You can be happily married, or you can live in Kinsale. That’s what I was told by a fellow traveller on Cork Whiskey Society’s expedition to the Folkhouse in the Cork seaside town. Kinsale is like Cork’s riviera, a playground for the rich and shameless, and, if my guide was right, a hotbed of wife swapping and French-style casual affairs. How exciting, I thought. Sadly, my trip to the south county was not in pursuit of whatever name they might have for dogging in a 60ft ocean-going yacht, but the equally aristocratic pursuit of quaffing Cognac. The Malt Lane whiskey bar in the Folkhouse was our venue, and Hennessy was our brand. I met two of the descendants of Richard Hennessy two years ago, but somehow on the night I managed to come away with no free bottles of booze (or ‘bribes’ as they are also known), despite two stylish chaps from the Maison stage managing the entire interview. Contrast LVMH’s stinginess with the generosity of Irish drinks giant Pern O’Ricard, who send me booze with such regularity that I think they might be trying to kill me. Well, as they say in the media, what doesn’t kill you makes you drunker.
Brandy can be made anywhere in the world. Just ask Chip Tate, the maverick distiller behind the legendary Balcones Distillery, who after departing the Texan distillery and signing a non-competition agreement, is now going to make Texan brandy. Cognac, however, can only be made in the region of France that bears its name, and only using three grape varieties. They make a poor wine, but once distilled the liquid comes to life. I was surprised at how similar to whiskey the three expressions we tried were – there were differences, obviously, but nothing like my reaction when I first tried an Ardbeg and spluttered ‘what the fuck is this?’
We were guided through the expressions which went from the entry level VS, to the XO, and on to the Paradis, which costs about a grand a bottle, and which I presume is what they use to water their plants with in Kinsale. It’s very hard to be objective about anything when you are being bombarded with information about how exclusive and special it is – tastings with brand ambassadors tend to be about creating an aura around their product. The Paradis was a good drink, but to my mind, the XO was superior, and not just because I could actually afford a bottle without selling a kidney.
There was also a rare Hennessy Irish whiskey on offer on the night. Released for the Asian market, it was a Cooley NAS and probably didn’t do much to raise the profile of Irish whiskey overseas (not that Jameson Grace did any better). The packaging also incorrectly referred to Ireland as being ‘west of England’, instead of saying England is to the east of Ireland.
The evening also featured ‘posh pork scratchings’ AKA a cheese board, great pints, great bants and a minibus journey expedited by two bottle of Jameson Black Barrel. Another great event by the Cork Whiskey Society, not that you get that from my incredibly blurry photos: