Lemony snippets and a series of unfortunate pre-event leaks

I have no idea where Cork Dry Gin is made. I assume Midleton, but I’ve never heard anyone from there talk about the stuff. Perhaps this is because the brand is just so jaded that no-one can be bothered to mention it, especially when all the chatter these days is about whiskey. But gin is huge – especially small gin, from boutique producers. So if anything is surprising it’s that it has taken this long for Midleton to produce another gin.

The microdistillery in Midleton is the perfect source, being the boutique-y-est string to Midleton’s mighty bow, and so it is that the new gin is being released under the Method & Madness label. We know this because an offie in the North blew their wad and uploaded the info about a month before the launch date.

And so it is we have this confusing puddle of product info:

At Method and Madness, we bottle the very best. We expertly blend the smoothest cream and the finest gin and just a hint of lemonyness and Irish gorse flower to create the most exquisite, velvety gin. Served straight from the bottle or draped over ice, Method and Madness Gin is a taste of Midleton Distillery you’ll never forget.

A delicious combination of black lemon,Irish gorse flower and Method and Madness gin.

Victorian cream gin was more like a liqueur – effectively an Irish cream with gin instead of whiskey – whereas the more modern iteration sees cream used as botanical rather than being added directly. Going by the clear liquid in this M&M release, this is the modern style. – Update – there’s no feckin’ cream in this:

Gorse – or furze, or whins if you’re Scottish  – produce small yellow flowers that smell like coconut. From the Wildflowers Of Ireland site:

‘Get a few handfuls of the yellow blossoms of the furze and boil them in water. Give the water as a dose to the horse and this will cure worms’.  

From the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. NFC 782:356 From Co Kerry.

There’s also a well-know country saying : “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”.

So an aphrodisiac that also cures worms. My prayers have been answered.

Black lemons are black, but are not lemons. They are dried limes, and are used in Persian cooking. So you have local hedgerow botanicals, exotic fruity spice, and cream. Should be interesting. Unless the unwitting leak was in fact a false flag designed to discredit dickheads like me who practically soiled themselves in their rush to share it on social media. The presence of the word ‘lemonyness’ suggests it might be.

Anyway, here is the lemony fresh press release that clears up some of my seemingly innate confusion:

Irish Distillers has unveiled METHOD AND MADNESS Irish Micro Distilled Gin; a bold step into the modern premium gin market and the first release from the Micro Distillery, Midleton. The new METHOD AND MADNESS release pays homage to the historic links to gin in County Cork and underlines the company’s commitment to experimentation and innovation.

Bringing together the experience and expertise of Midleton’s Masters and Apprentices, METHOD AND MADNESS Gin is the result of an exploration into historic gin recipes from 1798, which have been preserved at Midleton Distillery, and months of research into how botanicals work together to create unique flavours in gin.

Overseen by Master Distiller, Brian Nation, and Apprentice Distiller, Henry Donnelly, the gin has been distilled in ‘Mickey’s Belly’*, Ireland’s oldest gin still first commissioned in 1958, at the Micro Distillery, Midleton. The new release benefits from an eclectic fusion of 16 botanicals led by black lemon and Irish gorse flower – imparting notes of citrus and spice with subtle earthy undertones. METHOD AND MADNESS Gin is bottled at 43% ABV and is available in Ireland and Global Travel Retail from March 2019, at the RRP of €50 per 70cl bottle, ahead of a wider release in global markets from July.

To inform the creation of METHOD AND MADNESS Gin, Brian Nation and Henry Donnelly consulted with Irish Distillers Archivist, Carol Quinn, to understand the rich history of gin production in County Cork. In the 18th Century, Cork was a mercantile city and a centre of production for gin and rectified spirits. Merchants such as the Murphy family, who founded Midleton Distillery in 1825, imported a rich variety of spices and botanicals to which distillers had access. In the 1930s, Max Crockett – father of Master Distiller Emeritus, Barry Crockett – created the first commercially produced gin in Ireland, Cork Dry Gin.

A notebook kept in the Midleton Distillery archive dating back to the 1790s, written by a rectifier in Cork called William Coldwell, details the recipes, botanicals and methods that informed the creation of Irish Distillers’ Cork Crimson Gin in 2005. A premium pot still gin, Cork Crimson Gin provided the primary inspiration for Brian and Henry in reimagining the recipe for METHOD AND MADNESS Gin over the past year.

Henry Donnelly, Apprentice Distiller at the Micro Distillery, Midleton, commented: “It has been an incredible journey over the past year in pouring over our historic gin recipes, consulting with our Master Distiller Brian Nation and trialing different recipes in the Micro Distillery to bring METHOD AND MADNESS Gin to life. Midleton and Cork are steeped in gin heritage, so to be able to combine the knowledge and tools of the past with the skills of the present to create a gin for the future has been a real honour.”

Brian Nation, Master Distiller at Midleton Distillery, added: “The release of our METHOD AND MADNESS Gin represents the next chapter in the story of us re-writing what a modern Irish spirits company can be. Through our work with the Apprentices at the Micro Distillery, Midleton, we continue to innovate and experiment with different grains, distillation methods and spirit types and look forward to sharing our creations with the world in the coming years. As a Cork native myself, bringing the spirit of premium Irish gin back to the city has been a personal highlight – and one that I look forward to enjoying being a part of for many years to come.”

Brendan Buckley, Innovation and Specialty Brands Director at Irish Distillers, concluded: “At the very core of METHOD AND MADNESS is a commitment to push the boundaries of what we can achieve in Midleton Distillery, and I believe that taking a confident leap into the modern premium gin category is the very definition of this mindset. Many new producers in Ireland are releasing gins while their whiskeys mature, but we are in no terms late to the party – in true METHOD AND MADNESS style, we are entering the gin market using our passion and unrivalled distilling expertise as our guide.”

First unveiled in February 2017, METHOD AND MADNESS aims to harness the creativity of Midleton’s whiskey masters through the fresh talent of its apprentices. Taking inspiration from the famous Shakespearean quote, ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t’, METHOD AND MADNESS is designed to reflect a next generation Irish spirit brand with a measure of curiosity and intrigue (MADNESS), while honouring the tradition and expertise grounded in the generations of expertise at the Midleton Distillery (METHOD).

*Mickey’s Belly is named after Michael Hurley, a Distiller at Midleton Distillery for 45 years. Michael Hurley worked in the Vat House at Midleton. He worked for Irish Distillers for 45 years, beginning his career with the Cork Distilleries Company where he was employed as a clerk in the Morrison’s Island Head Office. He then transferred to the watercourse Distillery where he worked for 6 years before coming out to Midleton. A Customs official or ‘Watcher’ named Dickie Cashman gave the still the nickname ‘Mickey’s Belly’ in his honour. It too had come in from Cork to work in Midleton.

METHOD AND MADNESS Gin Tasting Notes by Master Distiller Brian Nation

Nose: Lemon balm and shredded ginger with a unique flavour from the wild Irish gorse flower

Taste: Spicy pine and notes of earthy woodland frost balanced with a burst of citrus

Finish: Clean and long with a lingering rooted orange citrus and slowly roasted spice

I’m at this thing today, so will post 10,000 images from it later on. Til then, some thoughts: Another gin in a crowded market. I assume IDL have done their homework and see that there is the demand for a new gin, and at least under the M&M brand they can release and shelve if it doesn’t gain traction. Also – another notebook? I have no doubt that there is an actual notebook or ten in those archives, but as this is the second release to come from ye old fifty shades of grain, I’d wager you will be good for one or two more before drinkers get a little sceptical. Finally – that is one beautiful bottle. I look forward to falling into a case of them today. On that note: Let’s get facked aaaaaaaaap.


Flooding, Kindred Spirits, kindness, hurling

Indo col 46:

There is a road in my home town of Midleton that floods at the slightest opportunity. Running alongside the town estuary, all it takes for the Bailick Road to disappear under water is a moderately high tide and a few hours of rain. There were attempts over the years to alleviate the problem, such as when the council reclaimed some land and built a small park on it. The park soon became a hotspot for teenage drinking, as it was away from prying eyes, in a less than scenic area alongside the fragrant wetlands of the estuary and adjacent to the town bypass. All this changed, however, with the erection of the Kindred Spirits sculpture in the middle of the park.

Five years ago the local council began a programme of erecting statues and monuments around the town. Costing upwards of half a million euro in total, there was the 1798 Pikeman outside the courthouse (whose scroll was stolen from his hand shortly after he appeared), a monument to ‘Angel of the Cassiar’ Nellie Cashman (who some claim was actually from Cobh), and a statue of a small boy being eaten alive by some rabid geese, supposedly to celebrate the town’s famous market, The Goose’s Acre, but which actually looks like it was a scene from The Wicker Man. There were other statues, but the most famous of them all is the steel feather sculpture by Alex Pentek, created to commemorate the kindness shown by the Choctaw people, who sent money to Ireland during the Famine.

Pentek’s Kindred Spirits isn’t just one of the most beautiful of all the works produced under the programme, but it also shines a light on a little known story of human kindness – that a people on the other wise of the world who suffered so much could rally together to help others who they had never met. Almost two centuries later, it is still an inspiring story, one that deserved to be revived and celebrated. However, as someone who regularly has to give directions to tourists looking for the sculpture, it’s hard to understand the decision to locate it outside the town centre. Perhaps the council never expected this statue to become the most celebrated, or perhaps they were simply running out of places to put them, what with the statues of feral geese and a scroll-less Pikeman in the centre of town, but it still is a crying shame they didn’t just put the feathers in the large park next to the Jameson Heritage Centre, one of the region’s largest tourist draws. The current location of Kindred Spirits  is difficult to find, and not especially scenic. Also, if you happen to visit at high tide or after heavy rain, you may need a canoe to get to it.

Beyond their locations, the series of monuments caused much debate locally – why spend all this public money on art? Why not spend it on something practical, like flood defences? Surely we could take that money for public art and just spend it all on potholes, meaning our public spaces would be paved like an airport runway but without a trace of personality, creativity or imagination – three things the Irish people pride themselves on?

Those who decried the spend on the statues in Midleton – and I include myself among that pantheon of gits – can now eat humble pie, as the Kindred Spirits work and the awareness it created has led the Taoiseach to create a scholarship for Choctaw students to attend university in Ireland from 2019 onwards. I can only hope that should any of them wish to visit the Kindred Spirits sculpture, that they do it during outside of the wet season, which here in east Cork is the months of July through to April, inclusive.

Should they get trapped here by floods in the longer term, they could easily adapt to life in east Cork, as their sport of stickball is largely similar to hurling – as anthropologist Kendall Blanchard noted of the game in the 18th Century: “While players could tackle, block, or use any reasonable method to interfere with the other team’s movement of the ball, there were implicit limits to acceptable violence.” If the term ‘acceptable violence’ doesn’t sum up Cork schools hurling, then I don’t know what does.

The most important message of the Choctaw donation to Ireland was that there were people who cared about what was happening to us – there were those who heard about the horrors of the Famine and knew it was wrong, and did what they could to help. Populist politicians here who offer soundbites about how we should ‘look after our own’ before we help refugees and migrants, need to think about the Choctaw people, who faced genocide at the hands of European invaders, and still believed in humanity enough to send money to Europe to help us. Charity may begin at home, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

Powers and glory

Extended family of John Power & Son visit Jameson Distillery Midleton: Irish Distillers archivist, Carol Quinn welcomed members of the O’Reilly family, the children of the late Frank O’Reilly, and their families to the Irish Whiskey Archive in the Master Distiller’s Cottage at Midleton Distillery last week. Frank O’Reilly was a direct descendant of James Power, the man who founded John Power & Son. Although many people brought about the formation of Irish Distillers in 1966, Frank is long recognised as the man who spearheaded the merger of John Power & Son, John Jameson & Son and the Cork Distilleries Company. Read more about the visit on IrishDistillers.ie

The resurgence of Irish whiskey was hard fought. It’s easy to forget just how close we came to losing the entire category back in the 1960s. There are a few people who deserve thanks – the coopers, the operators, the staff who lost their jobs or worked a two-day week to keep the industry alive, and also the people who had to make the tough choices to cut Irish whiskey production back to the bone. Frank O’Reilly is one such person. He oversaw the merger that created IDL – effectively the gatekeepers for Irish whiskey. To mark Mr O’Reilly’s contribution to the history of Irish whiskey (as a member of the Powers family, he was one of the last descendant of the great whiskey dynasties to hold office in IDL), IDL archivist Carol Quinn welcomed members of the O’Reilly family to Midleton to see what their ancestor had helped create. You can read Carol’s blog post on it here, but my lame contribution to this is different. Back in the 1980s, a journalist named Ivor Kenny wrote a series of books on business leaders in Ireland. They are fantastic – he spoke to Richard Burrows, Frank O’Reilly and John Teeling, and captured a moment in history for Irish whiskey. Here is a series of rather poor photographs of the interview with Frank O’Reilly, which although physically hard to read, is well worth a read for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of how a small few people created a vehicle to keep Irish whiskey alive.

It’s beginning to look a lot like advertorial

I wrote a few bits for the Examiner to go in a seasonal supplement on Midleton, naturally I started with the distillery, then a well-curated email interview with Ignacio, above, GM of the heritage centre, and a couple of other bits, including one on Iceland. You pay me and I will write about anything guys, anything.

 

There used to be two distilleries in Midleton. Everyone knows about the Jameson one on the east side of town; but at the other end of the main street, alongside the Owenacurra River, close to the Mill Road site of Erin Foods, there was once another sizeable whiskey making operation. The Hackett brothers opened on this site in the early 1800s and at their height they produced 200,000 gallons of whiskey and employed 60 people. They had an eye on the future, with an interest in distilling from sugar beet. A series of unfortunate business moves and economic factors outside their control saw them lose it all, and no trace of the distillery remains. The story of the Hacketts serves as a fitting counterpoint to the fortunes of the Murphy brothers who started Midleton Distillery. They ran a tight ship, one that made it through two centuries of choppy waters, and made Midleton the stronghold of Irish whiskey, given that at one stage the only other distillery was Bushmills in Northern Ireland.

The success of Midleton distillery is down the Murphy brothers’ choices – at the same time the Hacketts were experimenting with sugar beet, the Murphy brothers were keeping a steady eye on the horizon. They chose wisely from day one – even in their choice of location: They had the infrastructure in the form of an old mill and river alongside, giving them enough power their enormous mill wheel, and provide them with enough water to create 400,000 gallons of whiskey annually. When the Hacketts employed 60 staff, the Murphys had three times that number.

There is no trace of Hackett distillery in Midleton anymore. However, the Murphy distillery has kept the spirit alive for two hundred years, surviving the lean times from the early 1900s through periods of contraction in the industry and even a spell when the distillery was only operational a couple of days a week, such was the low level of demand for Irish whiskey. Of course, the last ten years has seen a dramatic reversal of fortunes. Irish whiskey is the fastest growing spirit category in the world, thanks largely to Midleton and its owners, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard.

Huge investment has seen the modern distillery become one of the most modern and efficient in the world, while the heritage side of it has gone from strength to strength, expanding their tourism offerings with the Irish Whiskey Academy, which offers bespoke two-day courses for the true whiskey nerd, and the micro-distillery, which not only brought distilling back to the site of the old distillery for the first time in four decades, but has also become a space for experimentation with different grains.

Jean-Christophe Coutures, Chairman and CEO said: “Here at home we’re proud to see our Irish whiskey sales growing. We also welcomed the launch of the Irish Whiskey Association’s Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy in late 2016 which aims to increase Irish Whiskey Tourism from 653,277 visitors per annum up to 1.9 million visitors by 2025. We were delighted with the results of our €11 million redevelopment of the Jameson Distillery Bow St., which has welcomed more than 180,000 visitors despite being closed for six months. When combined with the Jameson Experience Midleton, we welcomed over 310,000 visitors to our brand homes to experience the best of Irish whiskey this year.”

IDL experienced another successful financial year in 2016/2017 with the acceleration of the global development of Jameson and its premium Single Pot Still Irish whiskey range, which includes the Spot whiskeys, as well as Redbreast. Innovation in its portfolio has been key to the sustained growth: Recent product launches include Jameson Caskmates, which experienced 110% volume growth in 2016/17.

A sign of the growing confidence in the category is the launch of the Midleton Very Rare Cask Circle Club, which invites whiskey enthusiasts and collectors to obtain their own cask of Midleton Very Rare Irish whiskey from a variety of exceptional casks hand selected by Master Distiller, Brian Nation for their quality and rarity. Once members have chosen a cask that suits their personal taste, they can bottle it immediately or instead request bottles of their unique whiskey as and when required. The programme boasts an array of different whiskey styles and ages – from 12 to 30 years old – that have been matured in a range of cask types including Bourbon, Sherry, Malaga, Port, Irish Oak and Rum. By becoming a member of the Midleton Very Rare Cask Circle, guests will have access to the Distillery Concierge, a unique service that will assist members in every detail of their personal experience. From choosing their whiskey to planning an extended itinerary, allowing guests to discover the best that Ireland has to offer, from world class golfing at illustrious courses to exploring some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. Clearly, this is one offer aimed at the high rollers – the first member of the cask circle was Hollywood heavyweight Dana Brunetti, with a large number of recent members coming from Asia.

To top off a stellar year Midleton’s Redbreast 21-year-old and Midleton Dair Ghaelach were both in the top three of whisky legend Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017. Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018 is the 15th edition of the publication and contains taste notes for over 4,600 drams. With over 1,200 new whiskies tasted for the latest edition of the international guide, the supreme Col. Taylor faced stiff competition from European rivals to claim the top award. In third place behind Redbreast 21 and Col. Taylor was Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition, which drops from its second-place finish in 2016. Commenting on the accolade, Billy Leighton, Master Blender at Irish Distillers said: “This nod from Jim Murray is truly heartwarming for me and everyone at Midleton Distillery who has helped to make Redbreast such an enjoyed whiskey. We are humbled by this and it’s really encouraging to see traditional Irish pot still whiskey take one of the top spots in the world of whiskeys and whiskies. When we were preparing for the launch of Redbreast 21 in 2013 and we were doing our tastings, we knew we had something special on our hands so it is great to see this appreciation shared by people across the world. This award is a testament to the team at Midleton and especially to my predecessors who had the foresight to squirrel away those casks that helped us to bring Redbreast 21 to the world.”

Midleton has outlived many other competitors – from the Hacketts at the other end of town, to distilleries all over Ireland that failed over the last two centuries. As we head into a second golden age of Irish whiskey, it will be Midleton that will guide the category to greater and greater success.

 

As ‎general manager of ‎The Jameson Experience Midleton, Ignacio Peregrina is in charge of one of southern Ireland’s biggest tourist attractions – perhaps a fitting career for someone who came from one of Europe’s top holiday destinations.

“I’m from Gran Canaria, an island famed for its welcome and tourism, and I wanted to move somewhere with a similar passion for hospitality. I arrived in Ireland just over 15 years ago; I came for the craic but ended up staying and building a life here. Once I met my future wife Claire I knew Ireland was the place for me. I met her within an hour of landing, my buddy picked me up from the airport and we went to a Salsa class where I met the wonderful Claire. We were married three years ago in Midleton and we are blessed to call Midleton our home.

“My path to Midleton started in Dublin. During my time there, I worked for four years in the Jameson Distillery Bow St. and I also undertook a degree in Hospitality and Tourism in DIT. I’ve always had a passion for food and drink so Dublin was a great place to explore this passion. During my time in Bow St., I built up experience across all areas of the business and that helped me to secure my dream job here in Midleton as General Manager of the Jameson Experience.”

Of course, he isn’t the only person to come from overseas to Midleton: “It is a great pleasure to welcome people from many different nations. A considerable percentage of our visitors arrive via tour operators and it’s always a good day for me to pull up at work and see buses filled with people excited to experience Midleton Distillery.

“The top five visiting nationalities, in no particular order, are French, German, British, American and Irish, with the Jameson Experience tour being our largest selling tour. However, in recent years we have opened the Micro Distillery and Irish Whiskey Academy and the craft tours we have created for these areas are proving very popular, especially with whiskey enthusiasts. Midleton Distillery offers a truly sensorial experience where you can see, hear, feel and smell a live distillery in action.”

The Jameson Experience in Dublin recently closed for a renovation, and while their new tour is all singing, all dancing, Midleton offers an insight into the processes of whiskey making: “The main difference between the two sites is that our Bow St. team focus primarily on Jameson Whiskey whilst my team here in Midleton explore all our whiskey brands – Jameson, Powers, Redbreast, the Spot Range, Midleton Very Rare and the newly launched, Method & Madness.

“My opposite number at the Jameson Distillery Bow St.  operates several great tours of varying duration and intensity so, whether you’re new to the world of whiskey, a connoisseur or a budding cocktail maker, they have an experience for you.

“Here at Midleton Distillery we also provide a range of tour experiences such as the Jameson Experience, the Behind the Scenes tour, and the Academy Experience. All are great fun and offer visitors wonderful insights into some of Ireland’s historic whiskey brands.”

The Irish Whiskey Association is pushing whiskey tourism here, and recently held the launch of their southern whiskey tourism plan in Midleton: “Ireland has great potential to become a world class destination for whiskey tourism. As the Irish whiskey industry grows, we’ve welcomed many visitors from new and established distillery attractions who are keen to learn what we do and how we do it. Irish Distillers have been operating whiskey visitor centres for over 30 years so we have plenty of experience to share. We don’t see other distilleries as competition, which of course they are, but, as one of the guardians of the Irish Whiskey industry we’re delighted to help in any way we can.

“At Midleton Distillery we’re ready to welcome anyone who would like to improve the whiskey tourism product. We have tough competition from our friends in Scotland but if the whiskey players in Ireland work together we can offer an amazing experience.”

Peregrina also works closely with the local Chamber in Midleton: “An effective Chamber of Commerce can make a significant difference to a town and we’re blessed to have such a great team here in Midleton.

“Midleton town has been home to whiskey distilling since 1825 and is our priority to work with and support the local community as much as possible. We do everything we can to make sure more people come to Midleton and leave with lovely memories that will last a lifetime.”

 

Bluebells

The bluebell flower blooms in spring of each year. Usually located on the forest floor, they burst into life as the first rays of a brighter sun touch on them, after its long absence during the winter months. Their bulbous, indigo flowers are a sign that brighter days are coming.

Opening a business in the teeth of the worst recession in Irish history would have been a brave move for any business person. But to open a gift shop in a small town in east Cork seems like absolute madness. However, seven years on and Hazell Abbott’s compact and bijou Bluebells on Midleton’s Main Street is still going strong. Of course, the success of the store isn’t just it’s selection of interesting gift ideas, but in Abbott’s background as an accountant. However, even she admits that it was a crazy idea: “I opened up at the worst time,” she laughs, “everyone thought I was totally mad.”

From Offaly originally, her husband hails from Barryroe in west Cork, so when it came to them leaving Dublin, the chose to head south. She had planned to open a gift shop for several years, but location would be key.  She and her husband – who is also an accountant – went on a reconnaissance mission to towns around Cork to find the perfect blend of a good space at a good price – and a good buzz about the place. They settled on Midleton, citing the atmosphere, the large hinterland and the fact that while other towns struggled over the last 20 years, Midleton has thrived. It is a wealthy town. After a successful few years, she expanded the shop to the rear, and took on two staff so she could spend more time with her husband and their two year old son.

While her business shifts into top gear from here to January, it is more than just a seasonal outlet – as she notes, there are always gifts needed for wedding, anniversaries, new babies and birthdays. But at this time of year her shop is busier than ever, with its selection of bric a brac and miscellania – a selection that Hazel spends some time choosing, ensuring that her offerings are not widely available in the town, dropping lines that are carried elsewhere. But at this time of year her shop is a godsend for anyone looking for that just-so item, the little thing that you haven’t seen anywhere else, that most elusive thing – the ideal Christmas gift.

Iceland

Hermann Jónasson was a famously hot-blooded Icelandic politician who famously once slapped a member of an opposition party. Despite this, he is remembered as one of his country’s great politicians, which is perhaps why Malcolm Walker, a British businessman, decided to pay tribute to Jónasson – a family friend of the Walkers – when he opened his new supermarket chain. That was back in 1970, and now almost half a century later, the chain is going from strength to strength. Almost from day one the focus was on freezer food – and it upon this rock that they built their church.

Iceland initially came to Ireland in 1996, but withdrew in 2005, only to return in 2008. Since then they have gone from strength to strength, with their 18th store in the Republic opening in Shannon next month. This flurry of store openings was the result of a €12 million investment in nine new stores in Ireland this year alone. Some 270 new jobs were created across the country as part of the investment in the new stores in Tallaght, Galway, Cork (Douglas, Fermoy, Ballincollig) Letterkenny, Limerick, Shannon, and Gorey.

Ron Metcalfe, Managing Director of Iceland Ireland said “We have been back in Ireland for four years now and have been committed to expansion from day one. This new investment sees 2017 as our biggest year yet with our nine new stores opening. We’re looking forward to bringing great value and a brand customers can trust to Tallaght, Galway, and across the country this year, as well as welcoming new team members to the Iceland family. And as always, we’re looking forward to expanding and delivering the Power of Frozen to more Irish customers than ever before”.

The Midleton store opened in 2014, and brought a much-needed boost to Distillery Lanes, a Celtic Tiger era development at the east end of the town. Since then the store has thrived, offering a unique food offering to shoppers who flock there from across Munster. Iceland is home to over 2,000 branded fresh and frozen grocery products, and supports Irish with more than 32 local suppliers – in addition to being the exclusive stockist of the Slimming World range in Ireland. Iceland Midleton even offers a home delivery service, while Iceland was also the first UK supermarket to remove artificial flavourings, colouring, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and non-essential preservatives from its own branded products in 1986. In 1990 Iceland took the lead in banning mechanically recovering meat (MRM) from own brand products; and in 1998 Iceland became the world’s first national food retailer to ban genetically modified (GM) ingredients from own brand products.

Iceland has thrown off the old stigma of convenience foods, and is now a one-stop shop for the party season and beyond. With a recovering economy and the festive season ahead, it looks like Iceland are heading into their biggest Christmas yet, while the brand has come full circle in recent years by opening an outlet in Iceland itself. Hermann Jónasson would be proud.

Monsters, friends, Tom Humphreys, excuses

 

Week 27, bleak af.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Glorious Now

Craft used to mean strength. The original word in German and Scandinavian languages meant power, or might, but it was in Old English that the meaning was expanded to include dexterity or a skill in art or science. Modern use – and abuse – of the term by food marketing firms has led to it becoming almost completely without meaning, but it still resonates. It suggests a more human product, as though somehow machines make soulless goods, and only the touch of a human hand can somehow magically imbue a product with a greater flavour, personality or depth of character.

All over the world, whiskey producers are angling to leverage the word craft to their advantage. Somehow the romance of small firms, individual brands, and the idea of the distilling auteur have embedded in the minds of consumers. But what does craft actually mean? That was the question posed by Alexandre Ricard in late 2014. The CEO of Pernod Ricard said he was struggling with the term, and questioning what defined a craft spirit – was it a question of scale, or of skill? The firm’s more recent explorations of the term included buying Smooth Ambler, thereby buying into two categories they were underexposed in – ‘craft’ spirits and bourbon. But even as he asked the question, Ricard already had plans to explore craft on his firm’s own terms, and on its own ground.

The micro distillery in Midleton opened with much fanfare in late 2015 just as the sales of Jameson really hit their stride, charging past the five million case mark. The micro distillery was a departure for Midleton, bringing operations back to the site of the old distillery for the first time in four decades. It also eschewed automation and digital displays in favour of levers and dials. Since opening, it has served a dual purpose; as a showpiece for the tours of the distillery, and also as an incubation space for experimentation.

The sheer scale of the main plant is breathtaking, but not especially romantic. Its vast size also means that experimentation is a challenge, as any new methods or ingredients would see the company forced to commit to working with large quantities. Great if you have a success, not so much if you create a dud. So the microdistillery has become a breeding ground for experimentation, a fact celebrated recently under the umbrella of the Methods & Madness range. As part of that range’s launch, a select group of whiskey bloggers, journalists, influencers and one clueless local (me) were invited to the Irish Whiskey Academy for a tasting of some of their experiments with Master Distiller Brian Nation.

Like everything in life worth doing, creating new distillates in the microdistillery wasn’t the easiest task, given that the wash is still being made in the main plant, a fact they hope to rectify by building a brewhouse within the microdistillery building: “We’re hopeful – we’re applying in the next year for some form of brewing and it’s a little bit up in the air at the moment whether we try to put a brewing facility up above and send the wash down into the microdistillery, or whether we install a full brewhouse down into the micro,” Nation explains.

“Preferentially we would like to see the brewhouse down there but what it does mean is that you have to bring a lot of grain handling down to the building and that brings its own issues around ATEX and dust zones. We have a building alongside the micro that we need to see if we can house all of that, but that would be the ideal for us.

“Because then you have the whole place compact in one area, you can play around with your cereals – we spoke a little while ago about playing around with different yeast types and you really have the opportunity to explore what is possible from the micro.”

But main plant’s brewhouse is not micro – it is macro.

“That is part of the problem. So you are taking a brew through a mash filter and putting just one or two into a fermenter, but then you have to make sure that you get the wort up above the cooling coils of the fermenter, because if you don’t then you actually kill it all off, so it is actually quite difficult at the moment.

“What we’re doing is to try and use as much of the time available to us without having the brewing capabilities, so hopefully by the end of next year we should have something.

“When we had opportunities in the main plant we tried different cereals, and they are the next whiskeys that we are going to taste. The first thing we’re going to taste is what we were making when we were in the microdistillery this morning, which is a barley and malt mash – about 60% barley and 40% malt.

“If you were to compare it to the pot still distillate that we produce up in the main plant, it has a lot of those characteristics, but for us it tends to have a little bit more character in it, it has a bit more spice and more fruitiness and for me I tend to get a little bit of clove and liquorice coming through it as well.  This is at 40%; obviously we run the pot stills down there at 84.4% but we watered it down as we didn’t want to overwhelm you.

“For a new make spirit – and this is coming back to the triple distillation process but also coming back to the use of unmalted barley – you have creaminess on the mouthfeel as well, and I feel it’s good to showcase to people that you get that creaminess in the new spirit as well, it’s not a really harsh whiskey to take, even thought it’s a new distillate.”

Next up was the rye. Typically associated with the northeastern United States, rye whiskey is undergoing a global resurgence after almost completely disappearing during and after Prohibition. A typical rye whiskey will be at least 51% rye, with malted barley and corn. Midleton’s take is slightly different: “So this is a mash bill of rye and malted barley so we effectively replaced the barley with rye and we put it through our batch brewing process above, fermented it and brought it down here where it was distilled.

“It’s typically about 60/40 (rye/malt). What we found  from the distillate is that on the nose it seems a harder note coming through it, a little less creamy. You know sometimes the way sometimes when you taste something it brings back a memory rather than a scientific taste? For me this reminds me of some boiled sweets that you used to get – the rhubarb and custard ones. But you can see – this has gone through the same process and it actually is quite different (from the pot still spirit) in taste and flavour, there’s still the spiciness there as well, and for me you tend to get that malty characteristic coming through as well.”

Midleton are obviously keen on this spicy new distillate, as they have committed to another aspect of the craft movement – the idea of grain to glass traceability.

“We’re quite excited about the rye. We have sown a hundred and 60 acres of rye in Enniscorthy – two different types of rye, and that should be harvested in September of this year, and the plan is to use that for distillation. We’re quite excited about that – because we saw how good this rye turned out. And were actually looking at doing this on our grain side, our column side.”

As for what a rye spirit from a column still would go into: “It’s going to be something new – we have a few ideas but we’re not going to divulge that at the moment; but effectively what we’re going to do, or at least what we are aiming for, is that instead of going for the 60/40 split it would be 100% rye.”

While they haven’t used a malted rye yet, they may in the future depending on the yields from the harvest in the autumn. Part of the narrative of the foundation of the microdistillery was the discovery of a lost recipe book belonging to John Jameson II.  So did Jameson The Second have any rye recipes from 100 years ago?

“There  are some John Jameson recipes that show an inclusion of rye in it so that’s one of the reasons that we actually started looking at rye, but now we are looking at different ways of doing a full rye just to see what it’s like.”

As for the taste of the rye distillate, it differs slightly from its pot still mixed mash cousin: “What I like about what we are producing here is that even on the taste – because of the triple distillation and the smoothness of the triple distillation they are quite palatable even as a distillate on their own. What we have here is straight off the stills, but what we have done with some of it is put it straight into casks – we kept very little of the distillate, the last of the distillate is effectively gone today what we have tried to do as well is to see how well they are going to mature – we are laying out stocks in normal barrels but we are also trying to put them into smaller barrels because you tend to get a faster maturation time there and it gives you a better feel for how maturation is going to progress on a bigger scale as well so we are quite happy with that at the moment.

“The other side of it as well is that when we – and again this is a learning process for us – when you decide to take something like rye into your plant and you try to mill it using equipment for barley, if you have a hammer mill, it’s amazing the impact it has on your capacity and the speed at which you can mill material through and that was a big learning curve for us because you assume a hammer mill will do what it needs to for any grain but depending on the type of grain, depending on the density of the grain, depending on the size of the grain, it’s going to have an impact, so we are seeing that as we go along as well.”

But if the rye was a challenge to distill, the next sample was the fruits of some very intensive labours. Oats may make an incredibly healthy breakfast cereal, having been recently proved to aid gut and heart health, but they did little good to Brian Nation’s health as he struggled to distill them.

Historically oats would have been used in brewing in the Middle Ages, but very few distillers use them to make whiskey, save Silver Western Oat whiskey from High West – another craft distillery that was on Pernod’s shopping list in the run up to the Smooth Ambler acquisition, before High West ultimately succumbed to Constellation Brands.

As Nation discovered, there is a reason few people distill with oats.

“What we found with the oats is that they are a nightmare to process through the plant because it has such an amount of husk on it and it is quite a light grain, it was unbelievable what we went through, when you have gristbins  that are filling up with half – say we took six tonnes into a gristbin of barley, and the gristbin was full, three tonnes of oats would fill the same space, and they were choking the mills. We thought this would be easy – it’s simple, it is such an easy grain to deal with – and then we tried to process and brew and it was quite difficult. Again, another learning curve.

“I would probably say that we are fairly unique in this (the use of oats) at the moment. Normally what you would have found is that oats would have been put into a mash bill at a very small percentage for a lauter tun or a mash tun because what it did was it aided filtration.

“It didn’t really add anything to the flavour at the time but it was more of an aid for ensuring that your filter beds had enough of a grist of oats in it to allow the drainage to come though, whereas we are using it now at a much higher percentage to see what the impact on the flavor is. We were pleasantly surprised with it.

“This is a mash bill of malted barley and oats, again replacing the barley with the oats so again it’s a 60/40. What we felt with the flavour from this is that it tends to come across a little bit lighter but you do tend to have this oatmeal, cereal-bar notes coming through. Still has creaminess – not the same level of fruit as the rye or pot still, but still a quite interesting distillate. A dryer finish, and that cereal note following through but again you can see the difference that the cereal has made on the overall distillate side.”

Of course, the three distillates were just a sample of what has been taking place in the microdistillery: “At this stage I think we have 11 types of distillate that we have produced. Not all of them fantastic, but we are seeing how they mature because sometimes you might produce a distillate that that on its own may be too heavy or whatever, but when you put it into a barrel and mature it a little and see what the impact is there; it might actually combine very well. That’s what we have done with anything we have produced at the moment.”

And while they have used traditional-size casks, Nation explains how they also use micro-barrels for their micro distillate.

“Three to five-litre barrels. We get them specially made. It sounds small, but you have to remember the volume of distillate that we are producing down here compared to up there (in the main plant). The maximum output for this plant is 50,000LA on a five day operation a year, obviously if you went on a 24 hour period you would double that or maybe get it to 120,000LA. For us to be able to put away some of it in normal barrels and then use the three or five litre barrels to see how it gets on.”

Along with planning to create a brewhouse at the site of the microdistilery, they are also considering a maturation space in the same historic buildings, meaning that you have the full cycle of whiskey making in one historic place. As for the main distillery, they just took delivery of another three massive pot stills from Forsyths. Nation talks about the stills and how they were so large they had to be shaped by hand, as the machines could not accommodate their extraordinary size. He talks about being in Rothes and seeing one coppersmith inside the still and another outside, hammering every spot on the surface of the stills. “That is skill; that is craft,” he says.

He is right: Craft isn’t about size, but about skill. The craft of Midleton Distillery goes back to the traditional meaning of the word – strength in art, science and technology. The chronophobia of the whiskey scene – boosted by over-eager marketing departments – has led to a situation where a stunning feat of modern engineering like Midleton is treated like a mild embarrassment. It’s an attitude that brings to mind the quote from Paul Valéry’s Pièces sur L’Art at the start of Walter Benjamin’s Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction:

“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”

Valéry wrote those words in 1931, but they might as well have been written today, as they express the same, timeless fear – that scientific advancement means the death of the soul. The team in Midleton have shown that it is their technological might that enables them to experiment and find new ways to practice an age-old skill. As the Jameson juggernaut rolls on, it will be in the trials and errors of the microdistillery that some of the most interesting work takes place. As noted Jameson lover Samuel Beckett wrote: No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Local man starts working for Irish Examiner, takes back everything he said about them

Is there any news softer than rich, creamy advertorial? There is not, and I can write the softest, most meaningless advertorial of all. I got the chance to do some on a few businesses in Midleton, so here they are.

All hail Midleton

Midleton is a prosperous town. You can feel it when you walk down the street – there is a buzz there that many other town of similar size have lost over the past decade. Even in the teeth of the recession, Midleton was doing well. Set in a valley between the low rolling hills of east Cork, the town is surrounded by lush farmland, and has been the marketplace for their produce for centuries – a tradition carried on since the establishment of the local farmers market, the first of its kind in Ireland. Allowing farmers and smaller food producers to sell direct to the public,  a visit to the market is a Saturday morning tradition for many locals, picking up delicacies from Belvelly Smokehouse, Ballyhoura Mushroom or Woodside Farm. The market reestablishes a connection between consumer and product – the producers happily chatting with the customers about the food they are offering.

Next door to the market is the town’s multi award winning SuperValu, owned by the Hurley family.

Another key to the thriving main street is the local shopping centre. Rather than locating it out of the town, as has happened in many places around Ireland, Market Green SC is a short five minute walk from the main street, meaning shoppers can easily access both for their weekly shop. This has avoided what is known as the ‘doughnut effect’ – whereby the main street becomes hollowed out as the footfall is drawn to an out of town shopping centre. Market Green sits on the site of the old town mart, and anchor tenant Tesco draws the crowds that keep other outlets on the premises alive – opticians, pharmacies, health shops, barbers, hairdressers and a large branch of Heatons.

East Cork has built a brand around excellence in food and drink – a fact reinforced by the annual food festival, which sees tens of thousands of visitors descend on the town for a day of the best Cork has to offer. One of the main sponsors of the event is also one of the town’s main employers. For the last 200 years there has been a distillery in the town, one that is currently the home of Irish whiskey, producing the vast bulk of what is now the world’s fastest growing drinks category. Jameson, although associated with Dublin, has been flowing from Midleton for 40 years, and the presence of the distillery has contributed much to the success of the region, being an excellent employer. When other towns in the region lost big companies overseas, Irish Distillers committed to Midleton, giving the town confidence in its economic muscle. It’s not hard to see the firm’s influence on the town, from the whiskey displays in the recently opened JJ Coppingers, to the counter made from whiskey barrels in the award winning Sage restaurant.

One example of the distillery’s importance in the community came at a recent auction of farmland close to their current facility. Initially offered in several lots, IDL bought the entire package and then entered talks with the other bidders and a local sports club about disposing of some of the lands to them, showing that the distillery works with and for the local community.

Close to the old distillery, now the busy Jameson heritage centre, lies the recently developed Distillery Lanes shopping complex and multi storey car park. The 30m development is home to a number of retail outlets, as well as Asian street food vendor Ramen, but the largest and best known tenant is party food specialists Iceland – an essential supplier to the Christmas season. East Cork is spoiled for food and drink – from excellent restaurants like Sage, Raymonds and The Granary, to Ballymaloe House and Garryvoe Hotel; there is something to suit all tastes. The town is also home to artisan bakers Cuthberts, and O’Farrells Butchers, a mainstay in the town for more than half a century.

As an indicator of the economic strength of a town like Midleton, their property market survived the recession better than most, with well-known local auctioneers Colbert & Co, Hegarty Properties and Cronin Wall all thriving during some lean years. A sure sign of green shoots is in the opening of Factory Carpets on the main street, while other home improvement outlets such as Lakewood Furniture and Midleton Gates are helping homeowners apply a little TLC to their abodes.

In the 1880s, a British journalist named Alfred Barnard toured the distilleries of Ireland for Harpers magazine. He was very impressed with Midleton, speaking glowingly of the vale as a healthy and fertile country, and the town’s two rivers full of salmon. Two centuries last little has changed – the whiskey still flows, the land is still fertile and the people still as welcoming and prosperous as those who greeted Barnard. The town has a perfect blend of rich countryside, excellent facilities and a population who appreciate the finer things in life: It’s a success story worth toasting – slainte!

Let there be lights 

Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier each year – but in Midleton two years ago, there were concerns that it might not come at all. Or rather, the town’s festive lights might not. The local traders group had ordered new street illuminations from a firm in Spain, securing a 50% reduction on a market price of €120,000. However, due to a delay in the order, it was into December before they were up and running. So were they worth waiting for? According to Joe McCarthy, the municipal district officer for the region, they most definitely were. Mr McCarthy is quick to point out that the firm they used for the lights is one of the best in Europe, and many of large European cities use them for their festive illuminations.

But Midleton deserves the best: “Midleton has always been a very strong trading town – the offer in the town is very diverse,” Mr McCarthy says.

To illustrate the town’s draw, he points out that when the town was bypassed, rather than taking business away from the main street, it actually made it a more pleasant experience for shoppers, alleviating traffic woes. Mr McCarthy also says that businesses are helped by the town being in the rare position of having more than enough parking spaces in the vicinity of the street, including two large car parks and a multi storey.

The old lights were a decade old, and had endured the extremes of winter storms as well as the big freeze in 2009 and 2010, so they had served the region well. The new town lights had a similarly rough introduction to Irish weather, having endured the violent storms last January, which saw part of the town flood. Mr McCarthy says they are currently being repaired by technicians from the parent company in Spain, and are due to be in place and ready for the switching on on November 26th, with the lights outside the courthouse and along the Babys Walk already in situ. Mr McCarthy is quick to pay tribute to the town’s traders who helped make the Christmas lights a success, including Fergus McCarthy of McCarthy’s Newsagents and Rachel McCarthy of Ina McCarthy Flowers, who were both drivers of the project.

Mr McCarthy says that a key to Midleton’s success is its sizeable catchment area – stretching from Ballycotton to Dungourney, Leamlara to Garryvoe, people in the region see the town as being theirs – it’s where they go to shop, to dine, to socialise, to spend. Midleton’s economic might is such that Mr McCarthy wants to share their success – as part of the Ancient East tourism initiative, new signage at the entrance of the Jameson Heritage Centre in the town will encourage the tens of thousands of visitors there to explore the region further. Mr McCarthy is also pushing ahead with plans to reopen the Youghal-Midleton rail line as a greenway, as has been done to many rail tracks around the country with great success.

The message is clear – Midleton is a commercial powerhouse in east Cork, and as Ireland emerges from the worst recession for decades, it looks like this could be the best Christmas yet for traders in east Cork; a real light at the end of the tunnel. 

Pubs

East Cork owes a lot to the monks. The largest town in the region, Midleton was founded by Cistercian monks, a fact reflected by the Irish name which means ‘monastery by the weir’. Then there was the monks’ love of ale and spirits – they kept the tradition of brewing alive in the dark ages and brought the Moorish practice of distilling back to Ireland, which in turn lead to whiskey production – another factor in the success of Midleton.  

Somehow it seems fitting that the place where the monastery by the weir once stood is now a bar named the Mad Monk. And if that didn’t seem serendipitous enough, it also happens to be a bar that specializes in craft beer and whiskey – two of the biggest success stories in food and drink in Ireland in the past decade.

Manager Joe Philpott is quick to point out that they can’t simply rest on their laurels – they host guest beers from around the country and around the world, and also are one of the few pubs in the town serving food in the evenings. After 35 years working in the trade, Joe has seen the changes the last 20 years have brought and know that there has to be something more than just a pint – even if people are slow to change their perceptions of what a pub should be. During the summer months they hosted live music four nights a week, and they also cater to a large Czech population living locally, importing the best beers from their home country and posting updates on social media when a new beer has arrived from Eastern Europe. They also stock many Alltech beers, and even received a visit from Alltech’s founder, agritech billionaire Pearse Lyons, at the start of the summer.

There is also a craft beer link to the town’s newest pub, located at the other end of the main street. Owned by the family behind the famous craft beer pub The Cotton Ball, JJ Coppingers is named after a local man who fought in the American Civil War, whose family owned a brewery next door to where the pub now sits. The building itself has quite a history, having been designed by Gothic Revivalist architect AW Pugin, who designed much of the interiors of the British Houses Of Parliament.

Although owned by the Lynches, Coppingers is run by the same team behind The Castle in Glanmire and The Elm Tree in Glounthaune. A surprisingly cosmopolitan bar, no expense was spared in renovating the premises earlier this year. Set for their first festive season in the town, the venue has a packed schedule of live gigs to keep the punters happy – reflecting the modus operandi of all business owners in the town; you have to diversify. In fact, Coppingers also has an upstairs space that has the potential to offer space for a full kitchen down the road.

Across the street sits Wallis’s Town Hall Bar, the other late bar in Midleton. A staple of nightlife in the town for decades, it boasts a booming daytime and nighttime trade, with the late crowds drawn in by a commitment to live music – from DJs to rock bands to string quartets on Sunday afternoons – owner Seamus Cunningham has diversified to suit a changing market and changing tastes.

Across the road is another business that has changed many times – McCarthy’s Newsagents. Originally a grocers back when it opened in the 1960s, it later became solely a newsagents and book store, but owner Fergus McCarthy knows that you cannot rest on your laurels; they branched out to offer coffees and ice creams in the shop and have seen great success. However, however they have modernised the business, the family still carry on one old tradition – that of living over the shop, making them about the only trader in the town who does so. An enthusiastic ukulele player, Fergus organised the music for the switching on of the Christmas light last year, while his wife Susan is also heavily involved in the community, as she is the local county councillor. They prove that in business as in life, the key to success is having more than one string to your bow – or ukulele.

Midle chords 

The hills of east Cork have long been alive with the sound of music. Back in the heyday of Tony and Charlie Moore’s iconic Meeting Place bar, musical icons like Christy Moore used to come play candlelit gigs to a rapt audience. In more recent times local viral sensations Crystal Swing rocketed to fame and a guest spot on Ellen thanks to their star quality. The town also boasts a very active brass band, officially titled the Midleton Holy Rosary Brass & Reed Band at their outset in 1951, they now operate as Midleton Concert Band, and have a busy festive schedule ahead.

But there is one music group in Midleton that sums up the best in both community and festive spirit – the East Cork Music Project. Started in 2011 by youth worker Claire Seymour, the courses they run have helped more than a hundred kids in the area express their creativity through art and music whilst also building important life skills.

Ms Seymour’s background was with another socially aware music project, the Cork Academy Of Music, where she saw how young people who might not necessarily be the sporty type, or the academic type, or might struggle to fit in, were able to find their voice through music. Inspired by this, she decided to bring a project to Midleton that would offer formal and informal training to young people, to keep them off the streets and out of harm’s way. So she applied for funding – and things happened faster than she thought.

“Our funding comes from Cork Education Training Board and our sponsors are Cork Diocesan Youth Services. Before I had a premises or anything I applied for funding, so I was in for a shock when a call came through telling me I had two weeks to get a space for classes – and pupils.”

