The sound of Islay

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My first encounter with Bruichladdich was on a T-shirt. Not one worn by me, but by Joe Clark from The Whiskey Lounge. I spent a while struggling to read what it said, thinking at first it was a Broken Social Scene logo, or possibly some techno label. I was on the Irish Whiskey Academy surrounded by whiskey geeks, and completely out of my element. Then, as now, I know very little about whiskey, so I thought this T-shirt might be a good way to move the conversation towards something I did know about – music – and away from such fascinating topics as the length of Lyne arms and the best wood for a washback. Eventually Dave McCabe – then tutor of the academy and now apprentice master blender – noticed the shirt and chatted to Joe about Bruichladdich.

‘What the fuich is that word?’ was my reaction when I heard the name spoken aloud for the first time. It sounded like sean nós singing, or some Sumerian incantation. ‘I’m never going to get the hang of this whisky lark’, I thought to myself, as they spat out Hebridean placenames. Four years later, I am still fairly clueless about whisky – but at least now I have a better idea how to pronounce Bruichladdich.

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As my interest in whisky grew, I started to realise there was something different about Bruichladdich. First there was that striking brand aesthetic – in a scene dominated by marketing that harks back to an utterly fictitious pastoral dreamscape, Bruichladdich really does look like a minimalist techno label. All Helvetica (Fun fact: It isn’t Helvetica – see comments section below) and bold colour, it is safe to say that it does not look like a whisky. Their whisky, on the other hand, is very much like what whisky should be – open, honest, and unafraid of what you think. What they did with the distillery and its output is akin to what punk bands did to music in the Seventies and Eighties – strip it back to the basics, purge the bullshit, make it wild and loud, played by people with such compositional skills that all they needed were drums, bass, guitar and ideas and they could compose a symphony in three chords. Bands like Suicide, much like atonal composer Schoenberg, made music that was about music itself. Bruichladdich is a distillery that is about distilling, and it makes whisky about whisky itself.

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The Cork Whiskey Society got to sample some of these self-reflexive experiments on a wet Wednesday night recently in The Roundy. Formerly a classic old-school pub with a plywood counter, shady Coal Quay characters and a jukebox that mostly played Yeke Yeke, The Roundy was gentrified in the Nineties and now includes a compact and bijou upstairs space perfect for intimate acoustic gigs…or a meeting of a splinter cell of whiskey enthusiasts:

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Our host for the evening was Abigail Clephane, pictured above, Bruichladdich ambassador and typically unsinkable Scot, who despite nursing a broken bone in her foot (not a drink-related injury, we were assured), still managed to stand and speak for two hours.

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First up was the challenge of actually saying the word Bruichladdich. When I met Mark Reynier in Waterford he said one of the reasons they chose the striking blue for the Classic Laddie was that it was the colour of the ocean around Islay on a sunny day. This was proved by Abigail, who brought an iPad with a suitably blue image of the sea off Islay along:

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The Laddie sea.

The other reason for the striking appearance was that the name was unpronounceable. Much like Paddy whisky was once colloquially known as Map Of Ireland whisky by a largely illiterate Irish public who simply said what they saw, the Laddie was designed to create a visual title for a whisky that defied pronunciation. I’ve been cajoled, corrected and censured for my attempts at Bruichladdich – some say you go full Scot and do it ‘Brewich-laddich’, others say the more user-friendly ‘Brookladdy’ but that really seems like an oversimplification for non-Celtic markets – I’m looking at you America. The truth, according to Abigail, is that it is somewhere in between – something along the lines of Brewch-laddy. That said, she did get one Celtic word wrong on the night:  She pronounced the name of Reynier’s Bruichladdich business partner, Simon Coughlin, as the softened, Anglicised ‘Cofflin’. Coughlin is a Cork name, and any Cork person will tell you that you can pronounce it two ways, neither of which is Cofflin: If you are from the city, it is ‘Cawlan’, if you are from the county it is the more traditional ‘Cocklan’. And there is no amount of soup on god’s green earth that you can take to change that, but it does go to show that pronunciation is a more fluid concept than we like to think. 

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Abigail talked us through the backstory of Reynier’s insane dream of relighting Bruichladdich’s fires, and his refusal to take no for an answer. His persistence paid off eventually, and once he rustled up a few million in equity, he took an ancient distillery and stripped it back to basics. Abigail proudly told us that in an age that has seen many distilleries claiming to be hand operated (when really they just mean a hand pushing a button on a keyboard) theirs was as oldschool as it gets, with a bit of string and an arrow attached to tell liquid levels being about as modern as they endure.

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Once Reynier had taken the distilling technology back as far as it could go, he brought in the cask whisperer Jim McEwan, not just for his production skills but also for his ability to wax lyrical about virtually anything to do with whisky. Mark Gillespie of The WhiskyCast always says that McEwan is a journalist’s dream – ask him what he thinks of barley, or casks, or distilling, and he will proffer a profound meditation on man, nature, time, and life itself. If McEwan was the romantic lyricist of Bruichladdich, Reynier was like Phil Spector – searching for that perfect note, reducing signal to noise and then building massive crescendos of ideas.

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If there is a common theme between Reynier’s Islay project and what he is doing in Waterford – apart from the fetishistic obsession with soil and barley – it is the quiet celebration of heritage. In a scene dominated by an exploitative approach to the past, where history and legacy are seen as worlds to be plundered for marketing, Reynier cherishes, preserves and keeps the past’s essence whilst taking a stridently modern, experimental approach to the present. Everything is about progression.

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Black Art and Octomore, two heavy metal drams.

Take one of the more prestigious samples on the night, Black Art. Effectively a bit of clever marketing improv using old stock, it is a 23-year-old mix of Lucifer-knows-what (although McEwan does actually know) that comes in at a somewhat devilish price of 240 – startling given that you basically have no idea what is in it. But it is the splendour of its imperial finery that I love. Taking all of its cues from the world of heavy metal, its matt-black bottle is adorned with fonts and symbols worthy of oldschool metal bands like Venom and Bathory.

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Some peated malt and a peated dram.

But however smokey Black Art is, it is nothing next to Octomore. Effectively employing the same logic as Nigel Tuffnell’s loudest amp – ‘yes but this one goes up to 11’ – Octomore is the most heavily peated malt in the world. It is a fiery beast, but a lot smoother than I expected, and possibly my favourite of the night. I was expecting that more medicinal note you get from the excellent Laphroaig, but it had a sweetness that softened it. As Eric Ryan of the whiskey society pointed out, there was a smokey bacon element coming through – something that leads me to believe it would make an excellent breakfast dram.  Backing this note up was the jar of peated malt, which we got to sniff and even taste – and it was, unexpectedly, like a crunchy, smokey bacon substitute.

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A giant nodge of turf.

It was an evening of palate-confounding experiences from a place that confounds the tongue. Full credit to the guys of the Cork Whiskey Society for their organisational skills and for allowing me to be there, getting in the way with my camera as they got set up for the evening. Here are some of the tireless committee, trying not to ask me to move: 

Thanks also to Abigail, who was witty, entertaining, full of great facts – many about the local Islay farmer James Brown who calls himself the Godfather Of Soil – and who ignored her smashed foot to bring so many smashable drams to Cork.

Copper and Cork

The three stills from Forsyths of Rothes sitting on the dock of the bay wasting time today, as they wait for traffic to die down so they can be moved to Midleton to take up residence at the back of the Garden Stillhouse, joining the other three massive stills there. The parking spaces on the streets in Midleton have been coned off to allow for manoeuvring, as this is how tight a turn it was the last time the distillery took an order of storage tanks:

The last time I met Richard Forsyth he told me that when the last trio of stills were delivered, they had trouble finding the owner of one car that blocked the street that runs alongside Midleton College – the narrowest part of the journey. Passing there this evening there was just the one sitting there amongst the cones. Here’s hoping the owner moves it before it gets crushed. They should be passing through town around now (9pm) so hopefully some peeps will get their cameras out and get some pics of them passing, as it may be a while before the boom gets so boomy that we need another three.

Update: Someone there had a camera:

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Told you that corner was tight.

Anyway:

Irish Distillers to invest over €10m in production capacity at Midleton Distillery

  • €10.5 million investment to support the Irish whiskey industry growth target of 300% by 2030
  • Investment will see Irish Distillers’ single pot still Irish whiskey capacity increase by over 30%
  • Three new copper pot stills to be commissioned and operational by June 2017
  • Project to support 60 jobs in Midleton during the construction phase

Dublin, January 19th 2017 – Irish Distillers, Ireland’s leading supplier of spirits and wines and producer of the world’s most well-known and successful Irish whiskeys, has today announced plans for a €10.5 million investment at Midleton Distillery, Cork which will see the company increase its single pot still Irish whiskey production capacity by over 30%. Three new copper pot stills will be installed at Midleton Distillery, ensuring that Irish Distillers continues to lead the global Irish whiskey renaissance and supporting the Irish Whiskey Association’s target of global growth of 300% by 2030. 60 jobs will be supported during the construction phase.

Irish whiskey is the fastest growing premium spirit globally and Irish Distillers has invested heavily to drive this growth. Since 2012, Irish Distillers has invested €120 million in the Midleton Distillery, €20 million at its Fox and Geese bottling facility in Dublin and is currently investing €100 million at its Dungourney maturation site. In August 2016, the company also announced an €11 million redevelopment project at the Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield, Dublin to showcase the best of Irish whiskey to the 600,000 whiskey tourists that come to Ireland every year.

Commenting on the latest investment, Jean-Christophe Coutures, Chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers said: “Irish whiskey continues to enjoy phenomenal global growth, led by Jameson with sales of 5.7 million cases in 2016. Irish Distillers has been driving the growth of the category since 1988, a commitment further underpinned by investments of over €230 million since 2012. With this additional investment of over €10 million at Midleton Distillery, the home of Irish whiskey, we will ensure that we are positioned to meet growing global demand and support the growth of Irish whiskey in the international spirits category.

“We are seeing growth accelerating across Jameson and the wider Single Pot Still Irish whiskey range, such as Redbreast and Green Spot, and we will continue to direct our focus for growth here. With our increased production capacity, we are confident that the category will hit the ambitious targets set by the Irish Whiskey Association – increasing exports to 12 million cases by 2020 and 24 million cases by 2030.”

Paul Wickham, General Manager of Midleton Distillery added: “Single pot still Irish whiskey is the quintessential style of Irish whiskey which Irish Distillers saved from virtual extinction in the mid-1900s. Since then we have been investing to protect this traditional Irish whiskey style and today’s announcement will help us grow brands such as Redbreast and Green Spot Irish whiskey even further over the next 30 years and beyond.

“This investment will also see us increase our support for the wider Cork economy. All our barley comes from farms located within 100 miles of Midleton Distillery, supporting families who have produced barley for centuries. Using unmalted barley is a long-standing tradition of Irish whiskey and one which Irish Distillers continues, believing it contributes to the smooth characteristics of our products. At present, we spend €60 million annually on cereals, energy, capital projects and payroll in the local economy and this will increase with the installation of these new stills.”

The three copper pot stills, handmade by master coppersmiths Forsyth’s of Scotland and weighing a combined 24 tonnes, were delivered to Midleton Distillery on the night of January 18th. Each still has a capacity of over 75,000 litres. Installation has now commenced and the stills will be operational by June 2017.

Press release ends. Most notable is the fact that they have pushed out the boundaries of their barley sources from the previous 50km to a hundred miles. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if all of Ireland was a field of barley that grew non-stop all year round like a magic porridge pot, it would have trouble feeding Midleton distillery. The same is most likely true of the other big distilleries here – there is not enough barley in this country for all of them. The same is also true also of Scotland – and this is what makes Mark Reynier’s operation in Waterford so revolutionary. Of course, this is only one tragic blogger’s opinion and you should probably consume my conjecture responsibly. Or just watch this epicly-scored video of some big-ass pot stills heading east:

 

 

 

Goodbye, hello

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“There are two kinds of Christmas people – those who like their Christmas lights to stay on solid and those who like them to blink. As a kid, I always had a thing for sitting in the dark and watching the lights blink on and off at random. In the end, what we have are these little, great moments. They come and they go. That’s as good as it gets. But, still, isn’t that great?”

Mark Everett of The Eels.

This time three years ago I was doing work I loved in a job I hated, with no end in sight and no way out. This time two years ago I was cashing my redundancy cheque and wondering what I was doing with my life, as my wife gave birth to our fourth child a few days later. This time last year I was in the toughest and best job I have ever had (in an emergency department), still wondering what I was doing with my life and, on a secondary note, how much longer my dad was going to be around. Obviously the last 12 months changed a lot of those things. Dad got sick, I left work to care for him, he passed away, I went back to work in a different department, and – one week before Christmas – we moved into the house I grew up in. It’s strange being here with them gone; there were four of us here once. But my own family is big enough now that it doesn’t feel empty, and for once my wife and I are in the unique position of living in a house large enough to be able to ask ‘where are the kids?’, as in our previous home – a three-bed semi – there was never a time when there wasn’t a child in the room with you, sort of like The Grudge, or the end of The Blair Witch Project.

I’m still trying to dig through my dad’s stuff, of which there is tonnes. A lot of it goes back to my great grandfather’s time – books from his time with the RIC in Bantry at the turn of the last century – and some from my dad’s family home in Clonakilty, like these two old pictures.

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Of course, it was when I pulled them apart that the real gold was found.

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Since then I’ve ripped up every old frame to see if I can find the rest of the George Roe Distillery poster, or more pub posters. Or at least I assume they came from a pub, given the way Ireland was about whiskey they might have been deemed perfectly appropriate for the home. They are certainly going to be for mine, as I’m reframing and hanging them. But the problem I now face is what to keep and what to discard – we are in the position of simply having too much beautiful, historic stuff. We thought we could sell some of it at auction, but incredibly, nowhere would take all my parents’ treasured antiques. We just donated most of the furniture to charity, where no doubt they will get picked up by an antique dealer for a few quid and sold on at auction for profit. Such is life. I just want them to be in a home rather than a landfill.

So 2016 is over. People came and went, lights went on and then went off. I had some highs, some lows, but generally it was all normal, natural stuff. My kids are fine, apart from my daughter having lupus and my three year old son being tested for an intellectual disability, but they are generally healthy, and, as far as I can tell, happy. They didn’t have an easy year, with all the things that happened and me disappearing out of their lives for three months to care for dad. My wife didn’t have it easy either, but now here we are, with a view from Cork city to Garryvoe, in a house with high ceilings, preparing for the rest of our lives. So it’s not all bad.

I rang in the new year with a drop of Ledaig 22 year old via Cadenheads. It was great, incredibly smooth, with an amazing, fruity, pear-drop camphor note. It didn’t have the length I expected, but made up for it in depth. I had plenty great drams in 2016, most of them while I lived here with my dad, all those special occasion bottles I ripped into on a nightly basis. I liked the green-apple freshness of the Hakushu NAS, the sweet, opulent Tyrconnell 10 madeira cask finish, the unfuckwithable sherry bomb that is the A’bunadh, and the oily, velvet smoke of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. None of them costing a king’s ransom, and all the more enjoyable for it. Given that I now own a money pit that will consume all my meagre earnings like a sarlacc devouring an especially small bounty hunter, all drams from now on will be the best value my shekels can barter for. But you cut your cloth to fit your measure, and there is no way I could justify blowing a couple of hundred euro on a bottle. After all, it’s only booze.

So to the year ahead, and some of my great expectations. I’d like to win the Lotto, or just get more money through normal means, such as hard work or insurance fraud. I’d like to see Bushmills get their shit together and fulfill their potential. I’d like to see more distilleries getting set up here, and less shenanigans by bottlers slinging Cooley as though it were the second coming. If the IWA won’t tackle it, consumer pressure might – after all, one of the oddest things to happen to me during the year was being asked to go on Liveline to talk about one bottler’s spectacular displays of false provenance. When you’re being asked to talk to Joe, it might be time to stop claiming you can get ‘the taste of west Cork’ from something distilled and aged for ten years at the opposite end of the Irish Republic.

I’d also like to see the world not get blown up this year. Trump’s election was the first event to make me think ‘I sure am glad dad isn’t here to see this’. It’s hard to believe that less than a century after the Holocaust we are gearing up to goosestep down the same ashen path. I wrote some guff about him for the Indo, which you can read here, which led to me getting a name drop on the ‘what it says in the papers’ bit on Morning Ireland. So the rise of fascism has had some real positives for me. Sock it to us Quimby!

Trump’s id-driven tweeting also made me realise that I hate exclamation marks, and generally look down on people who use them, even though I chuck them into the odd tweet myself, usually to drive home some attempt at humour on someone I don’t know that well. So for 2017 – fuck exclamation marks. And Nazis, obviously.

Personal goals include getting back into the gym, reading more, writing more, and getting a lot better at photography, specifically night photography. Out here in the hills the night skies are the same awesome celestial panoramas as they were when I was a ten year old amateur astronomer, sitting out the front with my mum, staring up and and incorrectly naming the constellations. My adult attempts at capturing them on camera look like reverse Rorschach test cards. So that needs to improve. Or I just need to give up.

I’d also like not to lose any more people. It seems unlikely, given that some of the people I know are old, but as long as no-one who dies is under, say, 75, I think it will be fine. I’ve said enough goodbyes for a while.

Under the #influence

Despite being a terrible writer and Ireland’s worst blogger, I recently managed to get invited to a couple of events. This means I now belong to that vanguard of heroes, The #Influencers. These digital Veruca Salts have redefined what it means to be a spoiled nobody, and I am delighted to finally be able to take my place among them with my paid-for Twitter followers, click-heavy, zero-engagement blog and ego the size of one of Saturn’s more portly moons. So come with me now as I take you on a guided tour of my fabulous fucking social life via the serpentine route of #coverage.

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Is there any Irish person who doesn’t love cans? There is virtually nothing in this life that a big bag of cans cannot fix, with the exception of cirrhosis of the liver. I hadn’t been to the Franciscan Well in years, the last time being when an ex-girlfriend worked there and I used to go and mope at the bar and recite Smiths lyrics at her, whilst trying to give myself cirrhosis of the liver. Since then it became one of the first brew pubs in Ireland, before ultimately fulfilling the dream of all craft brewers by selling out to a massive multinational, in this case Molson Coors.

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The Well is located a stone’s throw from the gates of the old IDL site on the North Mall (and across the river from the home of George Boole, father of GamerGate). The IDL site was once home to the Wyse family distillery, and the area to the back of it is still known as Distillery Field. If you go in and walk around you can see traces of its distilling past all round you. Fitting then that one of the biggest success stories for the Well has been their alignment with IDL to create both their whiskey-barrel aged stout and the runaway success that is Caskmates, a whiskey finished in stout barrels – although one wag once suggested to me that not even stout is improved by ageing in stout barrels, not to mind whiskey.  

