Whiskey Live Dublin 2017

An incredibly quick post on whiskey Live Dublin. It’s basically the All-Ireland, Christmas, The Eid and Glastonbury all rolled into one. I love it – loads of vendors, loads of great whiskeys, and loads of Internet Friends who you finally get to meet in real life, albeit after quite a bit of booze so it doesn’t seem real. This was my fourth year, and my worst for making all the stalls. I think I managed to hit about ten of the 40 or 50 there. Pathetic. The upside of that is I only tried a few, really interesting drams, and got to meet some really interesting folks. Here’s a whistle-stop tour.

First up was John Teeling’s Great Northern. Working off a third-party sales model, they may well be a serious player down the road, simply because they are making whatever people want. I tried the 18-month-old peated malt – mild, medicinal but nowhere near the demonic motherfuckers of Islay. The chap I spoke with (that’s him above) had a career that included working as a botanist, a miner, and finally a distiller, so he was a mine (!!!) of information.

The third-party model will be an important one, especially for anyone who wants to distill interesting drams by contract. The flipside of this will be what some chose to put on labels, but none of that is John Teeling’s concern.  

I have a lot of admiration for Connaught Distillery. Their CEO David Stapleton comes from a background in waste management and did his MBA through the Open University. They are effectively an Irish American operation, which is reflected in their Brothership whiskey, which I tried for the first time and really liked. It’s a blend of two ten year olds, one from each side of the Atlantic, with the Irish making up 55% and the American whiskey 45%.  I hope these frontier distilleries are going to do the really interesting stuff down the road, as they will need to build cult following to get the whiskey tourists flocking to their doors.

The guys at Glendalough are looking towards whiskey tourism too – they have a site tucked away in Laragh and hope to start building their distillery soon. Perhaps with this in mind they have unified their branding, eschewing the blues and greens for various shades of grey. It’s not just the labels that changed, the liquid is different too. Five Lamps brewery used their whiskey barrels to finish stout in, so Glendalough took those barrels back and finished the seven year old in them. Gone now are those sweet citrus notes for a far deeper expereience – chocolate, coffee, brandy butter, whiskey cream. I loved the earlier seven, but this is a change I can believe in. Meanwhile, the 13 – an oblique nod to company investor and rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll –  is now finished in mizunara cask, making it the only whiskey in ireland that uses this Japanese wood.

Speaking of coffee – Black Twist is a coffee liqueur crafted as a crossroads between the late nights and early mornings of the whiskey aficionados. Don’t think Kahlua or Tia Maria, this is far better – like an iced coffee with whiskey. The alcohol content is low, about 26%, but it is a delight to drink, with far more of the coffee flavour than the booze.  This could definitely be one to sharpen the mind after too much turkey.

Sliabh Liag are getting there – they have bored two wells at the site of their planned distillery and have struck sweet delicious water. They hope to start work on it once the weather gets better, which given that this is Donegal we are talking about, I’m going to assume will be never. I’m kidding – they are looking at spring 2018. This is one I can get behind – clear message from day one, and a pedigree in the drinks business.

Tipperary are another team working to get off the ground. They’ve gone the extra mile and have distilled their own grain by contract at an unnamed distillery. I had a sample of that new make and it was really excellent. High hopes for these guy – they are rolling out a cask programme soon, and this is one I could get behind if only I wasn’t a member of the working poor.

I also managed to strongarm (I asked politely) John Cashman of Cooley into sharing a mystery dram – their six year old rye pot still whiskey. It was unique. Bottle it and get it on a shelf so I can buy it lads.

One of the first difference I noticed was the lack of Glencairns – the Tuath has taken over. The new Irish whiskey glass is larger than its Scottish cousin, which meant for more generous pours. This was a solid test of the glass and it passed with flying colours. It’s sturdier and the angular base makes it easier to hold and thus not drop on your fucking foot after 25,000 drams, like I did last year. I’m going to do a proper test of the Tuath at some stage, but out in the field, it worked a charm.

There were, of course, loads of other snippets, but overall it would appear that the Irish whiskey category is in rude health – distilleries are being built, more are planned, and we are heading into an interesting time for whiskey lovers. While I’m not one for the backslapping, everything-is-awesome guff that gets fed to the mainstream press – clearly there are issues that need to be sorted out – overall Whiskey Live Dublin was a reminder that our best days are still to come.

 

Monsters, friends, Tom Humphreys, excuses

 

Week 27, bleak af.

 

There is a man I see around town. He looks a bit like an absent minded professor, slightly dilapidated and a bit bewildered. He seems affable enough, with a sort of half smile on his face as he meanders around the supermarket, staring blankly at yogurts and cleaning products. He had a great job with the council for almost three decades, and was even lucky enough to get out with an early retirement package before the court case began. During the trial, the court was told that it was a German website that tipped off authorities to what he had on his computer – almost 14,000 images of children as young as one year old being violated, raped and abused. One of the gardai who dealt with the case said it was one of the worst he had encountered, while the judge said he was horrified by it.

I think about all these things when I see this man. He is a sad, pathetic figure, and I usually feel sorry for him – he has the look of someone who has no-one to care for him, to wash his clothes properly or tell him to fix his hair. I don’t grab my kids and run when I see him, because it’s not the threats you can identify that you need to worry about.

Contrary to our collective unconscious – or your local community group on Facebook –  the monsters aren’t hiding in the bushes or driving around estates in black vans trying to snatch kids. They are standing next to you at the checkout, beside you in the pub, in front of you in church, or even in your circle of friends.

Everyone has that one friend who just can’t seem to get their life together. To most of my friends, I am that person, but even I found someone who was more of a disaster zone than I am. We were friends from childhood, but as we grew older, I settled down while he just couldn’t seem to find the balance in his life to make any relationship work. I married and had kids, he wallowed in drugs, prostitutes and pornography. His obsession with the latter overshadowed everything – he lived in a country where it was freely available and seemed to be endlessly consuming it. I’m no prude, but when I would visit him he would be scurrying off into some shady back section of a shop and come out with a bag stuffed with increasingly brutal DVDs.

We would poke fun at him about it, but it was relentless. His lifestyle choices generally, and the social circle he kept, which as he said was full of ‘the wanted and the unwanted’, meant that he was on a downward spiral.

I was chatting to him on Gmail on evening when he said he had been at a friend’s house and had seen some ‘extreme’ material. With a sense of rising dread I asked what he meant. The videos involved girls aged eight or nine – the same age my daughter was at the time. So I told him he needed to call the cops on this ‘friend’. He said no way, this guy was his pal. I told him his ‘pal’ was complicit in a crime, that he was part of a culture that delights in the rape and torture of little children. My friend was indignant, saying with absolute certainty that the children in these videos weren’t being raped, they were enjoying the abuse.

Some friendship fade out over years as your lives change. This one ended at that moment. I told him to never contact me again, and that if I saw him anywhere near my family I would call the police. I got a few abusive messages after that, but blocked him. In the intervening years he has tried to get in touch, expressing remorse that we ‘fell out’, but not once did he say that he had a problem, or that he was wrong, or that he needed help. I very much hope that I never see him again, because whether or not he ever actually harms a child, he clearly has the paedophile mindset – that children enjoy abuse.  

I’m slow to use the term ‘child pornography’ as the word pornography implies consent, eroticism, or pleasure. These are images of worst kind of rape and torture – the most sadistic abuse imaginable. These are lives being ruined, and while the perpetrators are the active agents, those who watch the videos and share them on the internet are just passive versions of the same monsters.

All of this was in my head in the last two weeks as I wondered how I was able to pull the shutters down on two decades of friendship – but Tom Humphreys, an actual, active paedophile who defiled a child, was still deemed worthy of defence by some of his peers. Perhaps those who stood by him had trouble asking themselves the same question I had to ask after I severed ties with one of my oldest friends – what the hell is wrong with me? How did I end up friends with someone so morally bankrupt, so unfeeling, so utterly sick? But not every paedophile is as visibly odd as Jimmy Savile. Many of them are perfectly affable, average members of society who are secretly despicable creatures. They can be great writers, good friends and monsters all at once. But once the last aspect is revealed, your own humanity should recoil in horror. There is no ‘forgive and forget’ here.

But still there are people like the author John Grisham who in 2014 said that the American courts needed to be more lenient with people who watch videos of children being sexually abused, talking about an old law school friend who was sent to jail for this very thing. Grisham blamed alcohol, and bizarrely, boredom, for his friend’s moral decay. There are no excuses for enjoying the abuse of a child. Even Kevin Spacey somehow thought that telling the world what we already knew, that he was gay, somehow explained his assault on a 14-year-old. This isn’t about gender or sexual orientation – it’s about adults, children and abuse.

In the trial of the man I see shuffling around my town, one of the arresting gardai testified that he thought the man downloaded 13,845 images and videos ‘out of boredom as much as anything else’. In the end, the man got off with a four-year suspended sentence, due to a statement from the Granada Institute that he was unlikely to pose a threat to the community, and also because he was his mother’s sole carer. She died earlier this year, so now he is alone, muddling about the place looking confused. Some day he will die, have a tiny funeral, and that will be that. The world won’t be any safer or better, but there will be one less identifiable menace in my hometown, and – more worryingly – many, many more that I don’t know about.

RTE, Supremes, JFK, Duchas

Week 26, six months of being an opinionista and nobody has threatened to kill me yet, WTF am I doing wrong?

 

 

It seems odd that I grew up in the age of one TV channel. It doesn’t seem like a million years ago, but I can still remember the excitement when Network Two launched, or waving a wonky rabbit-ears aerial around the living room in the hope of picking up some HTV Cymru Wales and possibly some post-watershed nudity, as there was little hope of any on a station that carried the Angelus.

Times have changed, and although RTE still carries the sacred ding-dongs, there is little hope of salvation for them. My kids don’t watch TV – they watch Netflix and YouTube. The concept of sitting down at an appointed time to watch any show is completely alien to them, I feel much the same way. I am happy to pay my license fee, as I think it is important to support our national broadcaster from a cultural perspective, but it’s a sad state of affairs when the most enjoyable thing to come out of Montrose in the past 12 months is a Twitter account of an unnamed, disillusioned producer who is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

Secret RTE Producer appeared out of nowhere in early September and started dishing the dirt. At first it seemed like it might be a Steve Bannon-esque false flag operation being used as an accelerant for job cuts, but the sense of frustration in the tweets can’t be faked. Many of them explain some of the odd decisions made in Montrose over the years (why isn’t Fair City better, what was the story with all the Craig Doyle stuff), or help shed some light on the background operations of an entity that we all have a stake in. In the two months that the account has been running there have been plot twists, grand reveals, Cold War paranoia, and even a period when the account went silent, leaving its thousands of followers wondering if the secret producer had been caught and dispatched to a North Korean-style re-education camp in the human resources department, or a just another course in media studies in Colaiste Dhulaig.

Whatever happens to the secret producer, they probably need to start making plans for life outside Montrose, because the closing scenes of this real-life drama are not going to be pretty. The public reaction from those within the RTE machine was a little depressing – where many of us on the outside saw a whistleblower, they saw a rat. Where they saw profound disloyalty to their organisation, I saw those tweets as actual public service broadcasting. But the future for all of RTE is stark – kids today don’t want The Den, they want Stampy Longnose’s inverted guffawing on YouTube, while teenagers just want Netflix and chill, whatever that means. Perhaps instead of feeling hurt by the tweets of Secret RTE Producer, the top brass at Montrose could learn from them, and make a few changes. Don’t change Nationwide though – that is perfect.

One move in the right direction was the broadcasting live from the Supreme Court for the first time yesterday. While many tuned in in the hope of some Judge Judy style shrieking and fake cases involving bruised pets or damaged flowers, it really drove home just how devoid of drama the courts are. Far from the byzantine, kafkaesque nightmare of legal jargon and people shouting latin at each other that one would expect, it was quite like a live broadcast from the queue in the motor tax office, or a dentist’s waiting room. It was like the broadcast from my local church on the internet which I sometimes found myself watching at 4am when I worked nights. You kept waiting for something incredible to happen, but it never did – yet the expectation was always there, of some divine judgement on us all. But if the broadcasting of court cases helps deter people from taking spurious insurance claims, then RTE will have justified the license fee for at least another decade.

Conspiracy theorists rejoice, for another tranche of the FBI’s JFK assassination papers are being released. While Donald Trump announced to the world that he was allowing them to be opened, they were scheduled to be opened since long before that haunted jack o’ lantern began flushing America’s reputation down the toilet. It was actually Oliver Stone’s intensely dull film JFK which prompted the US congress to order the release all the way back in 1992. Still, you have to admire Trump’s confidence, as he is basically allowing the FBI to release a ‘how-to’ guide on getting away with assassinating a president, in a nation stuffed with gun nuts. So perhaps anyone thinking of dressing up as him for Halloween might want to rethink their costume choice.

Here at home we have sizeable chunks of our own rich history being released onto the internet. Duchas.ie has released a quarter of a million documents and almost ten thousand photographs from the National Folklore Collection on their website. With a handy search option, it is a fascinating selection of myths, legends and rumours that otherwise would have been lost. Granted, some of it is pure bunkum, but when I stumbled across two transcriptions from 1938 about treasure that may or may not be buried near my house, I found myself waking in the middle of the night and googling metal detectors and the law regarding ownership of massive hoards of gold. If I do find a load of torcs, I just hope that I get to appear on Nationwide before I flog them all on eBay.