Forty shades of delicious

I wrote a couple of pieces for the Irish Examiner Food & Drink supplement; one about innovation in food and drink, and one on (of all things) whiskey.

And would you believe I didn’t get any free booze for doing this? Shocking. WTF is journalism coming to? Anyway, here you go:

 

Brewing up a storm

Our forty shades of green are more than just a tourism slogan – they are also a sign of just how strong agriculture is in this country. Whiskey sales may be rocketing, but our craft beer scene is also getting stronger, with a plethora of new brands coming on stream every month – to the point that many of the brewing giants are trying to cash in and creating ‘craft’ styled brands. When the titans of industry are getting rattled, you know a revolution is taking place.

It has been 21 years since the late Oliver Hughes and his cousin Liam LaHart opened the Porterhouse in Temple Bar, and while the concept seemed alien at the time in a country where you drank one of three lagers or one of three stouts, the modern boom shows just what a thirst there was for change. A Bord Bia report released last year highlighted this, pointing out that there is an estimated 90 microbreweries operating in the Republic of Ireland, of which 62 are production microbreweries and at least 28 are contracting companies. There was a 29% increase in the number of production microbreweries from 48 in 2015 to 62 in 2016. The number of microbreweries has more than quadrupled since 2012.

As the scene grows, so does innovation in the category. Munster Brewery in Youghal is one example. Last year the brewers, twins Padraig and Adrian Hyde, released 12 Towers,  Ireland’s first certified organic beer. They also signed up to a green earth initiative: “We’ve delighted to say we’ve just signed up to the Climate Neutral Now programme, where we promise to reduce emissions and offset any unavoidable ones by buying carbon credits. It’s an extra expense we don’t really need but one we’re happy to pay. We’ve gone and committed the entire brewery to the Climate Neutral Now programme so we’re busy as bees monitoring energy usage and fuel.”

Apart from making their beers more earth and body friendly, they also make the ancient health drink kombucha under their HOLO (holistic and organic) brand. While they also offer tours, they are frustrated by the licensing laws, which prohibit small brewers and distillers from selling direct to customers. They can sell huge amount wholesale, but not a few bottles to a tourist – an issue for any potential drinks tourism.

Innovation is integral to the drinks category – and with the explosion in craft breweries and distilleries comes new ideas. Perhaps one of the biggest success stories in drinks innovation here is Baileys, the first of the now ubiquitous Irish creams. A collision of two forms of famring – tillage (barley for whiskey) and dairy (the cream), it was dreamed up by David Dand in Dublin in 1974. Legend has it that it was first created using a simple mixer (blending cream and whiskey takes a bit more science than that),  it now sells 6.4m cases year, or 80m bottles – more than the entire Irish whiskey industry combined. Every three secs someone, somewhere in the world is having a Baileys. The brand has also expanded to include Baileys Gold, Baileys Chocolat Luxe, and flavours Biscotti, Vanilla-Cinnamon, Pumpkin Spice, Espresso and Salted Caramel. Each year, 38,000 Irish dairy cows produce more than 220 million litres of fresh cream specifically for the creation of Baileys.

The success has prompted other entrants to the category, with Cremór, Kerrygold, Carolans, Molly’s, Brogans, Saint Brendan’s and Coole Swan all doing a booming trade.

Kerrygold Irish cream is produced by the Ornua group, which recently released booming stats. As Ireland’s largest exporter of primary Irish dairy products, they delivered a strong trading performance in 2016, with turnover up by 9% to €1.75 billion – a figure all the more remarkable when you consider that this performance was achieved in a year of volatile milk prices and political uncertainty in some of their key markets.  The global giant’s ambition is to move Kerrygold from being a world-class butter brand to an instantly recognisable €1 billion global dairy brand in the coming years. 2016 saw the successful launch of Kerrygold Yogurts in Germany, Kerrygold Spreadable in the UK and the continued roll-out of Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur across Europe and the US.

Ireland’s strength in the export of food and drink products is also reflected in the success of the Carbery Group, a global leader in food ingredients, flavours and cheese, headquartered in Ballineen, Cork. Founded in 1965 as a joint venture between four creameries and Express Dairies, UK, Carbery Group is owned by four Irish dairy co-operatives, employ more than 600 people, and manufacture from eight facilities worldwide, including Ireland, UK, USA, Brazil and Thailand. The group has moved far beyond the traditional bedrock of cheese to health and nutritional supplements and flavour creation.

One knock-on from the distilling is the boom in gins, used as a revenue generator by distilleries as their whiskey stocks mature, while the use of local botanical infusions in the gins give them a regional flavour that sets each apart. One of Carbery Group’s success stories in drinks innovation blends the normally disparate worlds of dairy farming and distilling. Originating from Ballyvolane House in Cork, Bertha’s Revenge gin is named after a cow, a tribute befitting an alcoholic beverage distilled from sweet whey, the liquid produced during cheese making. Bertha’s Revenge is distilled with whey alcohol sourced from Carbery and derived from cow’s milk produced by Cork dairy farmers.

Using specially developed yeasts to ferment the milk sugars in the whey, Carbery brew and then double distill the whey in large column stills. Justin Green of Ballyvolane House and his business partner Antony Jackson then distill the 96% proof whey alcohol a third time in their custom-made 125 litre copper stills along with botanicals such as coriander, bitter orange, cardamom, cumin and clove as well as foraged local botanicals such as elderflower and sweet woodruff. The resulting gin has won local and international acclaim since its launch in 2015, and Bertha’s Revenge is now exported to the UK, mainland Europe and even South Korea – and, later this year, to the US, where it just won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017.

Bertha’s Gin has shown that innovation, experimentation and even the occasional odd idea can get the best out of Ireland’s tradition of agricultural excellence – and proof that those forty shades of green can always keep us in the black.

Distillers of future past

The old adage of ‘you’ll never beat the Irish’ may not be true in all fields, but in whiskey it might just be. With a history of distilling dating back to its first mention in the Annals of Clonmacnoise in 1405 (the Scots’ earliest mention is 1494), we were the world’s greatest whiskey makers by the late 1800s, with distilleries dotted all over the country. But that changed – a combination of war, pestilence, famine and a simple changing of tastes saw us go into a period of decline that hit a low point in the Seventies and Eighties, with only two distilleries left on the island of Ireland – Bushmills and Midleton. We were an also ran in the world whiskey scene, with our neighbours the Scots having left us for dust.

Fast forward to the last six years: Through careful marketing – and our old friend ‘changing tastes’ – Jameson has rocketed to the fasted growing spirit brand in the world, and that rising tide of smooth irish liquor has lifted a number of boats, with distilleries popping up all over the country. This is great news for the whiskey fan, but the wider effects will be felt in agriculture and tourism. In the short term, more distilleries means a need for more barley, more maltsters, and thus more employment. In the longer term, it will mean more tourists.

Whisky tourism is worth tens of millions to the Scottish economy – travel across a region like Speyside, where there are 50+ distilleries, and you can see how a coherent strategy has been built around whisky – there is even a walking trail you can take, bringing you through the hills from distillery to distillery. But they have had decades to draw a roadmap for tourism, while here our industry is still in its infancy, with a number of distilleries in operation, in the process of being built, at the planning stage, and some that are still trying to get beyond being a pipe dream.

Dublin has a number of distilleries at various stages – the merchant princes of Irish whiskey, Jack and Stephen Teeling, sons of the legendary John Teeling, who opened Cooley distillery and democratised whiskey by selling it direct to bottlers, have an incredibly slick operation in Newmarket Square. Alltech agrifoods billionaire Pearse Lyons has his eponymous distillery housed inside an old church in the Liberties, while a couple of hundred years down the road the former owners of Bushmills, Diageo are building a distillery within one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland – the Guinness site at St James’s Gate. Also nearby is the Dublin Liberties Distillery, which has recently commenced construction. Meanwhile, the longest serving whiskey tourism hub in Dublin, the Bow Street Jameson Heritage Centre, recently re-opened after a massive €11m overhaul.

But Dublin doesn’t need a selection of distilleries to attract tourists – it is simply another string to the city’s bow. It is the distilleries spread across the country that need to be brought together under one tourism vision.

Outside the Pale, the Jameson Heritage Centre in Midleton is the biggest whiskey tourism draw that Ireland has right now, bringing in hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. But what gives Midleton the edge over their Dublin wing is that they have the heritage, the history, and – tucked away behind it all – one of the most modern, efficient distilleries in the world. In recent years Midleton added another attraction – an experimental micro-distillery.

Ignacio Peregrina, General Manager at The Jameson Experience Midleton: “Since we opened in 1992 we have been delighted to welcome over 2.3 million visitors to Midleton. We’re always delighted to bring our heritage to life for new audiences and send people home as strong ambassadors for Irish whiskey. In the last 25 years, we’ve welcomed people from all over the world from Hollywood royalty, Kevin Spacey to Cork royalty, Roy Keane!”

Since opening in 1992 the Midleton centre has welcomed 2.3 million visitors, while last year it hosted 125000. Of the top four countries of origin for visitors, USA made up 25%; Germany 12%; Britain 11% and France 10%.

To the east of Midleton, along the Ancient East, lies Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city and home to Mark Reynier’s Waterford Distillery, one of the most impressive operations to set up here in the last five years. With his background (he resurrected Bruichladdich distillery on the Scottish island of Islay, before selling it to Remy Cointreau) he was able to buy an old Guinness brewery, and transform it into a state of the art distillery.

Reynier’s project differs from many others in its dedication to barley – he has been using barley from individual farms to distill individual batches of spirit, meaning you will be able to taste the difference from soil type to soil type, thus proving the concept of terroir. His project is one to watch – and having just secured another 20 million boost from investors, it has no signs of slowing down.

Not far away in the sleepy village of Cappoquin, Peter Mulryan has been creating award winning spirits under his Blackwater Distillery brands. A journalist, author, and whiskey expert, Mulryan is getting ready to move his operation to a larger premises in the nearby village of Ballyduff and, with that, to move to the next stage of his business plan – whiskey tourism.

To the west of Midleton is West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen, and beyond that, Dingle Distillery. Dingle was the vision of the late Oliver Hughes, credited as being the father of craft beer in Ireland after he set up the highly successful Porterhouse chain. Hughes saw opportunity in whiskey too, setting up Dingle before the current boom properly took off. As a result of his foresight, Dingle Distillery single malt is hitting the market at a time when all other whiskeys come from one of the other big three – Midleton, Cooley or Bushmills. Dingle whiskey, much like the town itself, is in a league of its own.

The process of creating whiskey is one of the complications to building an immediate tourism industry around it. First you need to build the distillery, distill your grain, and cask your spirit. Then you wait – while three years is the legal minimum requirement, anything between five and ten years is the accepted minimum for the serious whiskey drinker – and thus, the serious whiskey tourist.

In order to draw tourists here in the same way Scotland draws thousands from across Europe, Ireland will need well-established and well-respected distilleries with quality output. The casual tourist will be happy to visit one distillery on a trip to Ireland, the whiskey tourist will want more than that – they will want distillery exclusives – whereby the distillery sells a particular brand on its own premises and nowhere else – and to be able to visit a number of distilleries in one trip. The Irish Whiskey Association has launched a document laying out its vision for whiskey tourism here, creating a whiskey trail from distillery to distillery so that when the plan comes of age in 2025, there is an accepted route for the discerning whiskey fan.

One thing is for certain – after decades of struggle, Irish whiskey is back with a bang.

All things are connected

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It was the last night of the 2015 Spirit Of Speyside festival, and the great and good of distilling in the region were gathered at the Laichmoray Hotel in Elgin for one last hurrah. Across the table from me was Alan Winchester, who I suspected I ought to have known, but really didn’t. We chatted about the feat of modern engineering that is Midleton distillery, and he enthused about some of the great hill walks along the Wild Atlantic Way. Then he said “So you’re following in the footsteps of your fellow countryman Maurice Walsh?” As I obviously had no idea who that was, Winchester explained about Walsh – author of The Quiet Man amongst many others – being an exciseman in the region, and how his descendant Barry Walsh, who sadly passed away since, was master blender in Midleton. I was delighted to get all this info, as it formed the backbone of the piece I wrote for the Examiner on my trip. Up to that point the only line I had on my trip was ‘Local man goes on free holiday, gets trolleyed, cries going home’.

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A page from Maurice Walsh – Storyteller by Steve Matheson. 

As part of my rummaging into the life of Maurice Walsh I came across a snippet of info about his time at Glenburgie; he and other excisemen had written their names on a cupboard door in the duty office. I was fascinated by this, and contacted Chris Brousseau, chief archivist at Chivas Brothers, to see if he might be able to send me a photo of the door. Sadly, Chris informed me that the cupboard was lost to a series of renovations over the years and was no longer on site. Feeling a little crestfallen, it slowly faded from my mind, and I didn’t think about it after that – until I got an email last week.

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Los Gatos, via Wikipedia.

Los Gatos is a small town in Santa Clara County, California. Located in Silicon Valley, it is a prosperous place, famous for being the HQ of streaming giant Netflix, and also home at various points to violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Two Face himself Aaron Eckhart, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and John Steinbeck. Another resident of Los Gatos is a man named Tom Ovens, who was the bar manager from 1981 to  2010 at C.B. Hannegan’s Restaurant in the town.

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CB Hannegan’s in Los Gatos. 

Los Gatos is twinned with Listowel in Kerry – close to where Maurice Walsh is from – and Mr Ovens visited The Kingdom in September 1994 as part of a twinning delegation from California, a trip he has fond memories of: “Listowel was charming. We were there for the Harvest Festival: Horse racing, Wren Boys, bags of periwinkles eaten with a toothpick, chatting with John B. Keane in his pub and him autographing a book for me.

“On our final day in Listowel, we all met at a large pub outside of town. The narrow road had cars parked on both sides making it a tight squeeze. As I attempted to leave, I kept looking out my car window, to the back, then to the front trying to fit into traffic. A Garda walked up to me. I thought that he might put his hand up to stop traffic and let me out into the flow. He just leaned in to me and said, “You have no courage” and walked on.”

But the Listowel-Los Gatos connection isn’t the reason Mr Ovens got in touch. In June of 1994, he had been in Scotland, an annual trip he undertook for 15 years, as he also created and maintained the malt whisky program for C.B. Hannegan’s.

“I consider myself fortunate that I was able to travel before single malts and the whisky industry itself became a going tourist concern. No Spirit of Speyside festivals, to be sure.  Few distilleries even had visitor’s centers and the managers were quite happy to break up their daily routine to show a visitor around.”

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Glenburgie, before it was demolished. 

One one such trip he was in Speyside, and that’s where my story and his intersect: “So it was that in 1994 I paid a visit to Glenburgie. The distillery manager, Brian Thomas, met me and after the usual pleasantries, said, “You’ll be wanting to see Maurice Walsh’s signature, I suppose.”

“He brought out the cupboard door where many of the excise men of the day had written their names – not carved as I have read elsewhere.”

Thankfully, Tom took photos of this tiny piece of whisky lore – you can see the signature on the right in the upper quadrant: 

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And a close-up:

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And finally, with the signature redrawn:

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So there you have it – it exists, or at least it did, given that its current location is unknown. It’s a shame the cupboard wasn’t kept, as the distillery seemed quite proud of the Walsh links when Mr Ovens was there: “And later in his office, over a wee dram, he excused himself, left the room and came back with a stack of four old editions of Walsh’s books. They had belonged to his father-in-law who had been a real Walsh fan and Mr. Thomas was keen to show them to me. As was always the case with my distillery visits, he made me feel welcome and quite at home.”

There is little trace of the original Glenburgie, as it was demolished and rebuilt as a modern facility. Most of its malt goes to Ballantine’s, apart from the odd indie bottling like the G&M one I bought in the airport on the way home from Speyside. I will enjoy it a little more now, thanks to a fellow whisky aficionado on the other side of the world, and a small measure of serendipity.

Cheffing, Adam West, Irish college, and the further commodification of my own grief

Column for the Indo last Wednesday, in which I slowly peel away the mask of terrible comedy to reveal the raging emo sea within.

 

They used to say too many cooks spoil the broth. Sadly it seems that broth of any description may soon be off the menu, as the Restaurant Association Of Ireland informs us that we are now short about 5,000 chefs. It seems hard to understand why more young people wouldn’t want to join an industry that elevates icons like Gordon Ramsay, who have shown that the best way to make great food is to scream swear words into a person’s face for 15 minutes, then use their tears to baste a turkey.

Cheffing is a brutal grind; for those who simply love food, it is a vocation – many great chefs have that innate, creative skill to blend flavours, much like the rat in Ratatouille. However, for people like me, it was the only job we could get. After dropping out of an Arts degree to pursue my true passion – drinking cans – I ended up meandering into a job in a kitchen. I spent two and a half years burning pots, smoking fags and drinking heavily, and while the kitchen I worked in was fantastic, with a wonderful head chef, it was still an awful job. There is little point in the RAI trying to encourage young people into an industry that offers low wages, appalling hours and the chance you might be stuck under a head chef that makes Ramsay look like Bugs Bunny. Until the conditions of working in a kitchen are improved, it will remain a catchphrase for endurance, and many will decide, as I did, that they simply cannot take the heat.

Speaking of wasted youth, the passing of Adam West brought back many memories of the kapows and kablammos of Saturday morning TV in the 1980s. For many he was their childhood hero, unless of course they had the misfortune of reading Burt Ward’s memoirs, Boy Wonder: My Life In Tights. There are few things sadder than badly written filth, but Ward’s book is some of the lousiest erotica you will ever encounter. Playing on the style of the show (‘HOLY PRIAPISM!!’ Being one good example), it has the worst use of alliteration this side of a Leaving Cert English essay. The book details Ward and West’s exploits as they engage in the sort of shenanigans that would make Motley Crue blush – but Ward also finds plenty of space for complaining about West upstaging him, claiming that his co-star’s laconic delivery was designed to simply ensure that he was on screen more. West’s suitably cool rebuttal of claims that he was stealing the limelight and placing himself centre stage was to dryly ask “What was the name of the show again? Oh that’s right, it was Batman”.

Irish college season is here again, and with it comes memories of my own forays into Dead Language Zones of Ireland. One of my best memories is of our college standing to attention, singing the national anthem in front of the Tricolour in the main square. As we did, an elderly gentleman cycled past, and as we earnestly mumbled patriotic noises, he shouted ‘sieg heil’, cackled at us, and cycled off down the road. It was about the only thing I remembered from my three summers spent there, as after that I promptly failed Irish in the Inter Cert. In fact, the only lesson I took from my brief encounters with our native tongue was that it was even harder to get the shift via Irish. Úfásach ar fad, as Bosco would say, although I still have no idea what that means.

My grandfather used to tell my dad a story. One day, he and his buddies were down town, when across the street they saw a contemporary of theirs, pushing a buggy. They guffawed at what they believed to be the craziest thing they had ever seen – the very notion of it, a man pushing a buggy. My grandfather’s generation had a more Victorian mindset when it came to family life – children were women’s work. My dad, however, was different. He swam against the tide of his own sad history, and as I face into my first Father’s Day without him, I marvel at who he was. As I crashed headlong through life, he was always there for me – when I failed the Inter Cert, scraped through the Leaving, dropped out of college, slumped into dead-end jobs, or even told him I was expecting a baby with my girlfriend of six months (now my wife of 11 years) he never stopped believing in me. All my tiny triumphs were celebrated as though I had conquered the world, and a few column inches like these would be whisked off to the print shop to be photocopied and dispatched to relatives all over Ireland. He was unfailingly proud, even I went on TV to talk about getting a vasectomy.

In the nine months since he passed away I have struggled to rationalise the loss. The warming smugness of my atheism provides little comfort, as I try to convince myself that this is simply the circle of life – not even a thoughtful narration by David Attenborough could make my journey through grief more bearable. I am still trying to figure out a way to say all this on a headstone, how to sum up the endless love and support I received into a few pithy words. He overcame the culture of his times; he grew up with a father, but I grew up with a dad.

Now that I have inherited two decades worth of the Father’s Day gifts I gave him, I realise that aftershaves, socks, scarves, and books on the GAA are of little consequence, and that time together is the only gift any parent really wants…until the grandkids start screaming, then it’s time to leave.

Vader’s Day

Wrote an intensely pious piece on International Day For Men Who Got The Ride (Father’s Day) for the Indo, so here it is:

 

Gather ye round my brothers, and let me tell ye of a fabled time, a golden age where a father’s job was to simply have a job, and little else. Returning from a hard day’s work, he would retire to the drawing room with his pipe and slippers, and nobody was to disturb until he had his tea, whereafter he would depart to the pub. A father was a remote and distant thing, as nature intended. Sadly, times have changed, and now fathers are expected to partake in a child’s life well beyond the fun production bit at the start. So we adjusted and learned, just like we did at those antenatal classes where we were advised on the best technique for gently massaging a thrashing woman who is threatening to murder you.

Some dads have even gone one step beyond in their pursuit of the best kind of parenting, crossing the threshold from quietly enjoying the miracle of being a parent, to very loudly advertising their skills across social media. These Instadads – like Simon Hooper or Matt Farquharson – have amassed thousands of followers, and are therefore better than most other dads who just get on with it. The Instadads’ accounts bring the revelation that parenthood is not all glamour, glitz and Gap catalogue style perfection, as they capture suburban chaos at its most lightly filtered. But with followers comes power, so here’s a handy guide to jumping on this lifestyle brandwagon.

  1. Capture everything! Sort of… – The key to leveraging your image from ‘just a dad’ to influential #brandad is to portray yourself as a put-upon martyr, drowning in a sea of sturm und drang. Context, of course, is key – if your kids empty out bins and throw stuff about, take the opportunity to snap it for Instagram. Kids are great aren’t they! Do not, however, take photos of the actual filth of your home, complete with fresh turd in the hall courtesy of the toilet training toddler. Nobody needs to be reminded that you can either have an impeccably clean, camera ready home, or you can spend time with your kids. The Instadad understands that, much like with childhood itself, reality must be used sparingly – and nobody needs a stop-motion guide to the norovirus.
  2. Boundaries: Kids are always getting up to mischief, and a photo of them scurrying about like gremlins wrecking your stuff always bring a lot of traction online. However, it’s important to know where the boundaries lie.
    DO: Be like Stephen Crowley, the Dublin dad who photoshopped his daughter into mildly dangerous situations and posted them on Instagram to scare his mam. The photos were a worldwide hit, and Crowley now boasts an impressive 25k followers.  
    DON’T: Be like YouTuber DaddyoFive, whose increasingly bizarre and cruel pranks led to him losing custody of his kids. Shouting at your kids due to mental exhaustion, stress or malnutrition are one thing – doing it for clicks is just bizarre.
  3. Always remember your ABCs – Always Bring Camera. There is no occasion that is not fodder for your online profile – birthdays, Christenings, parole hearings – you are going to need to capture every moment, rather than simply existing in them. Always have that phone ready to capture your child’s first steps, first day at school, or the gradual process of them becoming estranged from you as you obsessively photograph everything.
  4. Sports: Gone are the days of the old chuckabout in the back yard, where father and child would throw the old pigskin back and forth while a Wonder Years narration plays inside dad’s head, assuring him that he has now achieved Cat Stevens’ levels of perfect dadhood. The modern dad has no time for leaving the house, what with feeding the beast of his online profile, so instead challenges his kids to team deathmatches on Call Of Duty, without ever hearing the call of his own actual duties.  YouTuber Finnball regularly posts videos of his son playing him at COD, and despite millions of views and subscribers, still hasn’t become alert to the fact that there might be something slightly Oedipal about a son repeatedly murdering his father with an AK47.
  5. Showmanship: Instadads know that online supports like Rollercoaster.ie or Mummypages are not for them. Nobody needs to hear their anguish about paying bills, being a good father, or what sort of world their children are growing up in. Instagram is a place of surface only, and the myriad challenges of being a parent are far too complex to be captured in a photo of a handsome dad with four kids and two changing bags hanging off him like the late stages of a game of Buckaroo. Ninety percent of being a dad is either undercutting mum’s authority by allowing them treats before bed or helping them escape from the naughty step, or blowing a gasket when someone empties a packet of cheese and onion into the PS4. But instead of all that, just post photos of yourself styled like Hugh Grant’s character in About A Boy, all ‘kids eh?’ and tightly choreographed mess.
  6. Shopping: A trip to the shops with the kids is a fun event, when you get a real taste of the logistics of Hannibal’s trek across the Alps. Take lots of photos of your kids in the food hall at Marks and Spencer, before bundling them all back into the car and going to Lidl to do your actual shop. The modern dad feels that if he manages to get them all to the shops and back without misplacing a single child, he deserves the Victoria Cross, or even a new set of golf clubs, despite the fact that mum makes this trek up to three times a day. Also, the annual festive tradition of getting up at 4am to queue for the Next sale is never an option for dad, no matter how modern he is, because he would then have to admit he isn’t quite sure what age his kids are.
  7. Airports: All the bags and all the kids, all bundled on a trolley! What a great shot! What isn’t great is the fact that they screamed for the entire four and a half hour flight to Lanzarote, and screamed even louder during the layover in Shannon, leaving the poor American soldiers sharing the lounge area with an even more severe case of PTSD. The great thing about photos is there is no sound, and the Instagrammed child is always seen and not heard.
  8. Precious memories, AKA #content: Remember that iconic scene in Kramer Vs Kramer where the father helps his child cycle a bike? Now picture dad letting go too early to whip out his phone and capture the moment, only for the child to crash to the ground, breaking an arm. This leads to another great moment – the trip to the hospital, where you get to share your anguish about your child’s well being with strangers on the internet. Might be best to put away the phone when the social worker asks to have a word about how the accident actually happened. Please note that ‘crafting a brand’ isn’t an excuse for neglect.
  9. Playdates: Few things in a father’s life are sweeter than brand synergy, so why not get some fellow influencers over with their brood so you can cross-pollinate your accounts? So many great opportunities as you force your kids to hang out with a bunch of equally showbiz-primed prima donnas, all jostling for lens time and seeing whose photo gets the most likes. You know; a normal, healthy childhood.
  10. Everything is fleeting: Photos used to be a way to capture moments in time, and were so precious that when people were asked what material items they would save from a burning house, photo albums usually made the top three. Social media changed that, for better and worse, and while it is a comfort to see images of other parents struggling with the chaos of a busy home, it never quite relates the pleasures and sorrows of having kids. Nobody Instagrams a panic attack at 4am over whether you are a good parent, or Snapchats the secret fear that your child might turn out just like you, riddled with flaws and struggling to cope with the world. The Instadad claims to ditch the sugar coating of family life, but it was never sugar coated to begin with – nobody takes it lightly, as it is, in the end, the only thing of true merit you will ever do. Tens of thousands of followers are a comfort to the ego, but it’s the little followers trailing you around the garden who really matter, and their contentment is considerably more valuable than your #content.

Scents and scent ability

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So I wrote a bit for the Examiner on the Aroma Academy’s Whisky Nosing Kit, something I had tried to buy on Master Of Malt at Christmas but it sold out. The main piece was on George Dodd, who is a Trinners educated Dub, and head of the Aroma Academy, but this was my lesser contribution:

 

So you’ve decided to become a whiskey geek. You’ve tried a few brands, learned the lingo (arcane terms like dram, NAS, cask-strength), the science (you know the difference between a washback and a Lyne arm) and the history (the two Aeneases, Coffey and MacDonald), and have even bought a tweed blazer in Penneys so that you look the part. But there is one part of whiskey fandom that is hard to perfect; an innate sense that cannot be trained via literature alone – your sense of smell.  

Of all our senses, smell is probably the one we value the least. If forced to pick one to jettison, it is hard to imagine someone binning their ability to see or hear in favour of smell, but it is in its subtlety that its power lies – apart from enabling us to avoid danger, evolutionary biologists suggest that it also helps us recognise family by scent, and thus avoid inbreeding. It should come as little surprise that the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion also processes our sense of smell. How we perceive aromas is often guided by our life experiences. But there are some elements of scent that we can be completely objective about – and whiskey carries many of them. As the most complex spirit in the world, whiskey can be a tough sensory code to crack. How do you train your senses to pick out the key notes? It turns out, much like you can train individual muscles, you can teach your brain to isolate and identify a few of the elements most identified with what should be our national drink.

The Aroma Academy’s Whisky Aroma Kit is a beautifully packaged set ideal for the budding whiskey enthusiast seeking to bone up on their nosing skills, or for the hardcore geek wishing to evangelise friends and family with tutored tastings. Contained within the set are the 24 vials of scent, a helpful book on how to use them, a thorough introduction to Scotch whisky, and some slivers of card that can be used to diffuse the scents, in much the same way perfumeries proffer samples of their wares.

The scents help you understand how the aroma of whisky works – what phenol is, what the experts mean when they suggest there is a whiff of decay, and yet keep on sipping, what a buttery note smells like, how to identify wet peat, solventine, rosewater, or sherry.

The vials themselves are numbered and the list of their actual aromas is contained in the notebook – tutored tastings often see the vials being passed around, with guests being asked to have a guess as to what scent each vial held. It’s a fun way to show how we all perceive reality in completely different ways – could you say for certain that what you think of when someone suggests ‘the smell of cut grass’ would be the exact same as what I think of? And what of the variables – what if you have a slight cold that impedes your sense of smell? The whisky expert Jim Murray – whose annual Whisky Bible reviews thousands of whiskies from all over the world – won’t do any whisky reviews for two weeks after a cold in case it affects his ability to discern elements.

Using the Aroma Academy kit is a great way to tune your senses into the most important elements of whisky, but more than that it gives you the confidence to start proffering opinions on what a whisky smells and tastes like. The 24 scents are some of the key aromatic components, but are also key to ‘talking the whisky talk’. Knowing them is akin to learning scales on the piano before you start rattling out Rachmaninoff. Once you know your phenol from your decay, you can start expanding your vocabulary to include just about anything. A good example of creative tasting notes are those on the bottlings released by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They never directly state what distillery the liquid is from, but instead use a  tasting panel to describe it. The results are intriguing – and sometimes baffling. Consider this, a whisky released under the title of ‘Irreverent Painter In Church’: “The nose, with the oiled wood of new church pews, exuded peacefulness and earned reverence – it also had dried papaya and mango, marzipan, lemon curd, sherbet and candied angelica. The palate was chewy and satisfying, with spritzy and zesty elements (orange and lemon jellies, tropical fruits), spiced pear and the sweetness of white chocolate and French Fancies. The reduced nose continued the citric theme – lemon sponge-cake, chocolate limes and a painter with a cigarette in one hand and a margarita in the other. The palate was juicy and rewarding, combining tangy fruits and bitter lemon with cola cubes, pear and chocolate.”

With the guidance of the Whisky Aroma Kit, and a little bit of self confidence, soon you too could be drawing furrowed brows and concerned looks from friends as you prance about in a tweed catsuit talking about whiskies as though they were the Sistine Chapel – or a cocktail of paint thinner and altar wine.

The Aroma Academy Whisky Kit costs a very reasonable stg£99.95 (many other brands cost upwards of 200euro) from http://www.whisky-academy.com.

Kith and Kinsale

You can be happily married, or you can live in Kinsale. That’s what I was told by a fellow traveller on Cork Whiskey Society’s expedition to the Folkhouse in the Cork seaside town. Kinsale is like Cork’s riviera, a playground for the rich and shameless, and, if my guide was right, a hotbed of wife swapping and French-style casual affairs. How exciting, I thought. Sadly, my trip to the south county was not in pursuit of whatever name they might have for dogging in a 60ft ocean-going yacht, but the equally aristocratic pursuit of quaffing Cognac. The Malt Lane whiskey bar in the Folkhouse was our venue, and Hennessy was our brand. I met two of the descendants of Richard Hennessy two years ago, but somehow on the night I managed to come away with no free bottles of booze (or ‘bribes’ as they are also known), despite two stylish chaps from the Maison stage managing the entire interview. Contrast LVMH’s stinginess with the generosity of Irish drinks giant Pern O’Ricard, who send me booze with such regularity that I think they might be trying to kill me. Well, as they say in the media, what doesn’t kill you makes you drunker. 

Brandy can be made anywhere in the world. Just ask Chip Tate, the maverick distiller behind the legendary Balcones Distillery, who after departing the Texan distillery and signing a non-competition agreement, is now going to make Texan brandy. Cognac, however, can only be made in the region of France that bears its name, and only using three grape varieties. They make a poor wine, but once distilled the liquid comes to life. I was surprised at how similar to whiskey the three expressions we tried were – there were differences, obviously, but nothing like my reaction when I first tried an Ardbeg and spluttered ‘what the fuck is this?’

We were guided through the expressions which went from the entry level VS, to the XO, and on to the Paradis, which costs about a grand a bottle, and which I presume is what they use to water their plants with in Kinsale. It’s very hard to be objective about anything when you are being bombarded with information about how exclusive and special it is – tastings with brand ambassadors tend to be about creating an aura around their product. The Paradis was a good drink, but to my mind, the XO was superior, and not just because I could actually afford a bottle without selling a kidney.

There was also a rare Hennessy Irish whiskey on offer on the night. Released for the Asian market, it was a Cooley NAS and probably didn’t do much to raise the profile of Irish whiskey overseas (not that Jameson Grace did any better). The packaging also incorrectly referred to Ireland as being ‘west of England’, instead of saying England is to the east of Ireland.

The evening also featured ‘posh pork scratchings’ AKA a cheese board, great pints, great bants and a minibus journey expedited by two bottle of Jameson Black Barrel. Another great event by the Cork Whiskey Society, not that you get that from my incredibly blurry photos: 

Logan’s Run, collagin, sunbeds, tatts

Death, despair, dystopian hell and how I hate tattoos – it’s the weekly Bill. 

 

When the science fiction writer Philip K Dick died in 1982, his ashes were buried under a headstone that had carried his name for 52 years. When his twin sister passed away five decades earlier, both their names were inscribed on the stone at the same time, presumably by family members who were more worried about cost-effective measures than their son’s mental state.

Dick lived his life in a state of constant paranoia, hardly surprising for a man who had a grave awaiting with his name on it. It sounds like a plot point from one of his brilliant, paradoxical works, which posed big questions about our concept of reality; questions like, if you knew when you were going to die, would you live differently? It’s a question that we may need to start asking ourselves, as researchers have created an artificial intelligence programme that can estimate our life expectancy. The team of researchers – from the third level thunderdome that is the University of Adelaide – simply feed scans of your organs into the application and it comes back with a 69% accuracy of when you are going to expire. The crushing inevitability of our own demise is something we tend not to think about a whole lot, but probably should. Hopefully this technology will trickle down to the point where you will be able to scan yourself at the supermarket self service checkout and get your own expiration date. Perhaps then we might think less about collecting clubcard points and more about buying time on earth through positive choices. Unless it’s double points on family packs of crisps, that just makes financial sense.

Speaking of endless waits for ascension into the heavens – Dublin Airport. The Loop, the airport’s duty free, was the scene last week for the launch of a new gin, which in itself is not remarkable, given a new gin seems to land on our shelves with the frequency of Ryanair arrivals. This gin, however, is different. While most gins promise ‘locally sourced botanicals’ such as magpie’s nest or eye of newt, creators Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick have infused their new product from that least appealing yet most local of botanicals – us. Or rather, powdered synthetic collagen, the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. It is most associated with cosmetic surgery or anti-ageing therapies, the most tragic skirmishes in our battle with mortality, and this new product – CollAGin – is a nifty rebrand from the drink formerly known as mother’s ruin to an elixir of youth. That or a sort of Soylent Green for jetlagged housewives.

Our skin deep obsession with beauty was thrown into sharp relief as recent statistic showed a rise in the use of sunbeds by Irish teenagers. Speaking as someone who used them in his early twenties, I look back now and wonder what I was thinking, as they turned me a shade of orange best described as a Full Scale Dale Winton, but which a friend helpfully called a ‘third wipe’ shade of brown. To this day I still have blotches of pigmentation that show up when the sun is out, like a mid-transition Michael Jackson, or a slowly combusting vampire.

Sunbeds are awful. Apart from the cancer risks, they make you look like an Hermes ostrich-skin birkin that’s been through the washing machine. And now that another recent survey showed that young Irish people are drinking less too, our poor beige-tinted young folk can’t even claw back their youth by quaffing collagen-infused gin, proving that George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote that youth is a wonderful thing, but what a crime it is to waste it on children.

Mortality and skin were the topics in the journal BMJ Case Reports, which detailed the death of a man who got a skin infection while swimming in the Gulf Of Mexico. Suffering from chronic liver disease, he had recently got an inspirational tattoo, which allowed the infection into his skin, and ultimately killed him two months later. Although the ironic elements of his death will bring little comfort to his family, perhaps his journey to heaven will be accelerated by the subject of the tattoo that led to his death: A crucifix with praying hands and the inscription ‘Jesus is my life’.