Ms Seymour started with the basics – just asking young people if they would be interested in learning a musical instrument. Soon she had her first class, and after a move or two they found a home in Midleton Community Centre. There she and other tutors teach 25 kids in two music centred programmes – a FETAC Level 4 and a Level 5 that also teach employment skills and personal development. The skills learned in these courses have helped graduates go on to study music further in Cork’s School Of Rock, Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, and to gain employment in Midleton. The project gives them a chance they might never have had otherwise – as exemplified by a recent trip to Sweden, when Ms Seymour took 25 of her students on a cultural exchange programme to a similar group of students. The two groups came together and created music and art over five days under the auspices of Léargas – a trip of a lifetime for many of the participants.

The students also share their creativity with the local community in east Cork – they recently engaged in an art project with residents of the community hospital to create a large scale mural in the grounds of the community garden. The project’s contribution to the town has not gone unnoticed, with people in the locality donating musical instruments to the students, whilst a former janitor of Midleton Community Centre donated a car to the project. There has also been fund-raising for them – An Teach Beag pub, known locally as Banners, held an all day music marathon for the East Cork Music Project, raising €2,500, while a local choir has donated €1,000 raised through concerts they held.

But for all the musical creativity the project has inspired in the participants and the wider community, Ms Seymour says that the real rewards are seeing the kids communicating: “What we do here is create a space for the students to communicate and participate in something creative. It helps teach them to find their voice – to express how they are feeling. The greatest reward at the end of each term is seeing a student who has found some self belief, who has found some confidence in themselves and their own abilities and creativity.”

The East Cork Music Project is an example of the best of community spirit – creative, inclusive, educational, enriching. Plato said “I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” At a time of year when people celebrate the child, Ms Seymour’s project and its participants are a shining beacon of hope for a better tomorrow – where no child is left behind.

-To donate to the project, or to just see some of their work, you can contact them on eastcorkmusicproject@gmail.com, or at  https://www.facebook.com/Eastcorkmusicproject/.

The Fountainhead

Christian Davis, Editor of Drinks International, Billy Leighton, Head Blender for Irish Distillers, Brian Nation, Head Distiller at Irish Distillers and Justin Smith, Publisher of Drinks International.

I’m not sure that many people in Midleton are aware that one of the world’s most significant distilleries lies just outside the town. It sits there on the skyline, silently creating and maintaining the bulk of the world supply of Irish whiskey.

Of course, the local lack of understanding isn’t helped by the fact that it still gives Bow Street as the address on the bottle – I once got into a heated argument with a family member from the big smoke who would not believe that they no longer make Jameson in Dublin. ‘But it says it on the bottle’ he kept telling me. But the distillery is here in east Cork, just over my left shoulder as I write this. It gives me an immense sense of pride to be from Midleton – effectively, the home of Irish whiskey for several decades. And, of course, there is always that local pride to see them celebrated on the world stage, which they have been once again:

Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard has been named Producer of the Year at this year’s prestigious International Spirits Challenge (ISC), topping the ‘World Whiskies’ group that not only encompasses the Irish Whiskey category but also all other world whiskies, showcasing the continued prowess of Ireland’s leading whiskey producer.

Irish Distillers picked up the accolade at an ISC award ceremony, held at the Honourable Artillery Company in Central London on July 6th.

Speaking at the event, Brian Nation, Irish Distillers Head Distiller, commented: “This prestigious award is testament to the dedication and commitment of the passionate craftspeople at the Midleton Distillery; past and present. It is a huge honour to be part of a team that is collectively recognised as producer of the year for all world whiskies, and a fantastic motivation to continue crafting our award-winning products with the utmost care and consistency.”

Now in its 21st year, the ISC is one of the world’s most influential competitions in promoting outstanding quality spirits. The competition is founded on a rigorous and independent judging process, and receives more than 1,300 entries from nearly 70 countries worldwide.

One of the things that industry people will tell you is that it isn’t the scale of the Midleton operation that is most impressive about it, but rather the versatility – as one master distiller in Scotland put it to me ‘it’s not how much they can create, it’s what they can do – that’s what is so remarkable’.

In short, Midleton distillery can make a lot of whiskey, but they can also make a lot of whiskeys – they can remix and rewrite to create a vast array of spirit styles long before they even start thinking about wood. A good example of this diversity is in the list of expressions that won medals at the ISC this year:

  •         Jameson Black Barrel (Gold)
  •         Jameson 18 Year Old (Gold)
  •         Jameson Bold (Gold)
  •         Jameson Round (Gold)
  •         Redbreast 12 Year Old (Gold)
  •         Yellow Spot (Gold)
  •         Powers John’s Lane Release (Gold)
  •         Jameson Original (Silver)
  •         Jameson Signature (Silver)
  •         Jameson Caskmates (Silver)
  •         Jameson Crested (Silver)
  •         Jameson Lively (Silver)
  •         Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength (Silver)
  •         Redbreast 15 Year Old (Silver)
  •         Redbreast 21 Year Old (Silver)
  •         Green Spot (Silver)

IDL recently rebranded a few of the above into a more unified style, something that reflects the changing times here: For years we had a few distilleries trying to look like several – and now there are several distilleries here it is time for the big producers to circle the wagons and place some of their brands under one flag.

As someone who loves the variety of IDL’s output, I’m not wild about the idea. I can see the logic behind it, but to see a cult classic like Crested 10, with its old fashioned styling and inaccurate name (it’s not ten years old) being rebranded into a sort of rugby jersey-looking yoke is just depressing. But if it was a case of rebrand or retire – which it possibly was, given Crested’s lack of profile – then I guess I can suck it up.  

I had hoped to get this garbage written without mentioning millennials, but since this rebrand is most likely aimed squarely at them, I’m going to. The Makers’ and Deconstructed series are effectively a painting-by-numbers introduction to whiskey, taking drinkers on those first few tentative steps from blends down the rabbit hole to personalised Glencairns, tweed waistcoats and terrible puns on the word ‘dram’. Dramnation awaits you all!

But this re-positioning makes sense – given the huge boom in Irish whiskey, you want to bring as many people into the fold as possible, even if it is with a trio of whiskeys which sound like a tragic personal ad – ‘lively, round and bold’ – or another trio of whiskeys which sound like like something out of Roger Melly’s Profanisaurus (Blender’s Dog being a particular offender in this regard).

As for new expressions, who knows – but this interview with Master Distiller Brian Nation mentions Gan Eagla, which is the Irish language version of the Jameson family slogan, sine metu; without fear. It might as well mean ‘without age statement’ since that seems to be the industry trend – churn out as many NAS titles as your marketing team can dream up and keep charging premium rates for them.

But we live in hope: I’d love to see a Red Spot (they still have the trademark, there’s still a chance!), or more of the creativity that gave us Dair Ghaelach, or anything with a little bit more depth, and a few more years on it. I am very, very far from being any sort of whiskey expert, geek or even a proper blogger (30,000 posts on here, a couple of hundred on whiskey), but I’d like to see less NAS, and more quality, aged whiskeys coming from my hometown. I know they have it – when I look out the window all I can see is acres of warehouses, stacked to the rafters with barrels just waiting to be emptied down my gullet.

But until that glorious day, let’s just all agree that IDL are getting it mostly right as long as they don’t resurrect Kiskadee rum: