I like a The. Many of my blog posts are given titles with a ‘the’ randomly thrown in at the start, because I think it adds gravitas. In reality it makes everything I write sound like pompous waffle; The Glorious Now, The Pathfinder, The Slow Cut, The Quiet Corner. Scroll through this blog and you will be greeted with an array of bombastic titles opening on a The. Obviously enough I like a The in whisky too. There is a swagger to a The in a brand name – but it’s really something that needs to be earned. I’m not sure The Bells works. Maybe if they got Quasimodo in as brand ambassador.
The Macallan are the epitome of superlux – the Chanel of whisky, a magic brand that operates in a sphere beyond this mortal realm. While us chuds and morlocks bicker about whether a hundred quid is too much to spend on a whisky, The Macallan is selling random fusions of liquid and crystal art for tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. Veblen goods or emperor’s new clothes, you decide, but they pull all of it off with confidence and style. Which makes their latest creation a little odd.
Everyone loves Four Weddings And A Funeral. Pre-fall fop king Hugh Grant, Andie McDowell not knowing if it’s still raining despite being absolutely drenched in the stuff, all the other very white and upper middle class characters whose names I cannot recall. A large part of its success is down to the wonderful direction by Mike Newell, who has a relatively low-key career despite bagging a Harry Potter and managing to coerce one of the most subtle on-screen performances from Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco (by subtle I mean not screaming about asses).
But Newell’s latest gig is a curious one indeed, as he has directed a short film/long ad for The Macallan. I wasn’t expecting it to be a bold visionary statement – Newell’s most recent big-screen venture was 2018’s painfully nondescriptThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – but I thought that the The Macallan might push the envelope a little. Reader, the envelope remains unpushed.
The mercifully short film is a mishmash of Monarch Of The Glen and a sort of tweed-clad Downton Abbey. Starring Emily Mortimer (who once starred in a little known Irish film called Last Of The High Kings opposite a then relatively unknown Jared Leto) in the lead role, the film tells the tale of how The Macallan became one of the first female-led distilleries in Scotland. Per the press release:
Janet Harbinson, known as ‘Nettie’ is a remarkable figure in The Macallan’s history. In 1918, just months before the end of the First World War, her beloved husband Alexander, who had been running the distillery at the time, sadly passed. Nettie was highly committed to the local community and following his death, she assumed control of the distillery as it was the best way to secure The Macallan for its employees and help the community.
Without setting out to do so, she also crafted The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926, which achieved legendary status after it fetched $1.9M at Sotheby’s in 2019. Several years on, it continues to be the world’s most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction.
Thanks for that Nettie, great job. I would suggest that whoever masterminded The Macallan becoming the key superlux whisky brand in the world probably deserves more credit, but that’s just my own begrudgery (great piece on how they did that here).
The film is striking because of its blandness – it feels painfully beige. Maybe having their wings clipped by the UK’s advertising standards authority over their deliriously pretentious Icarus ad – which looked like a pastiche ripped right from Zoolander – left them shook, but I doubt it. Everything about their operation – from the Tellytubby wonderland of their distillery to their presumably ironic grasping hands reaching around The Reach – says that safe isn’t normally part of their lexicon.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that the script was written by award-winning screenwriter Allan Scott, whose Hollywood hits include Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Don’t Look Now, Castaway and the excellent Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit. The mindlowing part is this: Allan Scott is the pen name of Allan Shiach – a former chairman of The Macallan and great nephew of Nettie Harbinson. So you have someone who has helped craft some genuinely incredible work (Don’t Look Now for the love of Christ!) and is also so well connected to The Macallan that you would have to assume that they would be able to get something really remarkable over the line, and yet we end up with a short film that looks and feels – as one wag put it to me via DM – ‘like a fucking Hovis ad’.
Of course, I am looking at all this through the prism of Irish whiskey – a few years back I asked where is our Macallan. I don’t think we have an answer to that question just yet, although Midleton’s Silent Distillery releases were a good foray into the space of ultralux, super-rare whiskey. Ultimately Midleton’s strength – being the home of multiple styles and multiple brands in one very modern industrial setting – might also be its weakness in this instance; beyond the stocks from old Midleton, why pay €50,000 for a whiskey from the new distillery when you could buy a bottle of Jameson for €30? Maybe you can split the beams and have a superlux offering from the same place that creates so many mid range brands, but I don’t see it. I assume Bushmills is the one to watch – with oodles of heritage (not quite the four centuries they claim, but at least two) and a focus on one product – single malt – they should be ripe for it. The Bushmills, anyone? Perhaps some day we could even see a short film directed by time-obsessed auteur Christopher Nolan about why a distillery built in the late 1700s thinks it was built in 1608, but until then we will have to rely on our Scottish neighbours to lead the way in audiovisual self-indulgence. And in the meantime, here’s this:
Whisky has been good to me. From the first time I wrote about it in a newspaper almost ten years ago, I have been on many amazing junkets at home and abroad, and I have been sent many bottles and a continuous supply of samples. This isn’t humblebragging, but it’s important to note that while I don’t work in the industry, I kinda work with it (or against it, depending on who you ask). I am whisky-biz-adjacent; think of me as one of those feeder fish, swimming alongside a whale and nibbling at parasites on its skin, or perhaps some sort of dung beetle. In short, I have my place in the ecosystem.
I reside in a hinterland, like most whiskey bloggers, coughing up the odd post and getting the odd freebie, but getting no closer than that. But even that role comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Nobody is sending me samples, bottles, or off on jollies because of my shining personality. They do it because they want coverage, and this behaviour is really nothing new. When I worked in a newspaper we were inundated with gifts, junkets, books, concert tickets. I have a very clear recollection of declining a four-day, all expenses paid trip to an electronic music festival in Copenhagen (The Bug was headlining!) as I simply couldn’t be bothered. That is how entitled and spoiled we were. So when we think about entitled social media influencers swanning around like they are demigods, please be assured that they are simply the latest iteration of a very old tradition. Influence used to be held by entities such as publishers, now it is held by individuals, and it’s a lot harder to enforce rules when you are dealing with multiple entities across multiple platforms in multiple markets. But hey, you gotta try, especially where booze is concerned.
The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) is the body which oversees and decides the rules for influencer marketing in spirits. Last year they released the Influencer Guiding Principles – five specific rules that apply to any content involving influencers who work with beer, wine, and spirits producers. Of course the first task here is to figure out what is meant by working with and what is working for, along with what an actual influencer is. The IARD has a handy definition:
An influencer is an independent third-party endorser who shapes audience attitudes through blogs, posts, tweets, and the use of other social media including game streaming platforms.
I would suggest that this definition is so vague that it technically encompasses everyone with a social media account, or 99% of the people on the internet. Endorsing is what we do when we share our opinions on things – doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant, a whisky, a politician. In my own definition, an influencer is at its lowest level, someone who got something for free because of their profile. Anything from that benefit-in-kind benchmark onwards is what I would call an influencer. That doesn’t narrow it down much from ‘everyone on the internet’ but it is headed in the right direction, as the IARD definition of influencer marketing draws a line between those offering thoughts or opinions on a product they paid for and those who either got it for free or are being paid in some way:
Influencer posts are considered marketing (instead of user generated content) when the influencer has received compensation through financial remuneration or there has been some form of editorial control by the advertisers (European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) definition).
