Full Metal Busker

I belive the bank statement in the background perfectly sets the tone. Also, the glassware was what they sent me and was not stolen from a medical facility.

It was a match made in heaven – a beautiful brand of Irish whiskey found a home in a beautiful distillery built by an Italian drinks giant. Then, last year, the short-lived romance between Walsh Whiskey and Royal Oak Distillery/Illva Saronno came undone. Walsh kept their beautiful brands, Illva kept the distillery. 

In retrospect, it was actually a mismatch – Writers Tears is a beautiful, premium whiskey brand, whereas Ilva specializes in the smashable dram. 

Since the split there has also been a massive overhaul of Royal Oak. Heralded at the time of its opening as the largest manual distillery in Ireland, there was much talk of hand operated distilling, and how rare it was to find a distillery so reliant on humans. Apparently that rarity is not without cause, as distilleries need to be automated – thus, as Royal Oak underwent a massive reengineering over the last 18 months to fully automate it. 

The last time I wrote about Royal Oak I said that it will be a distillery that lacks identity – well, they seem unbothered by this, and have released a whiskey that is almost like a brutalist fuck-you to the elegance and poise of Writers’ Tears. But what the world needs now is not another fancy-pants Irish whiskey, but an everyday, let’s-have-a-dram-without-having-to-put-on-morning-dress, kind of release. 

The Busker was heralded with a press release that sounded like it had one too many Red Bulls: 

The Busker is proud to announce the launch of their “new to world” innovative Irish Whiskey in the U.S. market. The Busker is born out of a modern Ireland, where the contemporary and bold meet at the crossroads of tradition. Disrupting the Irish Whiskey landscape, The Busker is a revamped and adventurous look into the category.

The Busker includes all four types of Irish whiskeys (Single Grain, Single Pot Still, Single Malt and Blend). The Busker Blend – Triple Cask Triple Smooth – combines the Single Grain with a high percentage of the Single Malt and Single Pot whiskeys. Matured and finished in three different casks (Bourbon, Sherry, Marsala), this whiskey brings a new meaning of smoothness in the Irish Whiskey. The Busker Single Collection, represented by the three traditional Irish Whiskeys (Single Grain, Single Pot Still and Single Malt), is produced under one roof at the world-class Royal Oak Distillery. The Distillery is proudly located on an 18th century estate in the Ancient East region at County Carlow. Each whiskey boasts an unmistakable taste profile, with nuances ranging from vanilla and oak, to rich spicy notes.

User-friendly and easy to hold, the bottles packaging showcases a simple, sleek screen print design. The aesthetically ripped label elicits a boldness and ruggedness intriguing to all whiskey drinkers.

“We aim to disrupt the Irish Whiskey category by attracting new and authenticity-seeking consumers to the brand”, says Ray Stoughton, Executive Vice President of Disaronno International LLC, The Busker’s parent company. “While we honor the rich Irish heritage and whiskey-making traditions to produce superb liquid, we go beyond the limitations and lines of history to create our own story. The American consumers are thirsty for something that’s exciting and innovative, and The Busker delivers just that.”

I am thirsty for the price point these guys are working at: The Busker blend suggested retail price is $24.99 and for Single Grain, Single Malt and Single Pot Still is $29.99 to enjoy the full Irish Whiskey experience. 

TBH if they wanted to offer the full Irish whiskey experience they would have charged triple that figure. A new Irish whiskey, from a new irish distillery, that you don’t have to sell a kidney to buy. Maybe 2020 isn’t such a dose after all. I was sent a bottle of the blend, here’s a short review: 

Nose: It’s thirty euro.

Palate: It’s thirty euro.

Finish: It’s thirty euro. 

Jokes aside, this is fine. Lots of sweetness and fruit, and given that it looks like something Charles Bukowski would be carrying in a brown paper bag to his brownstone, it is not bad at all. Everything has its place in the world, and we sorely need to ground ourselves. I hope the pricing here brings some sense to what looks very much like a bubble. There’s a distinctly 2008, Celtic Tiger fin de siècle feeling to Irish whiskey right now, with relatively young spirit going for a minimum of 60 euro, 12 year olds going for 100+ and the sky is the limit for 16s, 18s, and don’t even think about 21s unless you own an oil field in Siberia. I assume the next 18 months will tell a lot. The world economy will start to wobble over the next six months, but much like 2008, it could be four years before the real shit settles. Maybe then, as we huddle around a burning wheelie bin, struggling to keep warm, we will really appreciate a whiskey that considers being ‘easy to hold’ a unique selling point. 

Love will tear us apart

There is a feeling you get after the break up of a relationship and you pass you ex in the street and see that they have, in fact, gone to shit. It’s a strange mix of pity and schadenfreude that comes over the one who has moved on. I wonder if anyone from the Walsh Whiskey team felt that way when a provisional Royal Oak whiskey label was submitted to the American Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), as spotted by whiskey sleuth Charlie Roche: 

Royal Oak is a beautiful distillery, and to see this label – which may only be a very early draft or just a placeholder – comes as something as a shock.

Or perhaps it doesn’t – perhaps the split between Bernard Walsh and the Italian drinks group Ilva Saronno was over this precise thing; whether to go high or go low; whether to keep that premium branding on a premium sourced product, ie, Writers Tears/The Irishman, or to put out an indigenous, young and potentially fiery whiskey under basic-ass branding. There are, obviously, plenty of spaces for all kinds of brands; the quality and quantity of output from Great Northern means that we will have an array of good quality whiskeys coming in often low quality branding. Not everyone wants something as elegant as Writers Tears, sometimes you just want a smashable dram that you can drink without any reverence. But The Busker? Aside from the label, isn’t the name a tad close to The Whistler?

Meanwhile, Walsh Whiskey continues to go from the strength to strength as a standalone brand, with the release of their latest collaboration with Dick Mack’s. 

Carlow & Dingle, Ireland – 15th May 2020: Walsh Whiskey has released the second in a series of collaborative experiments with the legendary Dick Mack’s Pub & Brewhouse in the seaside town of Dingle in County Kerry, Ireland. Writers’ Tears – Seaweed IPA Cask Finish is a truly exceptional creation that brings together an old Irish whiskey recipe of Single Pot Still and Single Malt whiskeys, finished in a unique cask infused with the flavour of an 8% IPA beer laced with a seaweed harvest from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Bernard Walsh started this ‘spiritual’ adventure in 2018, when Finn mentioned Dick Mack’s newest creation – a Seaweed IPA. A barrel used in the creation of several batches of Dick Mack’s Tóg Bog É Seaweed IPA was sent on the 298 kms/185 miles cross-country from Dingle in County Kerry to Walsh Whiskey in County Carlow. Tóg Bog É (pronounced Toag Guh Bug Ay) is a Gaelic expression meaning ‘Take it Easy’ which has come to identify Irish people’s traditional outlook towards how best to live life.

Dick Mack’s Tóg Bog É Seaweed IPA was brewed with no less than 5 kilos/ 11 pounds of kelp seaweed harvested from County Kerry’s nearby Ballybunion Beach.

On Saint Valentine’s Day 2019 the barrel was filled with the award-winning Writers’ Tears – Copper Pot, triple-distilled, premium blend of Single Pot Still and Single Malt whiskeys and laid down for 14 months to finish. It was bottled naturally, non-chill filtered, at high strength.

The single cask (numbered ‘Batch 56’) has now yielded 306, individually numbered, bottles of Cask Strength (56.3%) super-premium whiskey. The Recommended Retail Price of this unique expression is €82/ US$89/ £72, however many bottles have already been snapped up by members of The Irish Whiskey Society and frontline workers of the Dublin Fire Brigade Whiskey Club. This unique expression is already a collector’s item.

Notes re Writers’ Tears – Seaweed IPA Cask Finish:

  • Laid down on St Valentine’s Day 2019 for a 14 Months Finish
  • Natural Non-Chill Filtered
  • Bottled at Cask Strength (56.3%)
  • Barrel: Bourbon, Seasoned with Seaweed IPA (8% ABV) brewed at Dick Mack’s, Dingle in Ireland’s Kingdom of County Kerry
  • Colour: Golden mustard
  • Nose: Deep butterscotch, autumnal/mature bramble apple
  • Taste: Salted caramelised fruit sugar’s syrup, a touch of liquorice
  • Finish: Creamy mouth feel

A webcast to taste and discuss the creation of Writers’ Tears – Seaweed IPA Cask Finish, will be held on Facebook at 8pm (Irish Summer Time) on 27th May, 2020 between Writers’ Tears creator and Walsh Whiskey Founder, Bernard Walsh; Finn MacDonnell, Proprietor & Great-Grandson of Dick Mack himself; Serghios Florides, Publisher & Editor of Irish Whiskey Magazine and Peter White of the Dublin Fire Brigade Whiskey Club.

Well, at least they didn’t tell us it was hadngrafted: