and cannot be trusted. Vote IDL! Impeach Cooley! Etc!
There are things that I miss about being in a newsroom. The flow of insider information, the unprintable story behind the story, the kernels of truth you occasionally stumble across. It is like an addiction – once gone from it, you feel the withdrawal, you realise that you are now on the outside. But that isn’t necessarily the worst place to be, and definitely not in today’s media, where low sales are driving a race to the bottom, with everyone now chasing MailOnline and Buzzfeed’s business models of listicles, flesh, rage-bait and endless repetition.
However, one of the best aspects of journalism is the access it gives you; it places you in a position of extreme privilege – you get into places you shouldn’t, get offered things you don’t need, and generally can live a larger life than your wages would suggest. And this brings me, as almost everything does, to whiskey. Two years ago I was sent to an event in my hometown distillery called The Housewarming. It was being held to celebrate the massive expansion of the local distillery, but beyond that I didn’t know much else. I’m not sure what I expected, but nothing could have prepared me for the scale of it. Walking through the arch into the main courtyard behind the old distillery was like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything suddenly blooms into Technicolor, or the first time Aldous Huxley dropped acid; I was, like Adam, seeing all of creation for the first time. After The Housewarming, I was hooked, and have been writing about – and loving – whiskey ever since. And so it was that I was one of only a few journalists to be invited to both the launch of the new micro distillery and celebration of Jameson’s rocketing sales – five million cases plus in 12 months.
The events in the distillery are pretty special – almost everything they do is delivered in epic widescreen, and this was no different. The first part of the evening was the launch of the microdsitillery, which has seen distilling return to the old distillery site for the first time in 40 years. In fact, this year marked a triple celebration for IDL – parent firm Pernod Ricard turned 40, the new Midleton distillery turned 40, and Master Distiller Brian Nation also hit the big four-O (I also turned 40 in August, but since I was on the dole, celebrations were muted).
Over the past couple of years, an old storehouse was renovated and turned into a small scale distillery – but one which was still larger than many of the new independent distilleries being set up around the country in the past 24 months.
After a drinks reception in the courtyard, we were ushered in to hear IDL CEO Anna Malmhake, Tánaiste Joan Burton and ‘micro-distiller’ (note: not an actual term) Karen Cotter speak about the new venture. Anna acted as MC, and Karen spoke first, giving a speech about her path to this point, about the distillery, her mentors and what the future holds. Given her young age – just 24 – it was remarkable to hear her speak with such clarity and self-confidence. It reinforced my view that she will be a very bright star in Irish whiskey.
Then it was the Tánaiste’s turn. Deputy Burton spoke about how her ancestors were coopers, having grown up near Bow Street distillery, and also about how important it is to have gender balance in the workplace – be it at the cabinet table, or in the distilling world. Then it was over to the stills to switch them on, one by one, at which point they lit up in sequence.
Here is some low-grade audio of part of Karen Cotter and Joan Burton’s speeches:
Whilst there I chatted to local politicians Deputy Sandra McLellan of SF, David Stanton of FG and fellow journalist Tomás Clancy of the SBP. It was great to finally meet Tomás, as we both used to be part of the same media group, and also because he is a great ambassador for whiskey. I had seen him speak at Ballymaloe LitFest with Dave Broom and he was great, really knowledgeable without beating you over the head with it. Top guy, and the SBP is a great paper.
I also chatted to Richard Forsyth of the legendary pot still makers Forsyths – the Rolls Royce of post still makers. I had met him at the Spirit Of Speyside gala in May so it was nice to meet him on my home turf. Speyside is incredible – if you ever get a chance to visit there during the whisky festival, do so. You won’t regret it. The festival is one of the rare occasions when you can get a tour of the massive plant in Rothes. As a Scottish engineering firm their main business is oil and gas – which occupies about 300 of their staff, while the distilling operation has 60 or so working in it. There is an impressive drone flyover of the facility to give you an idea of what they do.
During the Spirit of Speyside festival the town also hosts a tattie bogle contest – local businesses create scarecrows and hang them off buildings or in windows. It is goddam terrifying, like something from Tales Of The Unexpected or The League Of Gentlemen.
Also there was Bernard Walsh, head of the IWA and one of the ‘real deal’ distillers in Ireland at the moment. He is the man behind Writer’s Tears, to my mind one of the stand-out Irish whiskeys, not just for its fresh aesthetic and great name, but just because it is a great drink. Bernard’s new pot stills arrived from Rothes last week, so it’s an exciting time for him, the culmination of many years of hard work.
Then it was off to the buses to be ferried down to Warehouse 11, a functioning storage facility that they had transformed into an incredible venue for the evening. About 350 guests filed in, greeted with Jameson whiskey sours, and then on a massive screen we were shown DJ Kormac talking about a commission he was given to create a track from the sounds of the distillery. He talked about his methods as they cut in footage from barley fields, and then he and singer Vivienne Long took to the stage to unveil their track. No wonder he is so skinny with all the frenetic work he does behind his electronics.
Then the screen lifted and we were in the venue proper, with names and tables assigned on a screen. Somehow I managed to locate mine, right up the front near the stage, perfect if i got carried away and wanted to start a moshpit or possibly stage dive onto some marketing people. The meal itself was spectacular, these massive outside events mean you need to set up mobile kitchens in the middle of nowhere and bus in an army of wait staff and chefs. Sometimes this can result in sub standard food, but not in this case; every part of the meal was incredible, really interesting food, beautiful, inspired presentation, and wait staff who were incredibly patient with my increasingly terrible banter: ‘Still or sparkling water sir?’ ‘Sparkling – LIKE MESELF’. I wonder how many times that poor person had to hear that jape in a single night. I was sat next to a member of the Irish Whiskey Association, which much like its Scottish counterpart is mainly involved in protection of intellectual copyright and maintaining the integrity of the Irish Whiskey brand. They make sure that you don’t end up with some low grade hooch from outside the country being passed off as ‘ye olde Oirish whiskey’ as it will devalue the entire category.
Also sat next to me was the Jameson Ambassador to Tokyo, a 23 year old Arts graduate from Wicklow, who possessed the rare (Irish) skill of being able to speak fluent Japanese. He spoke about his work, his projected aims and the brand’s target demographics. It was an amazing insight into a job that seems like it might be akin to being Duffman from The Simpsons, but is actually a lot more sophisticated, nuanced and involves a lot less booze than you would think. He has his work cut out for him – in a fast-paced and somewhat alien cultural landscape (one with a fantastic indigenous whisky scene), trying to attach yourself to the zeitgeist will be akin to catching a bullet between your teeth. But it will still be some incredible adventure for a young man.
Throughout the event there was incredible live music on stage – Lisa Hannigan, an orchestra playing popular classics (and grunge), and a harpist who would give Tony Iommi a run for his money.
After dinner we were treated to three new whiskeys from the distillery, each curated by a master – Master Cooper Ger Buckley’s the Cooper’s Croze, Master Distiller Brian Nation’s Distiller’s Safe and Master Blender Billy Leighton’s Blender’s Dog, three exclusive blends named after the respective tools of the masters’ trades.
We were asked to sample them, discuss and compare, which we duly did. Then the massive screens flared into life, and a short film about the trio began, showing them getting ready in their various domains, which then cut to a live feed of them walking into through the massive doors of Warehouse 11, all conducted to the strains of Arcade Fire. We toasted them, had a dram, and Hermitage Green took the stage, playing into the night.
CEO of Pernod Ricard, Alex Ricard, also spoke at the event. Last year he talked about the definition of craft and what it means. It has become increasingly obvious that craft, artisan and small batch are products of marketing teams and have lost much of their meaning. However, the consumer is getting canny – Templeton Rye was hit with a massive class action lawsuit over claims their whiskey was small batch, when actually it was sourced from a large-scale production facility. So when Midleton created a micro-distillery, they made sure to avoid the computer terminal controls you see in larger facilities, and instead opted for manual controls. The same goes for Ballindalloch in Speyside – they deliberately went for full manual controls to keep a down-home feel to their single estate distillery.
Alex Ricard posed the question – ‘what is craft?’ Is it the centuries that Irish people have been making whiskey, is it the incredibly history of the drink on this island, and at what point does a facility stop being ‘craft’? Is it a question of size and scale, is it to do with technology? Is there less craft in a large plant than in a garage-based operation? How is that so? Can a multi-national own a craft distillery – is it a question of economics? Most modern food and drink operations operate like pharma plants – is there a chilling effect in this system? Would you enjoy your drink more if you thought some chap made it in his shed? Or is it simply a question of aura, of exclusivity, of rareness? As a species we tend to hate the modern age, and yearn for some pre-industrial idyll that never existed; a simpler time when the noble farmer toiled the land before going home to read Chaucer by candlelight and die of natural causes at 40. We are bemused by the trainspotters and their passion for engineering – but not by people who go to art galleries. Modern engineering is a beautiful thing – be it the micro distillery or the bigger sibling that produces much of the world supply of Irish whiskey.
Mr Ricard also spoke about how everyone present on the night had a personal connection to Jameson – they have their pet names for it, their favourite way to drink it, their stories about how they started getting into whiskey. The jaded cynic in me might raise my eyes, but in a way he was right. Like Jameson, I am from Dublin originally, but spent the last 40 years in east Cork. My mother was a 19 year old from Sherriff Street in the north inner city, who grew up close to the old premises of Haig And Haig, and a few doors down from St Laurence O’Toole Church, supposedly built over old whiskey stores, which has led to the crypts still carrying a lingering hint of the angel’s share. She put me up for adoption, and after six weeks I was brought home by my mum and dad. After a brief stint in Kerry, we moved to Midleton, where my dad worked in the bank that lies just downriver from the distillery.
I grew up in a house overlooking the distillery, halfway between there and the new maturation sites in Dungourney. As a kid I swam and fished in the same river that they make all those incredible whiskeys from, and later I went to school just over the wall from the distillery in Midleton College. If you ever visit the Garden Stillhouse, see if you can find the sinkhole nearby, which leads to the underground stream from which the distillery takes some of its water. The stream travels under the wall and into the school grounds, and over the years pupils used to dare each other to travel through the pitch black cave network and up into the distillery – despite the fact that for some of the 50 yards or so you would be chest-deep in ice-cold water. My parents sent me to this expensive, private school – and they worked hard to pay for it. My dad loved whiskey – the first article I wrote for the Irish Examiner was about The Housewarming, but also about my dad, and in it I told this story: When I was about 10, my mother had a massive brain haemorrhage. She was given 24 hours to live. My dad went to the hospital chapel and made a deal with God – he would give up his beloved whiskey if mum pulled through. She duly did, and he hasn’t touched a drop since. She passed away nine years ago now, but he still won’t drink it as he says ‘a deal is a deal’.
It sounds like bunkum, but I like this story because it tells you the kind of guy my dad is. Part of my love of whiskey comes from him, and from suddenly having that strange epiphany when you realise that your dad is a great guy. He grew up in an Ireland that has thankfully almost completely disappeared – his dad used to come home, eat dinner, then go to the pub. His father once told him about the hilarity among his friends when they saw a friend of their’s pushing a buggy. Fathers back then earned the money and that was about it. The kids were women’s work. But my dad was always there for me, as I crashed headlong through life. Despite the fact that I often made terrible choices, he supported me no matter what. Whiskey to me is a symbol of all that is great about him – of being a good father, a good husband, a good human being. It represents the slow joy of growing old, of maturity. It’s about the simple pleasure of a mind-unclenching, blood-warming drink whilst surrounded by your family as they bicker about X Factor or try to figure out what the hell was going on in Age Of Ultron. It’s a celebration of making peace with this world. I have enjoyed constant privilege – from the luck of being a journalist to the childhood I had. I went down Sherriff Street for the first time this summer to see the old family home, to see where at least part of me is from. The area is a ghetto, fenced in by the ugly opulence of the IFSC on one side and, on the other, a canal, which once brought so much wealth and industry to the area, now filled with rubbish. While we were down there a child shot at the car with a BB gun. We didn’t stick around for long. It was a sobering reminder of how lucky I am, in all aspects of my life. I have tasted amazing whiskeys, seen amazing things and met amazing people over the last few years, and the event in Midleton last month was a reminder of all my good fortune – of growing up in the home of Irish whiskey, in a house filled with love and unopened bottles of Jameson, because, as my dad says, a deal is a deal.
Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman’s chief brands officer, told DI the company’s family structure enabled it to “think long term” in the Irish whiskey category and with sustained investment over “20, 30, or 40 years” build Slane Whiskey in to a “global brand”.
Brown-Forman has experience distributing Irish whiskey in the US, as the former distributor of Bushmills in the market.
Whiting said Brown-Forman had “looked at mothballed distilleries” in Ireland before announcing in June to create its own distillery in the grounds of Slane Castle.
Brown-Forman’s first release will be from bought-in Irish whisky stocks, with Whiting arguing that consumers would not be confused by a change in taste profile when the Slane-produced whiskey is released in a few years. “We will be making lots of different styles of whiskey; consumers love to try other things,” he said.
Hell yeah. Provided ‘other things’ isn’t code for ‘shitty RTDs’. In which case, no. Also, bleurgh.
A nice PR shot of me mincing across the floor at last year’s Irish Whiskey Live with some sheets of paper and zero mates. This year I am going to be there again, but this time I am dragging my brother in law along so I don’t look like a total sad case. That said, I had a ball last year, having the bants with stallholders from far and wide and chatting to other geeks about whisk(e)y. Anyway, this year sounds rocking: Here’s the deets –
The best of Irish and International whiskey will be celebrated as Whiskey Live returns to Dublin for the fifth time on Saturday 24th October in its new city centre location of The Printworks at Dublin Castle, Dublin 2. The move to this new location has allowed the event to grow to accommodate up to 1200 visitors over two sessions 1.30-5.00pm and 6.00-9.30pm. Tickets are limited and available from www.whiskeylivedublin.com.
Whiskey Live Dublin showcases an eclectic collection of whiskeys from around the world, along with great food pairings, cocktails and a range of entertaining master classes to learn more about whiskey. This year also sees the introduction of craft gins and vodkas, reflecting the continuing growth of distilleries and the whiskey industry in Ireland.
Visitors will have the unique opportunity to sample whiskeys, whiskey cask-matured craft beers, whiskey cocktails and other Irish spirits and liqueurs whilst mingling with their producers and distillers. Among the large variety of exhibitors are Nikka Japanese, Wild Beech Leaf Liqueur, Kilbeggan Distillery, Teeling Distillery, Dingle Gin & Vodka, Glendalough, Longueville House Apple Brandy, Single Pot Still Whiskeys of Ireland (Midleton, Redbreast, Powers), Isle of Arran, Saint Patricks Distillery, Walsh Whiskey and Bulleit Bourbon.
Mixologists from Koh Bar, Bull & Castle and Native Blenders will be at hand serving up samples of delicious Irish whiskey cocktails. A selection of Dublin’s best restaurants, including Koh Bar, L Mulligan Grocer and FXBs will present a menu of delicious food pairings to match the excellent whiskeys. Whether you are a whiskey enthusiast, an uninitiated newcomer or just looking for a day out that offers you something different, Whiskey Live is an inspiring experience.
Organiser Ally Alpine of The Celtic Whiskey Shop commenting on the event says; “This year’s line up of exhibitors is the strongest Dublin has ever seen and it really reflects the new investment and energy in the Irish whiskey category. Over recent years there has been significant interest in Irish whiskey globally and this is evident in how this indigenous industry has grown and will flourish over the next decade.”
Tickets for Whiskey Live Dublin are priced at €39.50 plus booking fee with The Celtic Whiskey Shop donating €10 per ticket to Down Syndrome Dublin. Tickets are available via www.whiskeylivedublin.com or from the Celtic Whiskey Shop, 27-28 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, or by phone at 01-675 9744. Visit www.whiskeylivedublin.com for more details
Confirmed exhibitors to date include:
- Adam Elmegirab Bitters
- Boann Distillery
- Bulleit Bourbon
- Celtic Cask
- Celtic Whiskey Club
- Celtic Whiskey Shop
- Cocoa Atelier
- Coole Swan
- Dingle Gin & Vodka
- Echlinville Distillery
- Gaelic Whiskies
- Gonzalez Byass
- Gordon & MacPhail
- Great Northern Distillery
- Hyde Whiskey
- Irish Whiskey Awards
- Irish Whiskey Society
- Isle of Arran
- Jack Daniels
- Jack Ryans
- Jefferson Bourbon
- Kalak Vodka
- Kilbeggan Distillery
- Knappogue Castle
- Lexington Brewing & Distilling
- Longueville House Apple Brandy
- Nikka Japanese
- Palace Bar
- Quiet Man
- Saint Patricks Distillery
- Single Pot Still Whiskeys of Ireland (Midleton, Redbreast, Powers)
- Teeling Whiskey Co
- Tullamore Dew
- Walsh Whiskey
- Whisky Magazine Wild Beech Leaf Liqueur
- Woodford Bourne
I interviewed this remarkable young woman last week and it went into print today, but due to space restraints they had to cut it in half. So here it is in full:
The summer of 1975 wasn’t a particularly remarkable one. The somnambulist prog of 10CC’s I’m Not In Love topped the Irish charts, there were lightning storms across the country and in the Munster Final between Cork and Kerry, sparks flew between Páidí O Sé and Dinny Allen. And in an east Cork town, one of the longest surviving distilleries in Ireland stopped producing whiskey. The stills fell silent in Midleton on a Friday afternoon, after 150 years of distilling on the site, and the (largely male) workforce trudged through the gates for the last time. Then, on the following Monday morning, they all showed up for work in the brand new, state of the art distillery to the rear of the old site, and the firm has never looked back since.
The old distillery was turned into one of southern Ireland’s busiest tourist attractions, and the new plant has been the home of Irish whiskey for the last four decades.
But distilling is coming back to the old Midleton distillery, and this time it is not being overseen by the curmudgeonly, cloth-capped chaps of yore, but by a 24-year-old engineering graduate named Karen Cotter. If she has a sense of her importance in the male-dominated history of distilling, she doesn’t show it.
For centuries, the entire whiskey industry has been almost exclusively male – from the barley famers, to the distillers, to the consumers, it was a man’s drink in a man’s world. But this young north Corkwman’s role as the head distiller of the new micro distillery in Midleton is a sign of changing times. She became part of Irish Distillers Limited through their graduate programme, which enables science grads to get a taste for the life of the distiller.
And while chemical engineering might not be a course you would associate with edibles, food and drink play a bigger part than you would think: “Across chemical engineering there would be three mains facets – energy, pharma, and food and drink. I had steered myself away from the biopharma unit because I thought I loved chemistry and then I got to college and realized I didn’t, so when the placement with IDL came up I put my name forward for it.”
But this is no ordinary course – the modern distiller needs to be a scientist and a masterful communicator too – so the application process includes submitting a video. This is Karen’s one:
This blend of an enthusiasm for science and communication skills may explain why seven of the last eight graduates from the programme have been female: “There were plenty of guys at the interview days, but it is a tough interview process – first you have to make a video as to why you should be chosen and after that there is two round of interviews, so I don’t know if it is that girls are more open to doing the video in the first place, and then there is presentations and things like that involved in the process.
“It’s tough – but you can see their thought processes behind it, the job description states that they want someone who is witty, charismatic – they are looking for a personality as well as the education behind it, because you could end up with a role like this where you need to be able to communicate effectively. That’s not to suggest that that is why guys haven’t got through, but the initial idea could put a lot of men off applying.”
But women have another advantage when it comes to distilling: Research released last year by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil revealed why women perform better in scent tests – they have more cells in the part of the brain that controls the ability to smell. It’s believed that this olfactory superpower helps mothers bond with their babies, and also helps them select a mate. It just happens that they are also naturally gifted when it comes to discerning aromas in whiskey. But developing a nose for this spirit, which has one of the most complex flavor profiles in the world, can often pose a challenge for newcomers.
“I’m still working on it; for whiskey it is a very specific set of aromas that you are working with, I’m on the distillery tasting panel – every charge that is bunged, every tanker that goes out, it is nosed by at least two if not three people, and it can’t be released from the site until that has happened, until it has been compared against the standard to see if it is perfect. So that is how I am learning to get into the scents more, where I am now at the stage where I can tell if there is a difference with something, but I’m still working on putting words to the senses.
“Also, if you’re nosing whiskey, it is very subjective, it depends what you’ve been exposed to; fruity notes are one of the things that are synonymous with whiskey, but I don’t like fruit that much, but because I can smell fruit I can still get it, but there are other people who would be more adventurous with their food and they would get different aromas.”
Of course, having Midleton’s Master Distiller Brian Nation to mentor you also helps: “Brian has been the only boss I have ever had, because of the placement and then being taken on under the programme.
“Brian is terrific, he really is. Considering he came from the same background I did, chemical engineering, he knows what areas I would be stronger in and in what areas I might need a little help, and his vast experience through working here over the years.
“He knows everything from the grain intake, to the cask filling, he has an incredible overview – and because of that he will be so helpful with the micro distillery, and even more so when it grows to have the micro brewery as well – he has the full spectrum of experience.
“And there is also Dave Quinn, he is also involved, all those years of experience – they know everything there is to know about distilling.”
The microbrewery means that the wort, a weak beer which is then distilled to make the spirit, can be adjusted via different brewing techniques or even different grains.
But as for recipes, they already have a few up their sleeve: “We are lucky as our archivist Carol Quinn came across a notebook recently and it was John Jameson’s son’s notebook from 1826s, and it details a lot of the recipes they were trying at the time, and the different ratios of the grains, what grains they used, a lot of different parameters that they would have adjusted, trying to find a new blend, so we will be trying some of those recipes to see what we will come out with, or if we can replicated something that they would have made back in the day.
“We obviously won’t know if it exactly the same, and it is a long waiting period (three years ageing minimum) so it’s trial and error now and then we won’t know for a very long time. But as it is such a small batch they will age it for much longer than three years.
“And if it is a success it could be replicated in the main distillery on a larger scale.”
A lost notebook suddenly discovered just in time for a micro-distillery launch? Sounds like marketing bumpf, but Karen swears it is not: “I didn’t believe it either, but our archivist showed it to me, and it is in very good condition despite its age, because the paper back then was made from linen so it lasted much better than our paper today. They obviously don’t use the metric system, so it is hard to differentiate what they are saying, so Brian and I spent a bit of time going through it trying to figure it out. “
And as for Karen’s family, they are proud as (whiskey-based) punch: “They were delighted; dad’s always had an interest in whiskey, and then more as Jameson upped their marketing a few years before I got my placement he had gotten a bit more into it, so he was absolutely delighted.
“Since then I introduced him to more, each year I give him a new bottle, the first it was Black Barrel, then last year it was Jameson Gold Reserve, so I will probably cap it fairly soon as I can’t be spending that much money!
“But they are delighted – it is something so different and they can actually tell their friends what I do – it’s not like an obscure office job, they know exactly what my job entails because I can bring them here and show them. They are very proud – it’s not exactly what they expected I would be doing after college though!”
As for whether they know how important her place in history is – as the first Irish woman in charge of a distillery – they are starting to realize their daughter is a rather big deal: “I don’t think so I haven’t really said much about that, but I think when I was describing the launch they started to wonder ‘what is she at down here at all, I thought she was an engineer, why is she doing interviews and why is she picking out an outfit.’ “
After the gala launch yesterday, attended by the Tánaiste Joan Burton, there will be little doubt that this is a pivotal moment for Karen and her family – and for Irish whiskey itself.
Mad Men, dames and hipsters: The evolution of whiskey’s demographics
Historically whiskey was considered a man’s drink – the fire and heat of a first sip of the hard stuff was seen as being too intense for the gentler sex. The role women played in the early days of whiskey was often in opposition to it via the Temperance movement and driving the subsequent Prohibition act in the US. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill – himself an enthusiastic whiskey drinker – saw the revenue that could be created for the war effort via the Scotch industry. American GIs fell in love with the drink, and kept that love when they went home. Scotch became tied into notions of the heroic male, home from the war after serving his country – Don Draper’s messy personal life is oiled with the golden liquid. But the rise of Irish whiskey in the past decade has a lot to with a subculture that Draper’s era would have despised – hipsters. They took old tropes of Victorian masculinity – bushy moustaches, sailor tattoos, hard liquor – and played with them, making them the iconography of the flaneur and the modern dandy. Scotch was, however, ‘too mainstream’ so the hipsters of Brooklyn and all the other gentrified ghettos of cool around the world took Irish whiskey as their own. We were the underdog – but thanks to them, but not any more: The launch of the micro-distillery in Midleton also coincided with Jameson selling five million cases of Jameson in the past 12 months – a staggering 60 million bottles. Now we are truly the mainstream.
So I went to the launch of the new micro-distillery in Midleton last night. Terrible photos above that completely fail to do it justice, will stick up decent ones and some more details when I get a chance. Article on the young lady in charge of the facility goes into the Irish Examiner today. I’m tired, and happy.