So it’s not technically influencer marketing to get a bottle of whisky for free, but is it when the firm offers some form of editorial control – which again is a little vague. Is sending through the press release about the bottle editorial control, is saying ‘we hope you like it’? There are simple and gentle acts of persuasion that could fall under the banner of ‘editorial control’. I presume they mean a more formal, concrete version, like ‘share this at this time with this caption please’. But it goes to show that influencer marketing is only going to get bigger.
1. Where available, all paid influencers must use age-affirmation mechanisms on digital platforms to prevent minors from seeing this content. Age-affirmation mechanisms on posts has not yet been adopted by all platforms and IARD members will continue to advocate for effective age-gating mechanisms on sites used by influencers. When utilizing those platforms where age-affirmation mechanisms for influencers are not yet effective, paid influencers should be aged at least 25 years and primarily appeal to audiences above the legal purchase age.
2. Influencers used in the digital marketing and advertising of alcohol should be vetted and, to the best of the producer’s knowledge, should have no reputational association with harmful use of alcohol, and should not feature posts that would not be compliant with the standards around irresponsible drinking behaviors outlined in our alcohol marketing codes.
3. For paid content, all influencers should have a written agreement with the beer, wine, and spirits brand or its agency, signed by both parties.
This should include:
a) Information linking to legal requirements relevant to national or regional context, or both
b) Disclosure guidelines – asking influencers to clearly and conspicuously disclose their link to the brand so that it is clearly presented as marketing content
c) Responsibility guidelines – asking the influencer to comply with the company’s responsible marketing code including ensuring that content does not condone or encourage illegal behavior or excessive consumption
d) Best-practice tools for influencers when engaging on social media platforms, for example, information on branded content pages and details on how to age restrict their posts
e) Feedback mechanisms so that influencers can flag any engagement or issues around responsible drinking with an agency or brand
For content featuring gifted products, influencers should be provided with clear terms of engagement that include disclosure guidelines and a requirement to follow the company’s responsible marketing code.
4. Influencer posts must be monitored by brands or their agencies for compliance and the influencer should fix or remove them within 72 hours if they are not compliant. If the influencer does not address issues within 72 hours of notification, or repeatedly posts non-compliant material, then we will reassess our relationship with them.
5. Brands should regularly audit and monitor campaigns for compliance.
And my typically incoherent thoughts on each:
Age gates – so a booze-based OnlyFans then? Honestly, how is anyone supposed to ensure no kids see the content – it’s the internet, if you want to protect our blessed innocents, maybe don’t let them online in the first place. I have four kids and the least of my worries is that they will be exposed to influencer-led alcohol marketing. There is a wild west out there and children are seeing things they never should, and, no, I’m not talking about Shit London Guinness. As for age gates, I have repetitive strain injury from clicking boxes to assure various sites that yes I am old enough to drink, and then some. Do we really think a 14-year-old is going to go elsewhere when confronted with one? Or will they giddily click through to The Forbidden Zone Of Delight that is the corporate page of a global drinks giant?
As for influencers trying to focus their appeal on those above the legal drinking age, the clearest example of this notion gone wild is in what happened to the late, great Scotch Trooper, who took beautiful photos of Star Wars figures and bottles of scotch and landed himself in hot water for it. I would make the case that when it comes to using Star Wars figures in your booze content, you will mostly appeal to middle aged Comic Book Guys like me rather than my kids, who are all busy playing Fortnite.
Vetting influencers, best of luck with that. Maybe whoever owns Proper Number Twelve could do the same for their influencer in chief.
Contracts would be great and I assume that for larger campaigns involving serious celebrities/influencers, they are de rigeur. However, much of what I am concerned with here is the nano-influencer who has less than ten thousand followers on their social media channels, but creates high-value, highly targeted content. Should they get a contract and presumably a non-disclosure agreement with every free bottle they get sent? Certainly the bottles I receive never come with clear terms and conditions, nor do they appear to be in any way transactional. But I think most whiskey lovers know what’s up when they get a bottle/sample – you need to mention it somehow, and the brand would be very hopeful that this mention would be positive. Perhaps that is what differentiates influencer marketing with someone like me being sent a bottle – there are no guarantees that I, or any other blogger, will say anything nice about it.
Would a post, even one laden with errors, be of any relevance after 72 hours up? Is there any point in correcting it? If the influencer was big enough, the post will already have achieved millions of impressions in that time. And who is meant to contact them to tell them to edit the post? PR firms – who I assume do a lot of the influencer outreach/management stuff for drinks brands – won’t want to piss off the bigger accounts. It really smacks of self regulation, a system which has worked so well in the financial markets worldwide.
‘It’s on you guys’.
If I could write rules for low-level whisky influencers it would be this – if you got it for free, say so. I just don’t think anyone can judge a product with absolute clarity and honesty when they didn’t pay for it. I look back on some whiskeys I have reviewed where I got the bottle for free and in retrospect I was too gentle on something that really didn’t deserve it. Why? I would say it was less about staying in with a brand and more about not wanting to be an ungrateful twat. Either way it was misguided. More recent reviews of free bottles have been a little less delicate about their failings, which really is as it should be.
Not paying for the whiskey you are reviewing is a crucial context and the one that applies to most of the whiskey folks that get labeled as influencers. It’s also important to just say thanks to whoever sent it to you, which is what I do when I get free stuff.
If you are being paid actual money to promote the whiskey than you need to clarify that you are, in fact, the same as a guy on the street wearing a sandwich board advertising a golf sale down a side street. We all gotta hustle but there’s a big difference between saying you like a product and literally working for the brand – although an obvious caveat here is that I don’t know of anyone who was paid to post anything about a whiskey, nor do I know anyone with a big enough following to even warrant that approach. Most of us are just happy dung beetles, just lovin’ life rolling our free balls of poop to a hole in the ground.
Why Ireland? Why would anyone want to holiday here? It’s overpriced, it’s wet, it’s miserable. The roads are in shite, the WiFi sucks, there’s nothing on TV. Why would anyone want to visit us at all? And yet, they do, in their hundreds of thousands, every year (bar pandemics). But among that vast throng, there is an increasing number who come here for a very specific purpose – whiskey. There are guided whiskey tours, but there is an increasing number of people who come here on self-guided trips; who will travel around the island visiting the distilleries and producers they want to. As Irish whiskey tourism is still in a relative infancy, we need to ask what works and what doesn’t for these visitors. So, taking the smallest sample possible – one person – ask is what I did.
According to a DNA test, North Carolina resident Hank Barnes is only 8% Irish, but he says it’s the 8% that matters most. His wife Connie, however, is firmly Irish American, with her family names being Doyle and O’Neill. The couple love Irish pubs (friends of theirs own one in Waxhaw NC named Mary O’Neills, if you’re ever in the area) and in 2014 they decided to holiday in Ireland. During that trip, Hank asked a bartender what whiskey he should drink, and was given a Redbreast. On his way home from that trip he bought five bottles of Irish whiskey from the Celtic Whiskey Shop. That was the start of a consuming passion.
As for what it was about Irish whiskey that appealed to him, it had less to do with flavour profiles and more to do with its status as a relative underdog: “I think what got me into Irish over others was that I like to be a contrarian (with boundaries). I don’t pick the well-known brands (for the most part); I look for things that are cool and different.”
The trips to Ireland have become an annual event for the couple, often with tickets to see an All-Ireland thrown in as they are both sports mad (they met playing volleyball and are avid fans of The Carolina Hurricanes). So while whiskey was a part of their trips to Ireland, it was not the sole motivation for them, as Hank explains: “While this trip was designed around whiskey, it was not a whiskey trip. My wife loves the people, but she is not a whiskey drinker (she’ll taste and sample but that is not her thing – Malibu Rum or Irish Cream is).”
While whiskey tilted the compass on this trip, they were also keen to take in the sights, as Hank explains: “I think it would be as interesting to highlight the other things you can do around distilleries. For our trip, we probably spent less than 10 hours of it focused solely on whiskey (not counting all our pub time). They were some of the best parts, but the Cliffs (Sliabh Liag, Moher, and Kilkee) might have been even better. We also met some interesting people and even had a sheep farmer back my car up about ¼ kilometre on a narrow road so he could get a truck and trailer full of sheep past – then we could continue our trip to a waterfall.”
When planning on where to visit, social media played a role – during the pandemic Hank started sharing whiskeys, picking up more bottles, and tweeting about it all. He started chatting online with some brand owners, connections cemented with real world interactions at Whiskey Live Dublin in June. As a consultant with Gartner, Hank travels to Dublin often, so when a meeting in the capitol was scheduled for September, he planned his whiskey journey around that.
“I asked Connie, “You ready for another trip?” And it went from there. The start of planning was that we needed to visit Sliabh Liag, JJ Corry, and WD O’Connell (if the timing worked for them). We also wanted to go places we hadn’t been before. We also planned a few stops along the way to break up the driving. We had never been to Donegal (it was amazing) so that was the start. Sligo seemed like a good place for a night. We then went to Lahinch (after the Cliffs), a night (somewhat disappointing) in Shannon, and then Clonakilty. We added them to the list because I love their whiskey and their brewery collaborations.
“We also stopped in Kinsale for a few hours. I’m in the Blacks Brewery and Distillery Founders Club so that was a good idea. We ended in Dungarvan to see Daithí O’Connell and team before heading back to Dublin for a night or two before heading home.”
Anyone familiar with a map of the Republic of Ireland will note that they pretty much hit all corners, from the far northwest to the deep southeast, with numerous hostelries in between – so how was the Irish whiskey representation in pubs and restaurants?
“Mixed. There are some places that are great – Darkey Kelly’s in Dublin, The Sky and The Ground in Wexford, Thomas Connolly in Sligo – but others were a mixed bag. Most of the pubs in smaller towns had a very limited selection and not many from their local distillers, merchants, or bonders. Hard to gauge awareness of staff, as I have too much awareness, but I was definitely (and hopefully not annoyingly) sharing that with others, trying to get them to try the local options.”
As for the idea of a whiskey tourism guide, one which covers all whiskey offerings, pubs, historical sites, distilleries, Hank says there is space for a single point of information for it all: “I think there is a spot for a more unified guide. You get some from Irish Whiskey Magazine (and their site) — Serghios reached out to me on Twitter and we ended up spending some time together talking whiskey; that was a great thing in Dublin. You get some info from Barry Chandler and the stuff he is doing around the Stories and Sips Club, which I am a member of. The Irish Whiskey Society of the USA has some too. But it is all over and you have to know and remember where to look.”
As for the idea of Ireland as a rip-off destination, it is an undeserved title, says Hank: “With the dollar versus the euro, no issues with prices. Lodging in Dublin was a challenge to find a reasonable place (it was worse for the work part of this trip), but we did.”
So what advice would Hank give to a whiskey fan coming here?
“First, make sure your trip is not all about whiskey. There is so much more to Ireland. But for the whiskey parts, go to some of the unexpected places. If you are hardcore, try to get to know the people behind it before you go. James at Sliabh Liag basically gave us a personal tour. The JJ Corry experience was minus Louise, but Caroline and Eric were fantastic. Daithí made time for me and we were his first visitors at his new place (and I stole a brief amount of time on his rowing machine so I could say I rowed in a rackhouse).
“Second, I’d recommend a car. You can explore so much more. We discovered Mahon Falls by accident when we had a little extra time.
“Third, what I really learned is how much work the whiskey business is. We see the end product and the external presentation (including standard tours). Those support the business, but aren’t the business. For our special visits, I left with a great appreciation and a concern that I had interrupted their work and made more work for them — hopefully we did not out stay our welcome. Keep that in mind as founders and teams are sharing their time with you.”
The experience of the Barnes may not be typical of every whiskey tourist who comes here, but therein lies the challenge for the Irish tourism board – how do you cater to people who look at a map with 42 points all across it and then randomly join them, criscrossing back and forth? How do you build a coherent package to whiskey lovers who want to explore Ireland as well as Irish whiskey? Do you highlight places of interest between all these producers, do you map whiskey pubs, what defines a whiskey pub? Ireland isn’t Campbelltown, Islay, or even Speyside – our whiskey producers all over the country (aside from four big guns in Dublin city – Pearse Lyons, Teeling, Roe & Co, and Dublin Liberties) and many don’t do tours per se, although many welcome fans like the Barnes. Perhaps a single unified guide isn’t needed, given that there is no single archetype for Irish whiskey lovers. But in the years ahead, if all goes according to plan and our glorious resurrection continues, we will need to think about how we map Ireland for whiskey lovers.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley had quite the life. Born into poverty in 1841, he became a journalist, explorer, soldier, author and politician, before dying at the relatively young age of 63. He is possibly best known for the utterance ‘Dr Livingstone I presume?’ at the climax of his search for the Scottish explorer David Livingstone, but there is another, darker event from his time in Africa that is less well known.
Stanley led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, one of the last major European expeditions into the interior of Africa in the 19th Century. It became notorious for the deaths of so many of its members and the trail of disease left in its wake, but there was one especially grim event for which it is best known. An Irish naturist named James Sligo Jameson – scion of the whiskey empire; son of Andrew Jameson, and grandson of John Jameson – refused to believe cannibalism took place within the tribe they were staying with. He called their bluff by handing six handkerchiefs over to a member of the party who said they would arrange it. But it wasn’t a bluff.
What happened next became a significant scandal in Victorian society. The Emin Pasha expedition struggled onwards after the incident, but Jameson never made it home – he succumbed to blackwater fever and died in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1888 aged just 31. Little wonder that Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness was partly inspired by the Emin Pasha expedition, with its exploration of human cruelty, imperialism and what civilisation actually looks like.
I am standing in the tremendously civilised drawing room of Lakeview House in County Kerry, staring at a bust of Sir Henry Morton Stanley sat atop a sideboard. Maurice O’Connell, whose home it is, is explaining that the famous explorer was godparent to a forebear of his wife, Francesca. It seems like a fortuitous connection given that it is whiskey that brought me there. But this is a place, a family, with many stories to tell, although very few of them are as soaked in blood and whiskey.
This isn’t the first time that Daniel O’Connell’s name has been linked to a drinks brand – his son Daniel Jr started a brewery and released O’Connell’s Ale, which The Liberator hoped would overtake Guinness, an ascendancy family who he despised, describing Arthur Guinness as a ‘miserable old apostate’. But Daniel Snr was not a pintman, which might explain his closeness to the Powers family, specifically Sir John Power of the famed John’s Lane Distillery (Power laid one of the foundation stones in Glasnevin Cemetery for the O’Connell Monument). In a curious counterpoint to Francesca O’Connell’s link to the European expeditions in what was then the Belgian Congo, Daniel O’Connell was held in such high esteem by the people of Belgium for his support of their drive for independence, that after they became independent of the Netherlands there was a movement to have O’Connell installed on the throne. Instead, the Belgian people installed Leopold, whose son, Leopold II laid claim to the African nation and whose grotesque abuses there were enabled by the likes of Sir Henry Morton Stanley.
Maurice O’Connell is a great great great grandnephew of Daniel O’Connell. There is a lengthy history of the family on the Wayward website which shows that when they weren’t fighting for equal rights for the Irish, the O’Connells were smuggling booze and defying various authorities. Wayward as they were, they still managed to land themselves a baronetship, meaning Maurice O’Connell’s full title is Sir Maurice James Donagh MacCarthy Patrick O’Connell, 7th Baronet, and hereditary Lord of the Manor of Ballycarbery Castle. It’s a weighty title but one he wears lightly – he is an aristocrat with a small a, and says the title has closed as many doors as it has opened for him.
Lakeview is just one of the ancestral homes of the O’Connell clan – they also resided in Ballycarbery Castle near Cahersiveen in the 1600s, before moving to Waterville. Derrynane House became the family seat and over the centuries was expanded significantly. It now resides in the hands of the Office of Public Works. Lakeview is, by comparison, a compact and bijou residence but its setting is equally spectacular. Passing through the bustling village of Fossa you would hardly know it is there, but at the end of a long tree-lined driveway the house sits beside Lough Leane, the largest of the Great Lakes Of Killarney. If you are looking for a hideaway, this would be the place (FYI – you can rent it at certain times of the year for €12,000 a week).
There is a lengthy profile in the Irish Independent of both the house and its owners which details some of the family’s more recent history: The eldest of six, Sir Maurice grew up in Lakeview and his parents farmed the 100 acres that make up the estate. Educated first in Kerry, Maurice then went to boarding school in Scotland (there is a faint Caledonian air in the accent still) before attending Ampleforth, one of the top private Catholic boarding schools in the UK. There his business acumen started to show itself as he was briefly suspended from school for running a clandestine taxi service ferrying school chums to and from the local pub.
After graduation, he focussed on property investment in the UK, displaying a keen eye for areas ripe for gentrification. As for the whiskey enterprise, he had been looking for a project to keep him busy when he was in Ireland (he also resides in the UK). A seed was planted when he purchased a pub mirror advertising O’Connell and O’Flynn Galway Bay Irish Distillery in an antique store 20 years ago. It later transpired that no such distillery ever existed – the brand was dreamed up by a firm that made pub mirrors for Irish bars. A cynic might say that hypothetical distilleries have been the foundations of many modern Irish whiskey success stories, but O’Connell wanted to build a brand with foundations that would withstand the test of time. This was about legacy as much as enterprise. In 2016 plans for a distillery were briefly considered – they had the barley, they had the story, but the estate was not big enough to create a solely single estate whiskey distillery. There would need to be more to the business.
There are two strands to Wayward thus far – 300-year-old stone buildings (a well-travelled great-uncle named them The Houses Of Contentment, a codeword for brothel in Asia) to the rear of Lakeview have been converted into whiskey warehouses with space for blending and bottling (one of the blenders he uses is John ‘five regions’ McDougall of Worts, Worms, and Washbacks fame). This is where The Liberator brand releases are born. Mature whiskeys are being aged, blended, and bottled here, and those have made up the releases thus far.
O’Connell explains the make-up of some of them: “The Port ‘n’ Peat is a blend similar to our core Liberator Small Batch Double Port (42% malt in tawny and 58% grain of which half was finished in ruby port casks) with the malt element increased with the addition of 5% peated malt (Great Northern Distillery’s very tasty 2016). We’d been playing with using the peat to highlight the port finish and 5% was the sweet spot where neither overpowered the other. The batches were essentially the same group of casks.”
As for their later Storehouse Special, the Malt x Moscatel: “This was a 56% cask strength six-year-old double distilled malt from Great Northern finished in really fresh moscatel sherry (not wine) casks for seven months. I got a bottle of the exceptional sherry last year and had to buy the casks.”
Alongside this, Lakeview Estate’s own barley has been harvested and distilled at Dr John Teeling’s Great Northern Distillery, casked and returned to Lakeview to mature. These will be specifically marketed as Lakeview whiskeys. There are plans for a boutique distillery within the Houses Of Contentment, but that will come down the road (2024 is the provisional ETA). For now the output consists of sourced matured stocks, while in the background are new-make pot still and malt that they commissioned from seven distilleries around Ireland, the contract distilling at GND of homegrown barley, and a lot of emphasis on the impact of terroir from both the sky and the ground.
I am a microclimate sceptic. I don’t tend to subscribe to the notion that a warehouse in Location A will produce a very different whiskey from a warehouse in Location B – unless those locations are wildly different points on the globe (eg, Kentucky versus Cork). Perhaps there is a difference in maturation between the warehouses of Bushmills and those of Midleton but I narrow the eyes when I hear claims of microclimates within provinces creating points of difference between whiskeys.
O’Connell is a staunch advocate of the microclimate, claiming as he does that the unique location of Lakeview offers a climate not enjoyed by other parts of Kerry (worth noting that as far back as 2012, Dingle also worked the microclimate angle when discussing maturation). However, if you were to make a claim of microclimate in any part of Ireland, the south west is where you would do it – with the highest mountain range in Ireland greeting the North Atlantic Drift, Kerry is a prime spot for pockets of unseasonably warm, humid weather (and enthusiastic levels of rainfall).
Sir Maurice breaks down the sample he sent me: “The Lakeview Single Estate Whiskey sample you have was distilled by Great Northern Distillery on 12th March 2019 to our 50/50 mashbill, using barley grown in our Hilly Field and harvested on 28/29 August 2018. The barley was delivered to Athgarrett Malt the next day and small batch malted in January. Some 23 casks were filled that first year, initially into first fill bourbons. After three months, most was transferred into NEOC casks [New Era Oak Cask is a proprietary cask type from ASC Cooperage in France] – Premier Cru Bordeaux casks that have been hand shaved and retoasted.
“They returned to our storehouse to rest. We felt the nose needed something so 10% was finished in an ex-peated malt cask for three months. We’ve been cutting this to bottling strength (46%) over six months compared to our usual six weeks but still shorter than the two-plus years in Cognac where the tradition originated. This will be released as a 250-bottle Coming of Age Release priced at €195.”
Wince all you like at that price, but most of the upcoming releases are already spoken for by those who tried it at Whiskey Live Dublin back in June – so there are many out there who are willing to pay. O’Connell realises that this young whiskey is a work in progress: “I’m being careful to say that I don’t feel that this is the final product (my view is that some more time in the cask will make it the exceptional whiskey it can be) but we wanted to release some now to start a conversation about whether where a spirit is matured – ‘maturation terroir’ for want of a better phrase – affects ageing. It obviously does for extremes but I believe our Kerry microclimate does too and we’re putting this release out there to see if others agree that this tastes beyond its age and beyond other three-year-old pot still releases. “
“We’ve been measuring our temperature and humidity for the last four years and attached [above] is a graph for the last two showing we have a ‘maturation season’ (defined loosely as less than seven degrees celcius from which spirit interacts with wood) of 10.5 months versus six months in Speyside, for example, together with high humidity. In addition, the ‘four seasons in an hour’ Killarney weather, from the collision of Gulf Stream, mountains and lakes, equates to frequent changes in pressure governing spirit/wood interaction.”
The bottle design was inspired by a bottle of D’Orsay perfume that had sat in Lakeview House for decades, and while it may not win favour with mixologists looking to slap it into a speed rail, it’s an elegant first release. The liquid feels older than its years, but smooth and flavoursome. Fresh notes of fennel bulb and light citrus make way for velvet aniseed, coffee, figs, and dark fruits. It’s good, new, fresh. We can argue about why that is – is it the slow cut, is it that Lakeview grows great barley, that GND make great whiskey, good wood, microclimate, or all of the above – but in the end it is meaningless because it passes the only test that really matters. It tastes good.
As for the Jameson connection to Sir Henry Morton Stanley, it doesn’t seem to bother the current custodians of the world’s biggest Irish whiskey brand, as they held a massive party in Lakeview’s Hilly Field recently. Perhaps the relationaship would change should Wayward whiskey start to cannibalise their market, but until then there is peace in the Kingdom.
Blended and bottled on the Estate at 46% ABV, just 300 numbered bottles of the Lakeview Single Estate Irish Whiskey Coming of Age Release are available from Celtic Whiskey Dublin, James Fox Dublin, Carry Out Killarney and Irish Malts. RRP is €195 with a 40ml miniature bottle included.
Theodosia Wingfield lived a sad, short life. Born in Wicklow in 1800, her people were gentleman landowners, and were part of a small community of families of means in the area who all shared a deep piety. After her beloved cousin Francis Theodosia Bligh died at the age of 25, Theodosia married her widower – Richard Wingfield, 5th Viscount Powerscourt, thus becoming the Viscountess Powerscourt. He died a year later. Their only child, a daughter, died in infancy. A month after her husband’s death, Theodosia wrote: “I do not suppose there could be a stronger lesson on the vanity of everything earthly, than to look at me last year, and this. The prospects of happiness I seemed to set out with! And now, where are they?”
But her faith was only strengthened by all the tragedy – in 1829 she hosted the first of the Powerscourt Conferences, when the faithful gathered to discuss prophecy, specifically, the return of the Lord. The conferences were not of the mind that His return would be a thing of peace, love, and understanding – this was not to be the groovy Christ of the New Testament. The conferences deduced that Jesus was coming, and that right soon, to smite a world riddled with sin. There was to be an apocalypse and only the pious would survive. On New Year’s Eve, 1836, Theodosia died, and was buried at Powerscourt.
Powerscourt, like many of the great houses, began as a medieval castle, but in 1730 German-born architect Richard Castle oversaw its redesign as a 68-room mansion in the Palladian style. In 1961 the Slazenger family – they of sports brand fame – bought the property and its lands from the 9th Viscount Powerscourt. In 1974, as the house was undergoing a major refurbishment, a fire broke out and destroyed much of the top floors and the roof. In 1996 it reopened in the form we see today. In more recent years it became a fully fledged lifestyle emporium and tourist trap, hosting more than 300,000 visitors a year.
I wonder how Theodosia would feel about her home, the site of all those deep discussions about a holy apocalypse and the smiting of the wicked, being turned into a shopping centre, albeit a very upmarket one. Within the main part of the house there are various emporiums selling hand-crafted candles and woolen goods, local art, and artisanal foodstuffs. I imagine that if some part of her still resides there, that she drifts through the scented beeswax candles and ethical smoked salmon with her mouth locked wide in an unheard scream, wishing she could take a physical form so she could cast them all out. Perhaps this was the apocalypse she envisioned, albeit in a hyper-localised, slightly ironic form. But the great houses were made great by their lands, and those lands are no more, so needs must. Aristocrat or peasant, in this economy, you gotta shake it to make it.
Powerscourt Distillery is solid. It is backed by the people behind Isle Of Arran and Lagg distilleries, Mentec mogul Mike Peirce and his son Alex, and boasts one of the legends of Irish whiskey as master distiller – Cooley still-jockey Noel Sweeney. The only bump in the road for them was their branding. Early in their development they received correspondence from Irish Distillers Limited suggesting that there might be confusion over a Powerscourt branded whiskey and IDL’s own Powers. Bemused as I am about Big Whiskey worrying about any confusion over labels in a landscape beset with deranged claims about provenance, I can see their point. Powers and Powerscourt are close and unless you have a fair degree of local knowledge it would be hard to say with certainty that these are two completely different entities. This isn’t a uniquely Irish situation – in 1994 Knockdhu distillery rebranded its whisky as anCnoc to avoid confusion with the produce of Knockando distillery. But that such an iconic Irish brand as Powerscourt had to lose give up its claim to its own name is incredibly depressing. However, small mercies have seen them allowed at least to continue with Powerscourt Distillery as the overarching brand, and Fercullen as the primary identity. There is a lengthy explanation of the meaning behind Fercullen but I won’t go into it here because, to be blunt, it isn’t very interesting. Powerscourt is where the stories are. The place has a pet cemetery for Christ’s sake. That should be the branding for a series of single casks in itself.
All of the releases thus far are sourced, obviously enough, since they only started production in 2019. I’m going to assume the source was Cooley, given that this is where their master distiller made his name and that it’s entirely possible he left there with a few casks rolling around in the back of the van. They have quite the selection of whiskey on the market already – core 18 and 14 year old single malts, a ten year old single grain and a blend. In the limited editions they have a 16YO SM, two Five Elements – the 20YO SM I was sent and an 18YO SM – and the Estate Series ‘Mill House’ single grain with an Amarone cask finish. So they’re not short of supply.
I was gifted a sample of the 20YO SM Five Elements 2021. This is made up of 16-year-old bourbon barrel matured malt whiskey which has been finished for four years in a variety of Oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez, Marsala and Muscatel casks, before marrying with together with 20-year-old bourbon matured single malt. Bottled at 46% ABV, non-chill filled, Fercullen Five Elements 20-year-old Limited Edition is available online at www.PowerscourtDistillery.com and at selected off-licences around the country. RRP for this edition, limited to 1,500 bottles, is €220.
Official tasting notes
Nose: Malt, citrus, boiled sweets, vanilla and honey with a twist of lemon, ripe fruits, plums, raisins, cinnamon, tropical fruits, pineapple, mango, banana, oak and a hint of nuttiness.
Taste: Layer upon layer of smooth silky sweet malt, Orange, fruit cocktail, chocolate, Christmas cake, tropical fruit and red grape skins. Waves of complexity and taste.
Finish: Long lasting sweetness from ripe fruits and cream with a velvet texture almost mouth-watering to finish. Long lasting sweetness from ripe fruits and cream produce a velvety texture and mouth-watering finish.
Is it any good? Yes it is, and so it should be at that price. Perhaps this is justified by the limited nature of the release, but to be honest I wouldn’t expect a bargain-bucket pricetag on a whiskey with the name of one of the great houses of Ireland attached to it. Theodosia might be screaming through the halls in the dark watches of the night, but at least there are spirits flowing in Powerscourt once more.
Click here to read more about Theodosia or here to read my take on Powerscourt Distillery after the launch back in 2018.
Daithí O’Connell is in the rare position of being an Irish person who aspires to ending up in a workhouse. As one of the few bona fide independent bottlers here, his business is not only thriving, but is expanding – and now he wants to give his brand a physical home, in a historic building once used to accommodate the destitute during Ireland’s hardest years.
Two years on since we last spoke, much has happened – his Bill Phil peated whiskey sourced from Great Northern is in its fifth iteration, and he has pivoted from being an aspiring Irish whiskey bottler to announcing his intention to bottle five Scotch whiskies – one from each of the so-called whisky regions, starting with a 10-year-old Bruichladdich Lochindaal.
“The Caledonian series has four more regions to see a bottle and complete the initial set, before we can start being able to bottle Scotch ad hoc,” he told me via email.
“I have my eyes on all major whisky regions plus some other spirits and wines I would like to add which compliment our business model and tie the story together.”
And just as Gordon and Macphail and Cadenhead have a physical presence you can visit, O’Connell wants a home for his brand.
“Our new headquarters will be at The Workhouse in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford, and I’m delighted to say we have a 25-year lease agreed. We will be the single largest tenant on the site with over 25,000 square feet of space plus ancillary parking and access. We will develop the site over three phases and will start phase one in September with equipment landing in October and November.”
Specifying that tourism is not his priority – despite its ideal location along the Waterford Greenway – maturation, blending and bottling will all be brought in house. But tourism will surely be a component, as aside from the benefit of having all that history and heritage on-site, O’Connell will also be neighbours with Aidan Mehigan’s Gortinore Distillery when it gets up and running, making this one of the few places outside of Dublin where two significant whiskey attractions will be within walking distance of each other.
But whiskey is a challenging business, and despite his extensive background in the corporate world, I asked him what three things he has learned since getting into the category.
“While whiskey maturation might be a slow process the business itself is a lot more fast paced and demanding than I imagined in these early days.
“My position controlling as much of the process as you can is essential, I guessed it would be but I now know it is for fact.
“Route to market is paramount.”
But on that last note, he appears to be doing well: “We just launched in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg and will be launching in South Africa and the US in October. It’s going to be a busy time for us with those and the new brand home so I decided we should do some contract distilling also after we just harvested our first crop of barley.”
He is also one of a group of smaller producers who came together as a kind of indie Irish Whiskey Association, under the name The Irish Whiskey Guild. I asked him what they hoped to achieve: “We will represent our members on items our members request to be represented on. We are currently preparing a submission for the DAFM on the Irish whiskey technical file. We will also be working with Bord Bia on items. There is opportunity for commercial cooperation also so all this will happen over time. We are all volunteers who run our own businesses so things move a little slower.
“I can’t speak for other members of the guild as to why they do or don’t join the IWA. We do have some members who are in both and we see no issue as to why the two can’t work side by side. I do know that IBEC membership fees are off putting for some.
“Our common goal is the betterment of the Irish whiskey industry. The benefits are that we are essentially a self help group for small producers. We have very different issues than the bigger players and can help each other out by transfer of knowledge and cooperation. We can also lobby for change and have our voice heard as a unified group.
“We pay a flat €100 per annum membership sub that is to be used for administrative costs. There are two membership levels. Full and associate. Associates-are allowed sit in on meetings, part take in events etc and express opinions however they have no voting rights. Each full member has a single vote.
“Full membership is based on your status as a whiskey producer. Have a distillery that definitely distills whiskey or have whiskey in market plus your own bond or a bonded tenancy in place. Each membership application is taken on a case by case basis.”
O’Connell is refreshingly honest about the business he is in and how capital thirsty it is: When I asked what the biggest obstacle to getting into the industry was, he was blunt:
“Money is essential. Double what you think you need and then double it again.”
So just like when pouring a dram, it’s always best to make it a double.
I did not like La La Land when it came out. It felt like everyone else did, which in itself might have given me unrealistic expectations about how life-changing it might be. Perhaps my nonplussed reaction to it came from the fact that I don’t watch a huge amount of musicals (does anyone any more?). Whatever the reason, I thought it was poor. Nice songs, good cast, let down by meandering plotline and a sense of smug self-satisfaction.
Fast forward to 2020, during one of those rambling scrolls through Netflix I stumbled across it again and thought, well let’s give this a go. It’s relatively PG, so I can stick it on when the kids are about. Why not watch it again on the off chance I missed what everyone else saw, just like I did with Magic Eye paintings, moving statues, and that blue/gold dress? Long story short, La La Land is amazing. Since that second viewing I have watched it again, and again, and again, and loved it more each time. The film didn’t change, but I and the world around me did; I came to it the second time round with no expectations, with a more open mind, and besides, I was now in lockdown and the primary colours and big musical numbers of La La Land was just the escapism I needed. I’m sure there is an irony in the fact that a film about good things happening with bad timing became my top film of the last 12 months, but there you go.
Ardbeg Ten was the first peated whisky I tried. Someone I knew had a bottle and it was clear they were not into it, so they offered it to me. I gave it a try and was struck immediately at how different it was to all the other whiskies I had tried (I almost refused to accept it was whisky, checking the label to make sure, like a drunk in a movie who sees a UFO or talking dog and then throws a bottle over his shoulder). An acrid, smokey tang, it was a thunder bolt for my senses. I genuinely wasn’t ready for peat, especially not at that level of intensity. I was only starting my journey into whisky and frankly this came a little soon. It’s like suddenly being told oh, you like Guns ‘n’ Roses, well how about you try some Pig Destroyer? Like boiling a frog, you gotta do it gradual.
But I still took the bottle away with me (the owner was delighted to see the back of it). I nibbled away at the bottle over the intervening years and while you couldn’t say it changed, I did. Like Alan Patridge’s sudden revelation that, actually, he likes wine, despite all those things he said earlier – I actually really like peat, despite my initial recoil. It’s not the centre of my universe but peat is one of the facets of whisky that is accessible for a casual fan like me. I can taste something and say, yeah, this is peated. I couldn’t tell you cask type, age, mashbill, or anything else, but smoke is one of those things that triggers the primitive parts of our brain – Smoke! Danger! Fire! Warmth! We can all identify smoke. I could be nosing forever to try and guess a single other detail about a whisky, but peat will always make itself known. It is a broad and beautiful brushstroke in any whisky, and, in my experience, I have yet to taste a whisky where I thought wow, they should really dial down the peat here.
I still have that bottle of the ten sat in a press somewhere. I never got around to finishing it, but I have milled through three bottles of Uigideal, which is an absolute gem that I recommend to anyone. Aside from that I don’t know much about Ardbeg, aside from the usual Hunger Games of their committee releases, when Whisky Twitter goes into meltdown in its attempts to secure a bottle. I’m here for the everyman, on-the-shelf-in-the-offie drams, I don’t need to hassle or the drama of trying to get the rare exclusives. I don’t want to have to find the mythical isle of Tortuga, Torbay will do just fine.
So while I like to sound the fanfare for the common dram, I am also comfortable with the odd freebie, which is why I was happy to celebrate Ardbeg Day this year by taking delivery of a free bottle of the ten from my new best friends at The Hive. I assume they are a PR firm and not an invading alien species who think with one mind and whose sole aim is to destroy humanity, but even if they are flesh eating creatures from another galaxy, free booze, amiright?
Ardbeg uses malt peated to a level of 50ppm at the maltings in the village of Port Ellen. It is then milled in Ardbeg’s rare Boby malt mill, installed in 1921.
Water comes from Loch Uigeadail, via Loch Airigh Nam Beist, via Charlie’s Dam at the distillery, and into the mash house.
The washbacks at Ardbeg are made of Oregon pine. Fermentation time is longer than other distilleries because of the high phenolic content of the original malt.
Ardbeg distils twice.
On the Lyne arm of the spirit still at Ardbeg there is a piece of apparatus called a purifier. As the boiling continues in the spirit still, the heavier impure alcohols reach the top of the still (the initial light alcohols are sweet and fruity). Some of the heavier compounds are captured in the purifier and fed back down into the main pot of the still. As the boiling process continues, the heavier phenolics come through, this occurs from about halfway through the spirit run. The purifier gives a little extra reflux, so we have two distillations and a little bit more. The purifier is unique on Islay and balance is the key.
The vast amount of whisky matures in ex-Bourbon oak. In maturation only 1st and 2nd fill casks are used. Their new 1st fill Bourbon casks come from suppliers in the US. Other casks come from Speyside Cooperage, and Craigellachie.
Primarily barrels have been used in the past, but now there is a substantial mix between barrels (for Ardbeg Ten Years Old,) Sherry Butts (some of which are used for Ardbeg Uigeadail), and new French Oak Barrels for Ardbeg Corryvreckan. And these are their three core expressions.
Because Ardbeg sits very close to the sea, the whisky receives a certain salty, iodine character while it matures.
I included that last factoid despite my best judgement as, if I’m honest, I am extremely cynical about maturation location as a factor in flavour. If it’s stuck in a pine forest will it faintly taste of pine? Midleton’s Dungourney warehouse complex is surrounded by pine woods, and I will chortle if they ever claim it gives a pine-fresh Toilet Duck-esque flavour to the whiskey.
So Ardbeg Ten – a dank bass note of a dram, in a bottle with a label that looks like a biker insignia, and tastes like arson. So from that first smokey taste years ago, what do I reckon now?
Nose: Cordite, treacle, liquorice.
Palate: Smoke! Fire! Etc! Fenugreek, caramel, dark chocolate, aniseed.
Finish: Demerara sugar, mint, toffee.
Is Ardbeg Ten the best intro to peat you can have? I would say not – I’d steer any newcomer to one of the more subtle peated drams (always love a Benromach) before this hefty unit. Ardbeg is unashamedly peated, and while I respect that, and while I found my way back to peat over time, not everyone will give it that second chance. But everyone and everything changes – the idea that we spend our lives in some kind of epicurean stasis is a sad one indeed, so here’s to second chances.
As monks go, St Columba was pretty rock ‘n’ roll. A great-great-grandson of High King Niall of the Nine Hostages, he once started a war over a copyright issue and ended up narrowly avoiding excommunication by exiling himself to Scotland. He sailed past Islay, where Irish monks introduced distilling to the Scots, and set up a Christian outpost on Iona, from where he set out to spread his faith.
But he is also remembered for being the first person recorded to have an encounter with the Loch Ness monster. He came across some Picts burying a companion who had been killed by a ‘water beast’ in the loch. Columba ordered one of his followers to swim across the loch and bring back a boat on the other side – but the man was only halfway when a fearsome creature appeared.
Invoking the name of God, Columba formed the sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.”
The monster fled, but despite the fact that 1,500 years have passed since that account, and although Columba has largely been forgotten, Nessie’s legend shows no signs of diminishing. Loch Ness still seems a magical place, where the walls between our world and some fantasy kingdom are crumbling, where anything can happen. No wonder then that a family who have lived on the banks of the loch for 500 years have decided to try and capture some of the magic of its waters.
Lorien and Kevin Cameron-Ross, above, the founders and directors of Loch Ness Spirits, hand pick their own ‘black gold’ juniper and local botanicals from their land on the shores of Loch Ness. They then combine it with the water of the glen to create the limited edition ‘Real and Rare’ Loch Ness Gin. Just 500 bottles of the first batch of ‘Real and Rare’ Loch Ness Gin have been distilled.
Already an award winner, achieving a gold medal in ‘ultra-premium’ category and silver medal in the ‘London dry’ category of The Global Gin Masters Competition in June, ‘Real and Rare’ Loch Ness Gin was described by the judges as “A sparkle of juniper mixed with earthy angelica and aromatic pine blossom.”
Co-creator Lorien: ‘Inspired by a local gin tour and noting how rare and precious juniper was, we got to thinking about the juniper around us when we walked the dog at home.
‘It has been a steep learning curve and we have worked extremely hard to hand pick the juniper and other botanicals, but we have made it, and are desperately proud of the result.
‘The family has been working the rugged shores of this loch for 500 years and this is just the next stage in that tradition of working the land. I probably shouldn’t say this, but it could be the most delicious thing we have produced in half a millennium!’
So what of the gin – it has a freshness on the nose that I wasn’t expecting, a real light air of lemongrass, with hints of fresh-cut fennel bulb. There is a definite menthol element that really lines it up as a palate cleanser – citrus notes, but with a hint of brine. The mouth is definitely a big departure – lots of cotton candy, a slight medicinal sweetness, leaving more of that initial citrus in its wake. A refreshing gin, served with too much tonic water and you might drown out some of the more hidden depths. I took this neat, then with ice, then tonic, and favoured a weightier measure of gin and less of everything else; like the beastie in the loch, it is an elusive sip that definitely needs more exploration.
As for Nessie, her enduring myth was revived recently by Ian Bremner, a distillery worker who took this photo:
Speaking after, Bremner said: “I suppose it could be seals – but I’m not so sure. The more I think about it, the more I think it could be Nessie” – proving that from St Columba to the Cameron-Rosses, all you need to make the waters of Loch Ness magical is a little faith.
What is a baseball bat? Is it a piece of sports equipment, used by athletes the world over, a symbol of the unifying power of team sports? Or is it a weapon, used by thugs the world over, a symbol of gang violence? Is it the embodiment of America’s national pastime – or is it something you use to smash a lackey’s head in, a la Al Capone in The Untouchables?
And speaking of being beaten over the head with a blunt instrument, this metaphor is pretty weak – but there is a better one.
The 21st amendment to the American constitution, passed in 1933, repealed Prohibition – the nationwide outlawing of alcohol – but some states still had the power to restrict or simply ban the sale of booze in all its forms. The last state to give up total Prohibition was Mississippi, which stayed dry until 1966. As a result, for those 33 years, alcohol was a hot topic for all Mississippi politicians. However, only one of them is remembered for a speech he gave on the subject.
Noah S. ‘Soggy’ Sweat Jr got his nickname from his mop of hair and its resemblance to the sorghum top, or sugar cane tassel, rather than his physical reaction to the oppressive heat of the deep south. In his life he was a judge, a law professor, and, briefly, as a young man, a state representative in Mississippi. In 1952, towards the end of his term, he gave a speech on the floor of the state legislature concerning alcohol sales, and specifically whiskey. At this stage he was used to being badgered by the Prohibitionists (the ‘drys’) and the repeal side (the ‘wets’) to give a solid opinion on the topic, and had spent long enough wrestling with the subject to come up with one definitive stance.
What he said became known as the ‘If By Whiskey’ speech and it came to symbolise how difficult a subject alcohol is for public representatives to discuss, as it also captures how we can hold two opposing views at the same time. Here it is in full:
My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
The speech is witty, poetic and moving. It sums up the pleasures and sorrows of alcohol and asks big questions about how we think about the issue – how often do you hear politicians talking about about the scourge of alcohol, as though the liquid itself was to blame? We talk about the negatives it as though ‘the drink’ takes control of us, like some sort of demonic possession, and exonerates us from any wrongdoing, and erases all choice we might have had in the matter. Yes, it diminishes our ability to make sensible decisions – but we choose to drink it knowing that. In fact, its ability to release us from the pressures of life is one of the things that makes it so important; but, like anything else that gets abused – drugs, food, sex – it does damage. It is in the abusing that all harm is done.
In Ireland we still wring our hands about alcohol abuse, despite the fact that our consumption of it is falling. According to Ireland’s Revenue Commissioners alcohol consumption in Ireland is down 25% since 2001 with consumption of beer and spirits down 40%.
There is always that moment of surprise when you see a table of nations and their alcohol consumption – we are rarely even in the top ten (it’s okay though, we are still higher than the UK).
So we are not the nation of alcoholics we sometimes like to think we are; booze plays a large role in our society, but that is changing. Consumption of alcohol in pubs is down 35 percent in the last decade. Against those figures, wine consumption is up, as we move towards drinking at home, a choice guided as much by the crackdown on drink-driving as it is by changing tastes.
There are bleating voices on both sides of the debate around alcohol – from the industry there is the usual cry of ‘blessed are the job creators’, as they roll out all the economic contributions they make to the State.
On the other side is the health campaigners, who bemoan the costs to our health service and to our society.
Like the If-By-Whiskey speech, both arguments are right – alcohol contributes huge sums to the economy, not least in taxes. Ireland has the highest priced alcohol in the EU, with the the second highest taxes on alcohol in the EU, according to Eurostat and the EU Commission. In 2014, the exchequer received €1.42 from every pint costing €4.64, (or 30.6% of the price) consumed in bars; €16.41 or 68.4% of the price of a €24 off-licence bottle of whiskey; and €4.50 or 64% of the price of a €7 off-licence bottle of wine. So it is already quite expensive to drink here, without even considering the flawed model of minimum unit pricing, itself a blunt tool that is effectively a class-based prohibition.
So taxes are high here, but the argument that ‘you can buy whiskey cheap in America so why not here’ is a facile one – try losing your job in America, or getting sick, or testing the state supports in any capacity before you praise their taxation regime. Booze has always been the taxman’s whipping boy – the very first tax ever levied by the American government was on whiskey, and it lead to what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. But the tax stood, and it was used to build their then fledgling nation. Taxes on alcohol are high in Ireland, but we have a high standard of living here – as someone who spent eight months on the dole last year, I was startled at just how generous the state was to my family and I.
Also, for the consumer to assume tax cuts would equate to price cuts is naive – particularly where whiskey is concerned, as like Stella Artois (before it went for sales volume over value), the average bottle of triple-distilled liquid silk is deliberately ‘reassuringly expensive’. And to those who say that the whiskey taxes are killing the industry here, the distillery boom we are seeing in the past four years show that high taxes on whiskey are no barrier to business.
So taxes are high, prices are relatively high, yet some people still drink too much – so how do you stop them? This is where the real issues surrounding alcohol come into play, and where Soggy Sweat’s words really ring true, because alcohol, like the Cenobites in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, is an angel to some and a demon to others: It all comes down to choice.
National drug and alcohol policy is often based around the broad premise that substance abuse is about pleasure, rather than pain, or rather the escape from pain – subsequently, legislation often deals in broad strokes, such as minimum unit pricing or curfews on sales. These laws are a simplistic way of dealing with an incredibly complex issue, because – as pointed out in Ken Burns’s masterful documentary Prohibition – you cannot legislate for morals. You cannot outlaw dysfunction, you cannot go into every home and ensure that everyone has sufficient coping mechanisms to not fall into some sort of addiction.
A republic has to allow its citizens to make poor choices, even if those choices affect those around them and society as a whole. Walk the main street of any small town in Ireland and you will see just how good we are at making bad choices – chippers, pubs, offies and bookies; all offering products or services that are fine in small doses, but which can ruin lives.
My parent never drank much, my dad did a bit, my mum not at all. Like many Irish kids I was given a drop of whiskey for a sore tooth now and again, but generally I grew up in a pretty dry, intensely religious household. I started secretly drinking when I was 13, and was a frequent binge drinker by the time I was 15. I would steal money, go to Cork and buy flagons of cider and sit in Bishop Lucey Park drinking with a rotating cast of crusties, new age travellers, the destitute and the deranged. When I left school I worked in a kitchen, as cheffing was an industry where you can drink yourself into oblivion and nobody would take much notice. It is a period of my life I don’t look back on with any pleasure – it was a relentlessly grim cycle of broken relationships and self destruction. There was no joy, and if it had continued I have no doubt I would be dead now.
But things changed. I went back to college and although I still drank, it was in a fun, social way. As I got older my outings got rarer and rarer, and nowadays I just love a whiskey of two at the weekends.
Since I’ve been living with my dad and looking after him, I’ve been drinking more – in fact, almost every night. I spend my days looking after him, making his food and helping him about the house, managing hospital visits and dispensing his medication. It’s all straightforward stuff, and I am happy to do it; I’ve been looking after him for three months, he looked after me for about 40 years. My wife and kids had planned to move in, but we soon realised that the cacophony of our family would be too much for him, so I am here alone, watching him slowly die. His mind is starting to go, and I can feel him slipping away from me. Most days I just spend staring at him, missing him even though he is still here.
At night I go upstairs and open another one of the bottles I had been saving for a special occasion and have a good cut off it. And after the first few sips, I can feel the weight of sadness lift slightly, and I relax, even for an hour or two, and I drift from where I am. I watch a few Norm Macdonald videos or goof off on Twitter, and it takes me away. As Judge Sweat pointed out, whiskey enables me to magnify my joy, and my happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, one of my life’s great tragedies.
There are many who would point out that I am committing that terrible act – using alcohol as a crutch. But I need a crutch. If I don’t have something to quell my mind before bed, I would spend hours lying there, mentally drafting eulogies, occasionally sobbing. Whiskey is a salve on my emotional wounds. If I didn’t have that, I would be doing a lot worse than I am.
In my youth I used alcohol to harm myself – now I am using it to heal. But it is often used in this manner – in many hospitals alcohol is prescribed. I spoke to a doctor recently who told me that as a junior doc with the NHS in the early Nineties he used to regularly prescribe sherry, whiskey and Guinness to patients.
A physio told me that when she trained in a London hospital there was a patient in intensive care for a long period of time. His mood dipped and so he was prescribed a whiskey each evening. It worked, and his mood lifted. It didn’t stop him dying, but it made his demise that little bit more bearable.
In fact, Marymount Hospice – where my dad is headed soon – has a drinks trolley for patients, where you can have a pint or a whiskey of an evening.
Alcohol is a bridge from our own profane humanity to a divine plane where our troubles are diminished. For some, their troubles are such that they never want to return. For the rest of us, it’s simply a welcome few hours of escape.
Like a baseball bat, alcohol is a weapon if you choose to use it that way. Used right, it is one of life’s great joys, a thought reflected by the American baseball star Tug McGraw. After signing a lucrative contract, he was asked how he would spend his money. His reply was: “Ninety percent I’ll spend on good times, women and Irish whiskey. The other ten percent I’ll probably waste.”
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
The new look carries a lot of the feel of the (incredible) John’s Lane Release:
POWERS Gold Label 700ml
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
Celtic Whiskey Club
Celtic Whiskey Shop
Dingle Gin & Vodka
Gordon & MacPhail
Great Northern Distillery
Irish Whiskey Awards
Irish Whiskey Society
Isle of Arran
Lexington Brewing & Distilling
Longueville House Apple Brandy
Saint Patricks Distillery
Single Pot Still Whiskeys of Ireland (Midleton, Redbreast, Powers)
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 Examinertoday. I’m tired, and happy.