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And so it was that I found myself at the launch of the Well’s latest experiment in liquid containment – cans. Specifically 330ml cans, the classy ones. The Well still brews some beers on-site, but the bulk of the work goes on down the docks, not far from the iconic dockers pub The Idle Hour. Cork trivia alert: The hot mess that is the nearby Elysian high-rise apartment block is known locally as The Idle Tower because of its sparse occupancy.

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I will freely admit that I know even less about craft beer than I do about whiskey, which places me at a solid knowledge level of zero, alongside much of the rest of society. But it’s a movement I can get behind – small firms producing a local drink that eases your emotional pain whilst also tasting nice. The sheer proliferation of craft brewers here has given us a huge variety, so much so that for a novice like me, it’s hard to know where to begin. So I will begin my voyage into craft beer as I begin every journey; with three cans of beer, graciously provided by the good people at the Fran Well and Notorious PSG.

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The Well is a great pub with some great products, and is well worth a visit – especially for their Easter beer fest and legendary Oktoberfest – but also to try their Shandon Stout, which , ironically, is not available in cans.

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Across the city from the Well, on the south channel of the Lee,  sits The River Lee Hotel. Formerly Jury’s – where Jacko stayed, as every Cork person will tell you….repeatedly – the old low-rise hotel was levelled some years ago to make way for this gleaming cube. The Lee is a beautiful hotel, a five-minute walk from the city centre, Fitzgerald Park, UCC and St Finn Barre’s Cathedral.

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Here I was treated to an event to celebrate their winter dining experience, with a focus on their bar menu and seasonal treats. We were introduced to the evening by Pierce Lowney, Bar Manager at The River Lee. He has worked with the hotel’s owners, the Doyle Collection, for over six years, travelling the world through his work, but is originally Allihies in west Cork, a place as beautiful and remote as one of Saturn’s more inaccessible moons. Not too far away is the waterfall known as the Mare’s Tail, where Gemma ‘Artery’ Arterton took a blood shower in Neil Jordan’s Byzantium.

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Beautiful west Cork there, at its seasonal best.

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As we nibbled (or, in my case, inhaled) canapés, we were introduced to Longueville Cider by Rubert Atkinson. Rubert and I went to the same school, and my best memory is of him catching every single throw in Munster Senior Cup lineouts as he was about 6’ 5” – and has possibly even grown a bit more. Longueville House has a great story and their cider and apple brandy are both fantastic winter warmers.

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Next up was Ciaran from West Cork Distillers. WCD have been in operation since 2008 and have recently expanded with the purchase of the old fish processing plant in Skibbereen – a fitting move as the firm was started by two former fishermen (and a food scientist). WCD have their own stock maturing which will be ready for market next year, but in the meantime they have sourced stock from Cooley. You can read more about their own output on the Irish Whiskey Society’s discussion board, suffice to say that WCD’s earlier experiments in ‘infusions’ didn’t go over well.

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Ciaran was quick to point out that their early output was a revenue generator and simply acted to keep the business alive. In a crowded market, they saw an opening for a lower ABV brown spirit, so they improvised. I would imagine that now their own proper whiskey stock is nearing maturity they are releasing some Cooley to try and establish the brand as one for serious whiskey drinkers. Time will tell. I had the Black Barrel and really liked it.

As we moved from the mezz down to the heated outdoor seating on de banks of de Lee, we were treated to even more treats. At this stage I was starting to feel like Hedonism Bot, adrift in a fog of decadent epicurean delights. In reality, I was a guy with mustard on his tie losing consciousness in a wicker chair. So with a heavy heart (it is clogged with cholesterol) I drifted home, head full of potential ways I could leverage my brand into being more #influency so I could get more and more free stuff that I don’t deserve. I’m sure some quality #content might help, so here are a billion photos from the night taken by an actual photographer, as opposed to the Etch-A-Sketch ones above by moi: 

My thanks to Donna from Edelman and Orna from Notorious PSG for allowing me to crash their respective PR parties, and also for helping me to #pivot my #brand from lowly HSE worker to Large Media Presence. Here’s to #influence.

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

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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 

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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.

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 – streathcing 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

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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/.

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

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Via a series of most fortunate events, I have recently written a bit for the Irish Independent, Ireland’s biggest selling newspaper (by some distance). It’s nice to be back writing, especially the stuff for INM, which is more like the blog and less like the po-faced stuff I often did for print. Basically, I get to make obscure references and dick jokes, and get paid for it. It’s all good – especially since I recently spoke to a person who asked me the depressing question ‘so are you just a whiskey blogger now?’ I felt like crying.

That said, I’m not entirely certain how to describe myself – ‘writer’ sounds too pretentious, while ‘journalist’ is an outright lie, so really ‘word whore’ is the most accurate. Anyway, here is some of my waffling –

 

An Ode To The Middle Classes

It’s been a rough few years for the middle class. When Bertie Ahern stood up on April 2, 2008 to tell us he was standing down, it marked the end of a golden age for Ireland’s noblesse au premier degré. It was their JFK moment, a magic bullet that snapped their politics back and to the left. Over the following months, financial institutions fell to the ground like toddlers in a supermarket aisle, and the weary middle classes were expected to pick them up and dust them off. Suddenly they were the squeezed middle, crushed with debt to a point that they were forced to compact words into nonsensical portmanteaus – a wet weekend in Leitrim was a ‘staycation’,  while being eaten alive by midges in a medium-sized tent was ‘glamping’. Harsh lessons were learned, like where the local Aldi and Lidl were located, along with the startling revelation that ‘Primark stuff is actually alright, actually’. But they survived, and lived to tell the tale of those cruel years; an Angela’s Ashes for a generation that sees iPads as a basic human right.

But things have been improving. There have been – whisper it – green shoots. Few people want to admit it, but things are not all that bad. So maybe it is time for the middle class to waken from their financial hibernation, dust off the debit card and reach once more for that capitalist rainbow of Having Nice Things And A Nice House. In case they need guidance, William Hanson, one of the UK’s leading etiquette experts, has compiled a list of 16 items that mean that you are, in fact, middle class.

Thank the lord for Mr Hanson’s list, as the portion of the brain that controls middle class urges, or HyggeThalmus, has grown dusty during its cryosleep. You can barely remember how to correctly pronounce quinoa, not to mind what it actually is, and no longer know for sure if Nespresso is more Fair Trade-y than fresh ground.

These are the middle class problems you now face. Ten years ago your problems included getting mild hypothermia whilst queuing overnight to pay 250k for a two bed apartment in a village that didn’t even have a Spar. Now your problems include the dilemma of being this moment’s greatest monster – a private landlord. But who needs that mud slung at them when there is AirBnB? No longer are you 2016’s version of Charles Boycott, now you are that middle class aspirational figure – The Perfect Host. You are Beverly and Tim from Abigail’s Party, welcoming guests from across the world to your beautiful bespoke two-bed flat in a village with no Spar, telling them about the many amenities in the surrounding area (including a Centra in the next town, a short five mile walk) and trying to figure out what exactly they plan to do in your (Primark) Egyptian cotton bed linens.

The cultural theorist Mary Douglas says that dirt is matter out of place – shoes on the floor are fine, shoes on the table are dirty. And so when your guests check out, you don the Marigolds and become a crime scene investigator, figuring out what matter went where, scrubbing away the general ickiness of Other People. But Other People are also your target demographic – you want to impress them, to fit in, to belong. You spend countless hours fretting over what shade of Le Creuset goes best with a stainless steel Rangemaster – the aquamarine or the bastard orange? You don’t want to discredit your kitchen, which cost a small fortune in 2007, an era in which having your domestic space designed by Porche somehow made perfect sense, as did the four clocks on the dining room wall giving the time zones in London, Tokyo, New York and Mullingar.

The must-have list for the struggling class, as compiled by Mr Hanson, is as follows:

  • 1. Smart TV

A curveball straight from the get go. If you had been asked to guess, most people would have said ‘a bookcase’ would top the list, or, if they were being honest, ‘a dusty bookcase’. Because why would you ever need to open a book when even your TV is smart?  

  • 2. Dyson vacuum cleaner

A €600 vacuum that looks like it was designed by the doozers from Fraggle Rock, with clear plastic so you can see several dozen pieces of Lego rattling around it at 5,000 RPM.

  • 3. Barbecue

A telling trait of the middle classes is their belief that things will somehow be ok. Tied into this vague optimism is the belief that barbecues are a thing that actually happen in the real world, not just in unrealistic Richard Curtis-scripted romcoms. This is a false belief that is as corrosive to the soul as Irish rain is to your B&Q kettle BBQ. But at least the spiders have somewhere to shelter from the rain.

  • 4. Vinyl records

You tell everyone they sound better, but you really don’t know anymore in this world of FLAC and Beats by Dre. But there are people here for a dinner party, so they might be impressed by your ironic use of Demis Roussos to soundtrack the frantic smashing of avocados in your Porche kitchen.

  • 5. iMac

You secretly love your iMac more than you love your kids.

  • 6. Nutribullet

Don’t call it a blender. It’s so much more than that. How much more? Two blades more. That is your line and you are sticking to it.

  • 7. Antler or Samsonite luggage

Strictly for the carry-on – the rest of your belongings are stuffed into bin bags in the hold, where nobody can see them.

  • 8. Wood burning stove

Wood, newspapers, sweet wrappers, nappies. Anything flammable really. Those pine logs are really more for display purposes.

  • 9. Spiralizer

Who hasn’t looked at a courgette and thought ‘what this watery mess needs is to be served in ribbon form, to drag the experience out even longer’? You, that’s who. But somehow you still own a spiralizer.

  • 10. Mulberry bag

You secretly love your Mulberry bag more than you love your iMac and your kids combined.

  • 11. Matching coasters

Cohesion. Order. Control. Constant judgement. Constant disappointment. You know: Matching coasters.

  • 12. Boiling water taps

Taps that spit out boiling water – what a time to be alive. Tea has never been so unsettling, and your hands have never been so sore. If only science would hurry up and invent a cold tap too.

  • 13. Hot tub

This is where Mr Hanson’s list starts to move away from the good old Irish middle class and into the realm of Hollyoaks and that episode of Grand Designs where they stuffed a hot tub and pampas grasses into their tiny back garden. Hot tubs are expensive, tedious and will never shake off the whiff of dubious activity, no matter how much chlorine you dilute the (mostly rain)water with. You may see yourself as a suburban Dorian Gray, but atop the Stira to your attic, that portrait is riddled with Legionnaires Disease.

The middle classes are meant to be repressed – nobody went for dinner in Lord Byron’s house because they were scared of what he might have done to the food. Please tone it down.

  • 14. Aga range cooker

Like a Range Rover you park in the kitchen, this is borderline upper-middle class, as are having an actual knowledge of wine, or owning a small blowtorch just for caramelising the sugar on your creme brulee. Keep going on like this and it’ll be wax jackets and clay pigeons before you can say ‘formers morket’.

  • 15. Smeg fridge

Presumably taken from the Swedish word for smug, you don’t need to tell anyone you got this hulking beast on the first day of the January sales for a mere ten euro, because your smirk has broadcasted it to every coffee morning in the parish. Everyone hopes it falls on you some day.

  • 16. Brompton bike

The fact they can be folded away means they are easier to steal. You will never see one of these anywhere other than on DoneDeal or in the Liffey at low tide.

That is Mr Hanson’s complete list, which failed to mention piano lessons, blazers, knowing a European language and owning a memory foam mattress. However, the most egregious omission was that of the most middle class trait of all – the fear that you might not actually be middle class.