Any port in a storm

We got to Heuston Station as the last train pulled out. It was only going as far as Portlaoise, so even if we had made it, we would still have had quite a walk back to Cork.

My daughter and I were in Dublin for a hospital appointment, one that only got cancelled at 10pm the night before, when we were already in the city. This meant we were trapped in the big smoke, with the worst storm in four decades bearing down on us. So we decided to go shopping.

Back in Dublin city centre it soon became clear that this was not going to be an option – almost everywhere was pulling down the shutters as we walked around, first across O’Connell Street and then up to Grafton Street. Despite the warnings that Ireland was about to get hit with a bone fide hurricane (bear in mind that the last tropical occurrence here were those really racist Lilt ads in the early Nineties), the weather was pleasantly mild, if a little breezy. But hell or high water wouldn’t keep me from the one place I always visit when in Dublin – the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I had assumed they wouldn’t be open, but, as their owner is a canny Scot who is used to actual storms, he opened. This was a godsend, as whiskey does technically fall under the remit of ‘provisions’ in any major Irish emergency.

So despite the weary groans from my teenage daughter, we ambled in to soak up the ambiance, and by ambience I naturally mean booze.

I tend to complain about the price of Irish whiskey. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income, so the prices of Irish whiskey sometimes make me despair. As a result, I usually shop online and mostly buy Scotch. This is partly because of the value you get, and also the sheer variety. But what you don’t get is the enjoyment of talking to a salesperson, especially ones as expert as the staff in the Celtic Whiskey Shop. It’s little wonder that many of their staff go on to work as brand ambassadors, as they know their stuff, they know how to treat customers well, and they are a genial bunch.

As soon as we started chatting, a sample was offered, to warm the blood after braving the unseasonably mild weather outside. But this wasn’t going to be a drop of whatever was on special – they went straight for a Midleton single cask. After that – and an hour long conversation about Irish whiskey, Jim Murray, transparency, online vs offline shopping, and beef – I basically had to buy something. I asked for something interesting, so they gave me a drop of the new Teeling Brabazon port cask.

John Teeling. Picture; Gerry Mooney

The Teeling story is a remarkable one. John Teeling was a teetotaller and serial entrepreneur who had the barmy idea of buying an old, state-owned industrial distillery and using it to make whiskey for third party sales. Looking back now, more than two decades on, it seems visionary, but I would imagine that at the time it seemed quite batshit. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, he played it hard and fast, ending up at loggerheads with Irish Distillers on at least one occasion, but in the end he created an empire, one that he sold to Beam Suntory for €71m in 2011.

John Teeling’s boundless energy meant he was never going to stay still – he bought the old Harp brewery in Dundalk and turned it into a distilling powerhouse, again using the third party model that had brought him so much success in Cooley. But his sons went for a riskier, bolder model.

**** NO REPRO FEE **** 13/02/2013 : DUBLIN : Independent Irish whiskey maker the Teeling Whiskey Company has launched Teeling Irish whiskey to celebrate 231 years of whiskey distilling tradition within the Teeling Family. The Teeling family’s whiskey heritage dates back to Walter Teeling who set up a distillery in 1782 in Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties, Dublin. The Teeling Whiskey Company also announced that it is carrying out a feasibility study on setting up a distillery in Dublin. Pictured launching Teeling Irish Whiskey is Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Company. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.
Media contact : David Ó Síocháin Mobile 087 936 2440 email : media@teelingwhiskey.com

Jack and Stephen Teeling may be the dauphins of Irish whiskey, but they also came burdened with their father’s impressive legacy. However, there are few people in Ireland today with their insight or expertise in building a successful whiskey business. A sign of this confidence was where they opted to site their new distillery – in Dublin city’s Newmarket Square. 

After this brave move, there was the pressure to source quality stock – and this is where I am going to engage in some wild speculation. I would suggest that, contrary to popular belief, they didn’t hang on to a load of Cooley stock. Beam Suntory didn’t pay seventy million clams just for Cooley, Ireland’s ugliest distillery (they also got one of Ireland’s prettiest distilleries, Kilbeggan) and zero stock. When you pay that much for a distillery, you are not just looking for infrastructure, you are looking for booze – and lots of it.

Similarly, if you are selling a distillery and tons of stock, you are selling it at a good price, so you are not going to get some sort of budget buy-back deal. So while there is a theory out there that all three Teelings walked away from that deal with a cartload of premium casks, it is highly unlikely. As one pundit put it to me, that would be like selling someone a car with no engine.

While the grain the Teelings use may be from Cooley (as with all things supply related, a lot of this is guesswork) it would appear their other source is Bushmills, a distillery that seems to be able to supply vast quantities of excellent whiskey to just about anyone but themselves. The Teelings’ Vintage Reserve releases would certainly suggest Bushmills, as some of those bottlings are older than Cooley Distillery itself.

But back to their sourced releases, which rarely disappoint – their first being a blend that was, and still is, one of the great bang-for-your-buck whiskeys out there. My first bottle of it came with a ringing endorsement from the Celtic Whiskey Shop a few years ago, and it is still one I would rank up there with Writers Tears as a great introduction to the ever expanding world of Irish whiskey.

So the Teelings have it all – the supply, the distillery, the know-how, a partnership with Bacardi that opens new channels across the globe; and they even had their own TV show, which I think makes them the Kardashians of Irish whiskey. 

Their sourced releases were varying degrees of excellent – here are some of the mainstream releases, not including the single casks and obscure releases:

Core Trinity Range:

Small Batch

Single Grain

Single Malt

Vintage Reserve Collection:

21 YO

26 YO

30 YO

24 YO

33 YO

Revival Series:

Vol. I

Vol. II

Vol. III

Vol. IV

Vol V (pending released 2018)

Brabazon Bottlings:

Brabazon 1

Brabazon 2

Collaborations/exclusives:

Stout Cask

Airport Exclusives  x c.10

Poitín (from their own distillery in Dublin):

Teeling Poitín

Teeling Spirit of Dublin

The Teeling brothers are looking at an Autumn 2018 date for their own stock, which will be the first new whiskey out of Dublin in quite some time, so the furore then will possibly be even more annoying than when the Dubs win the All-Ireland.

But back to Brabazon II: I asked Gabriel Corcoran from Teeling to shed a little light on the components: “There is a significant portion of white port, of a similar profile to the Carcavelos single cask release, but balanced out with a ruby port backbone and some added depth from a tawny port-finished element.”

The complete breakdown is as follows:


So on to some confusing and wildly inaccurate tasting notes:

Nose: Going to set a high bar for pretentiousness early on by saying ‘a forest in winter’ – vegetal notes, pine, an outdoorsy freshness, although that may just be the alcohol vapors freezing my face. Red liquorice, slight acetone, camphor. Less of the heavy fruit notes I expected to get from so much port cask, but then I haven’t a clue what port tastes like as I am not a feudal lord.

Palate: Fucking hell that 49.5% hits you in the goddam throat – in a good way. Lots of aniseed, ouzo, real heavy warming sensations, Benylin, the stewed fruits coming through. Hierbas, the Mallorcan liqueur,

Finish:  Dark chocolate, coffee, going to say tannic dryness even though I’m not entirely certain what that means. Cornflakes, for some bizarre reason. Hints of peppermint in the aftermath, pink peppercorns, metallic notes, and those juicy, sweet notes of the fruit.

Brabazon II in a grappa glass for some reason.

Overall, a solid release. Could it be a little better priced? Yes, it could. At close to €80, this is more expensive than the Tyrconnell 12 Madeira cask, which they used to make in Cooley, and which is one of the greats of Irish whiskey. But as with anything, this is completely subjective – bear in mind that after tax, I get paid about €80 a day, and as I work hard, it needs to be a pretty decent whiskey to justify that spend. Still, as a memento of an odd day wandering a deserted Dublin waiting for the hurricane, it was a worthwhile buy. My thanks to the guys in the Celtic Whiskey Shop for just being open, but especially to Dave Cummins, who was fantastic company, even managing to get my daughter chatting about whiskey, a topic she hates as it is ‘boring’. I mean yeah, it is totally boring, until you’re old enough to drink the stuff. But for her, that day is a long way off…he said hopefully.

Snakes on an astral plane

So the Indo asked me to write a bit for Paddy’s Day. It was meant to be 17 signs you’re Irish, or alternatives way to mark the day, so I got confused and ended up with something between those two. Of all the things I wrote for the paper this was the one I stumbled over the most. Thus, it ended up being a somewhat overwrought and overlong 1,200 words on whatever the hell this is: 

 

I want to tell you a story. A story about a young man from a country far away, who yearned for a better life. Lured here with promises of a great job and excellent working conditions, he found himself forced into slavery, working in filthy conditions and surrounded by animals. No, I’m not talking about Brent Pope, but of our patron saint, Patrick. Like all young men growing up in Wales he dreamed only of playing rugby in a coal mine with the rest of his choir, but after spotting an ad in the local ogham stone looking for young talent to work overseas, he signed up and was shipped off to Ireland to herd sheep. Granted, it could have been worse – he could have been forced to work the late shift in a Spar on O’Connell Street, and while he really ought to have heard alarms bells when the recruitment agency was run by a man named Niall Of The Nine Hostages, his fate – and ours – were forever entwined thereafter.

 

He did escape eventually, but after a brief interlude back home, presumably working as a roadie for Tom Jones, he spotted a gap in the market back in Ireland for guilt. Our national identity has been linked – for better or worse – with the Catholic faith ever since, but perhaps now is a good time to think about all the things that make us who we are.

 

  1. Form a disorderly queue: Few things capture the essence of Irishness like the depressing mayhem of our attempts to queue. Having been raised with the horizontal battlefront queueing system in pubs, our transition from jostling pintbabies to confused pintmen and pintladies every time we are expected to form a straight line is something to behold. Like a particularly drug-addled horse at the start of the Grand National, our restless spirit won’t allow us to simply stand in a line waiting our turn for anything, be it to board an Expressway bus, select from a breakfast buffet, use self-service checkouts, or attend a removal.  
  2. Do what thou wilt and that shall be the whole of the law: For a country with so many zany self-imposed religious rules, we really struggle to comply with some of the more basic statutory ones. Any rule we don’t like becomes John Bull’s Law, and thus is to be ignored until we become four green fields once more. This list includes TV licenses, any and all avoidable taxes, picking up after your dog, and a whole host of others. This St Patrick’s Day why not celebrate our innate lawlessness by parking in in a junction box, walking in a cycle lane, cycling on a footpath, or simply wandering into a random queue at the halfway point.
  3. Avoid confrontation: We love a good donnybrook, even going so far as ironically naming a well-to-do part of Dublin after our beloved mass brawls. But those are collective affairs – we are the fighting Irish, not the fighting Irish person. One-on-one, we are terrible at standing our ground. You can point to any number of historical reasons for it, but we are completely incapable of asking someone to stop cycling on the footpath, or to not skip the queue, or to stop spitting their gum onto your shoes. Even when we do try to confront an issue, it ends coming out as a series of increasingly apologetic ‘sorrys’. So when some giant stands right in front of you at the parade, or a sleeveen slithers in to get served ahead of you at the bar, swallow that anger down, and store it up for the next donnybrook. On Paddy’s Day you shouldn’t have too long to wait.
  4. Talk without speaking: We are a nation of talkers, and we love nothing more than chewing over the important issues of the day, such as potatoes, rain, or the effects of rain on potatoes. Just as the Inuit have a veritable blizzard of words for snow, we have a dozen flowery words for potato and more than nine million for rain, but they all carry deeper layers of meaning. Here are a few translations to get you started:
    ‘Tis fine out’ – I am filled with a sense of doom.
    ‘The forecast is for rain’ – All is right with the world.
    ‘Are these the new potatoes?’ – I no longer love you.
  5. Is there anything to be said for another Mass: Most of us are products of the Catholic education system, where the central tenet, as Billy Connolly once noted, was ‘Jesus is dead and it’s all your fault’. St Patrick may have helped wrap our national identity in the shroud of the holy Roman Catholic empire, but there are other faiths in this world and this land, and we could do with learning a bit more about them. As a country that venerates Foster And Allen, Gerry Adams and Daithi O Se, we should have no problem understanding any religion that worships lads with beards. Which is basically all of them.
  6. An béal bocht: Apart from the Belle Époque of 2006-2007, during which we pretended to be rich, nothing satisfies us like pretending to be poor. Everything is a struggle, we tell the person seated next to us on the flight to Mallorca. We are finding it so hard to make ends meet, we tell the car dealer as he hands over the keys to a 171 ozone killer. When will John Bull stop his insane tax laws, we ask the bank manager as we remortgage our third home to buy another. The poor mouth is an integral part of our identity, and even with big ticket purchases we go to great lengths of humblebrag about how they were the deal of the century, despite everyone knowing full well that you didn’t get that Fabergé egg in TK Maxx.  
  7. Demonic possessiveness: Our grasp of history may not be the sharpest, given that 90% of our schooling was given over to Catholic Guilt 101, and what we do know mostly relates to John Bull and his cockamamy laws that we refuse to abide by. However, woe betide anyone from another country try to claim something Irish as their own. All we need is to hear a simple phrase like ‘award-winning British actor Michael Fassbender’ and we turn into a nation of Wolverines. Granted, Fassy was born in Germany, but when he emotes as Professor Mutato in X-Men, or expresses anguish in that film about Copperface Jacks, Shame, and the Kerry accshint comes out, it is as stirring to us as listening to A Nation Once Again whilst eating a bowl of lovely floury pops on a grand soft day atop Carrauntoohil. Anyone who thinks they can lay claim to him, or any other Irish success story – be it whiskey, Olympic boxers, or the cure for leprosy – can pull themselves a nice cold pint of cop on.
  8. Be pernickety about St Patrick’s Day: The American use of the four-leaf clover in place of a shamrock is annoying enough (who does the fourth leaf symbolise, Colonel Sanders?), but it’s their cheerful use of ‘St Patty’ that seems to get under our skin the most. Perhaps this is because at any one time there are about two million Patricks in this country and not one of them is known as Patty. But sher as long as they keep mislabelling 50,000 of our lads over there as ‘undocumented’ as opposed to ‘illegal immigrants’, they can call him whatever they want.
  9. Pessimistic optimism: The Irish carry in their hearts the sense that things are fairly terrible, but they could always be worse. We like talking about our ‘Third World health/education/transport system’, despite the fact that it is now known as the developing world, and despite the fact that we have clearly never been there. The same mind that can spend 25 minutes describing a crater-sized pothole will eventually grudgingly admit that there are probably worse potholes in Alleppo and that what’s happening there is actually pretty bad and, to be fair, this really is a great country if only they could build a roof over it, and that postman in the Blue Stacks said our summer will be so hot that the earth will slam into the sun, so everything will be grand in the end, we can’t go on, we will go on.
  10. Make and do: Whether it be poetry, music, human life, or sovereign debt, the Irish create at an exponential rate, and our cultural impact on this planet is something to behold. We somehow managed to consensually colonise much of the civilised world, peddling craic and multiplying like Tribbles. What other country has a national day of celebration that the whole world wants to be part of? The UK talks of a special relationship with the US, but it’s a relationship where date night involves invading Iraq. We roll up to the White House once a year with a bowl of small weeds we dug up in the back lawn and somehow the entire month of March is given over to a celebration of us. To be Irish is something of a little miracle, a nation of dreamers that weaponised charm and spread out across the world like a cheerful green mold – and that is something worth celebrating, even if it is by standing in the rain watching a parade of disco dancing toddlers and tractors for two hours. Sher where else would you be?