Hollywood rolls out the barrel

Dana Brunetti, CEO of Trigger Street, Kevin Spacey’s production company, visits Midleton Distillery:

Also an innovator in the realm of social networking, Brunetti launched Trigger Street Labs in 2002, a platform for feedback and exposure for undiscovered writing and filmmaking talent.

In 2009, he produced the film The Social Network, the story of how Facebook was created. The film was directed by David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin and based Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires.

He also worked with Mezrich in 2008, when he produced the film 21, based off his New York Times best selling book Bringing Down The House.

However, he also produced House Of Cards….and Fifty Shades Of Grey.

In terms of celebrity, he’s still no Derek Davis, is he?

I can’t explain the discomfort I feel, I really can’t.

Ousted Ukip councillor Rozanne Duncan saying she is unable to describe her “discomfort” around black people in a television show due for broadcast on Monday. In the clip released prior to the show’s airing, a black woman in the audience, sitting just two seats away, asks if she is “too close” to Duncan, and is making her feel uncomfortable. Duncan replies: “Not uncomfortable, no. But let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t form a friendship with her.” The woman in the audience responds: “It’s not an option.”

Cork’s lost distilleries

This article was first published in the Evening Echo ahead of a tasting of historic Cork whiskeys by the local branch of the Irish Whiskey Society. 

One of the strangest aspects of memory is how we can be transported back in time by our senses. The smell of vinyl, the cup of tea your parents make – you close your eyes and you are back in a moment from decades before.

This Thursday night, whiskey aficionados are being offered the chance to sample of piece of Cork’s proud distilling tradition when the local branch of the Irish Whiskey Society are hosting a taste of our distilling heritage.

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And there is an incredible heritage there – both in the landscape of the city, the distillers, the salesmen and the people who drank it, from the ordinary joe to heads of state.

Take proud Corkonian Jack Lynch. He was famously a man of the people. There is a great story in Frank Dunlop’s book, Yes Taoiseach, about when Jack was on a campaign tour with the rather aloof Erskine Childers in Cork. Crowds cheered the bus as it moved along, and Jack waved to his people, while Childers sat there. Finally Lynch grew tired of Childers’ chilly demeanour, and said ‘Wave Erskine, Wave’. ‘But Jack’ the then president said, ‘I don’t know them’.

Dunlop’s book also details Jack’s love of whiskey, specifically the iconic everyman brand of Paddy. Lynch used to say of an evening that they would ‘get past Tipperary’, referring to the map of Ireland on the bottle, using Tipp as a marker for the evening’s quota. As Carol Quinn, chief archivist with Irish Distillers Ltd in Midleton points out, that map was crucial in an Ireland that did not have 100% literacy; people who couldn’t read the then name of the tipple, which was Cork Distilleries Company Old Irish Whiskey, could simply point to the bottle on the shelf and ask for a measure of ‘map of Ireland whiskey’.

It was another charismatic Corkman who changed the name. In 1882, a young Patrick J. O’Flaherty joined the Cork Distilleries Company as a travelling salesman. Paddy Flaherty, as he became more commonly known, was born in Cork in 1850, the eldest son of Daniel J O ‘Flaherty and his wife Anne M.B. Long. He attended the day school at which his father taught, at 7 Maylor Street, in the centre of Cork city. Paddy was presumably influenced by his mother’s family, who were publicans, as he decided to join the Cork Distilleries Company as a rep in December 1882 at a salary of £150 a year. One year into his job he moved to a house on the Blackrock Road, which he named after his favourite song ‘Carraigdhoun’.

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Paddy covered an area stretching from Youghal to Mallow selling the rather unwieldy named ‘Cork Distilleries Company Old Irish Whiskey’. Paddy was a great salesman – in an age long before marketing or PR, he understood how to work the media. When he was going to a town or village to promote the drink, he would send word ahead that he was coming, then arrive to cheering crowds, as where Paddy went, whiskey was sure to flow. His salubriousness came at a cost to the company – his expenses were always well over the staff allowance, but Paddy was so good at his job that they let him do what he did best – foster a love of whiskey in people.

His fame grew to such an extent that the drink he was promoting became simply known as Paddy, and so upon his retirement, the Cork Distilleries Company bought the trademark from him.

As for Jack Lynch, his lasting monument comes in the shape of a bronze statue seated in the mall of Blackpool Shopping Centre, where he sits all day, reading the Cork Examiner. It seems fitting that a whiskey drinker like himself be located there – Blackpool was a hub of distilling at one time, and although much of that was in decline when Jack was born in 1917 in Shandon, he would have grown up surrounded by the culture of distilling and coopering. A stone’s throw from where Jack sits in the shopping centre was one of the great distilleries of Cork – Hewitt’s Watercourse Distillery.

You’d have to look hard to find any evidence of its presence today, but if you look carefully the next time you visit the New Furniture Centre, you will notice part of the old wall and barred windows of the distillery.

Hewitt’s was not the only distillery in the area – if you ever visit a little close of houses off Thomas Davis Street named Distillery Close, you will see in one corned of the square there is an old stone wall and arch. This is all that remains of The Green Distillery, which was founded in 1796.

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Back towards town there was Daly’s of John Street, started in 1807, the cooperage of which boasted the talents of one Seamus Murphy, legendary Cork sculptor. Apart from St Dominick’s Distillery at Crosse’s Green, nearly all of Cork’s distilling industry was on the northside: On the North Mall there was Wise’s, one of the first distilleries in Cork, while back out towards Mallow there was the Kilnap distillery, and closer to town the Spring Lane distillery. This was operated by former Lord Mayor and Freeman Of Cork, French Huguenot Sir Anthony Perrier.

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Perrier was a man of vision – while all distillers at that time used the classic pot still – known for its fat belly and swan neck – Perrier patented an updated version, which he hoped would be more efficient than the pot version, used for a thousand years since pilgrim Irish monks borrowed the idea from the Moors. Moorish alchemists had used it to distill essential oils – but the monks ingeniously used it to distill a weak ale into something far more flavoursome. Casking it for winter, they realized that the wood and ageing added to the flavours, and so whiskey was born.

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But Perrier’s vision of a new still was not perfect, and the invention did not take off. A Scottish man named Robert Stein modified the plans for his own version, but it was not until a Calais born and Trnity educated Irishman named Aeneas Coffey, whose family had their roots in Barryroe in west Cork, saw the potential.

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He designed his own column still, patented it and changed the world of distilling forever. Coffey knew plenty about stills – as an excise man for the British rulers, he had travelled up and down the country smashing legal and illegal stills for years, often risking life and limb to do so. He had been beaten, stabbed and had his skull fractured on different occasions. So he was not a man who gave up easily.

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He perfected his invention, which was cleaner and more efficient than the pot stills, and then tried to sell it to distillers. But the Irish, ever slow to embrace technology and eschew tradition, pooh-poohed his work.

There was even a campaign of slander against the alcohol produced by the Coffey still, as it is still known – distillers called it ‘silent spirit’ as it ‘had no tongue to speak of from whence it came’. They said the purer alcohol produced by the still had zero flavor, and was therefore not to be trusted, and some even claimed the liquor it produced was made from refuse. Undeterred, Coffey too his invention to Scotland, and the canny Scots instantly was the potential. They used the cleaner, cheaper alcohol to soften their peaty, heathery whiskey, and so the great Scottish blends were born. Their lighter flavor gave them global appeal, and Ireland lost their edge.

Back in Ireland, the industry was heading for a steady decline – there were economic factors, such as the imperial taxes we faced, the Famine, the struggles for freedom, the economic war, Prohibition and changing drinking habits.

But another Corkman also helped to change the fortunes of distilling across Ireland; the Apostle of Temperance, Fr Theobald Mathew. The Cork Capuchin Friar used his charisma and zeal to turn people from the demon drink, claiming it ruined lives. But the impact on the brewing and distilling trades, including coopers, delivery men, publicans etc, suffered from the Total Abstinence Movement.

Walter Thomas Meyler, a Dublin tea and wine merchant, published a pamphlet some years after Fr Mathew’s death in 1856. In it he wrote, “His disciples spread the monomania like a simona over the land. Brewers, grocers and country shopkeepers were paralyzed, thousands fled the country and their creditors. About one hundred distilleries and breweries had to close down, their owners and workers reduce to destitution.”

The glory days of independent distilling were ending. Consolidation led to the creation of the Cork Distilleries Company, and the gradual closure of the facilities. Hewitt’s was leveled to make way for the Mallow road out of the city, the others have almost completely disappeared. But on Thursday night, you can taste a piece of Cork history, and be regaled by the stories of Cork’s long forgotten whiskey brands and distilleries. We may have lost many of our iconic distilleries, but their spirit, like our own, lives on.

Taste Cork Distilleries Co. Old Irish Pure Pot Still Whisky as available in Cork over 100 years ago; sample discontinued expressions like Hewitt’s Irish Whiskey and a rare 10 year old Paddy expression from the late 1950s/early 1960s.

Those in attendance will also get to sample a dram of Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy and be one of the first to enjoy the 30th Anniversary Edition of Midleton Very Rare – the very first to bear the signature of Master Distiller Brian Nation.

A Taste of Cork’s Whiskey History at the Porterhouse, Sheares Street, hosted by Cork Whiskey Society.

Date: Thursday, September 25th
Time: Doors open: 7:30pm (please wait in the bar before this time so we can set up the room)
Tasting begins: 8:00pm sharp
Tickets:Members: €15
Non-members: €25
Reserve and pay for your place at https://v1.bookwhen.com/iwscork.

Photos from the event: 

 

Perrier’s Water and Irish Coffey

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In The Untouchables, a journalist asks Prohibition enforcer Elliot Ness what he will do if the American government goes ahead with plans to repeal their anti-drink laws.

‘I think I’ll have a drink’ is his pithy reply.

Calais-born and Dublin raised Aeneas Coffey – the scourge of the distilling trade in Ireland – went one better when he retired from his post as enforcer of the British empire’s suffocating excise laws; he opened a distillery.

But Coffey, a tenacious tax collector who battled the clergy and risked life and limb to obtain the crown coin from distilleries while also smashing poitin stills across the country, was not planning on building an empire on whiskey. Rather he wanted to perfect his vision of a new form of distilling, one that was cheaper, faster, safer and purer than the current form – and his invention would almost destroy the 1,000-year-old Irish distilling trade.

To understand what Coffey did, you need to go back several centuries. Around 1AD, the Moors swept across Europe, bringing with them their technology and knowledge of alchemy. One invention was the alembic still, which used steam to strip essential oils from herbs and other materials. The origins of the term alchohol lie in these times – the word is derived from the Arabic word al-kuhl, which today is termed kohl, and is a very finely crushed up used in the east to darken eyelids. Note: This has nothing to do with the dark circles under your eyes after a night on the hooch.
As Muslims, it never crossed their minds to use this apparatus to purify liquor – but Irish monks who came across the stills, after the Moors were driven from mainland Europe, were not restricted by any such laws.
The monks, guardians of knowledge throughout the dark ages, brought the alembic still to Ireland, where it was refined until it became the iconic pot still, the fat-bellied swan-necked copper apparatus that gave Ireland it’s first and possibly greatest export – whiskey. It’s worth pointing out, for the sake of fairness, that the monks in Scotland appear to have been working on the same invention; and as a result, both countries created their respective variations on liquid gold at around the same time. In the 1500s Queen Elizabeth I was quite the fan of Irish whiskey, and kept a stock of it in her court.  By the 1700s, Czar Peter The Great of Russia was quaffing it, and in 1755 Samuel Johnson had insisted the word whiskey be placed in his famous dictionary, and declared ‘the Irish sort is particularly distinguished for its pleasant and mild flavor.’

By the 19th Century whiskey ruled the world, and in the 1880s after a crop disease ruined France’s supply of cognac, we were producing the world’s number one drink.

But at this stage things were already starting to turn. First the Famine, the crippling taxation laws of the British empire imposed by anti-alcohol advocate Lloyd George, our own temperance movement led by Fr Mathew, the Great War, Prohibition, the Irish War Of Independence, the Civil War, the economic war with Britain, our biggest export market, and, into the Second World War, the rise of the great Scotch blends – the root of whose success was Coffey’s creation. But like the man himself, whose ancestors hailed from Barryroe in west Cork, the Coffey Still, as it became known, has its origins in the Rebel County.

It was actually an improvement of an invention by Sir Anthony Perrier, one of the Cork Hugenots, a distiller and merchant prince of note. He operated the Spring Lane distillery, one of many whiskey producing operations scattered across Cork city and county, but Perrier saw that the triple-pot-still method of distillation was costly, and tried to make it more efficient by using columns. His invention was not a success, but it inspired Scotsman Robert Stein to try and create his own version. He was not successful either, but a display he gave was witnessed by Aeneas Coffey and inspired him to build his own, just as Steve Jobs was inspired by the user interface at Xerox to create the Mackintosh.

Coffey had smashed enough illicit stills and surveyed hundreds of distilleries, so he knew how inefficient, expensive and dangerous the stills could be. He could instantly see Stein’s creation had massive implications, if only it worked. So when he retired from the excise office after 25 years of confrontation – including one incident in Donegal when he was stabbed twice in the thigh and received a fractured skull from an angry mob as he went about his duties – he opened the Dock Distillery on Grand Canal Street. After he had it perfected, he tried to sell his invention to local distillers. The big four distilleries in Dublin spurned his creation, seeing it as an affront to a thousand years of tradition.

Also, Coffey’s still produced alcohol so pure that they deemed it ‘silent spirit’ – as it had ‘no tongue with which to speak of whence it came’. It lacked the elements that gave new-make pot still spirit its distinct flavours, and many in the industry blackened its name, claiming that because Coffey’s end product was so pure there was no way of knowing what went into it – many claimed rotten potatoes and refuse were used. This, of course, was nonsense – but it did lead to the beginnings of the struggle within that held the Irish whiskey industry back while their canny neighbours charged ahead.

Always ones to spot a bargain, the Scots took to the Coffey still straight away; but they realized the alcohol produced was incredibly pure, so they blended their peaty pot still whisky with the ‘silent spirit’ – now known as grain whiskey – and so the great Scotch blends were born. The Irish distillers turned up their noses, and have been lagging behind every since. Scotch went from strength to strength.

During World War Two a cash-strapped Winston Churchill saw the potential tax haul from flogging scotch, and exported it to every country he could. Americans in Europe during the war made it their drink of choice, and drank it still when they went home, and so it became a cultural icon – a symbol of masculinity, maturity, with a worldly sophistication. Scotch had won the war, and whiskey was left in its dust. After World War Two, only seven Irish distilleries remained from approximately 160 in 1880.

As for Coffey, he was never hailed as a brilliant genius who revolutionized an industry, in fact he was nearly hated more as an inventor than he was as a still-smashing tax collector for the British empire. Disillusioned after being rejected by his own, he settled in Britain and faded into obscurity. Like Virgil’s Trojan hero, from whence his name came, he was left searching for a place to call home after the greatness of earlier days:

I am Aeneas, duty-bound, and known
Above high air of heaven by my fame,
Carrying with me in my ships our gods
Of hearth and home, saved from the enemy.

His invention is still used across the drinks industry today, distilling alcohol for whiskey, scotch, gin and industrial purposes. As for the Irish whiskey industry, it finally embraced the still, and the blends that brought the Scots such success. The Irish industry is thriving now; perhaps this is tribute enough to the man who tried to save it and was shunned for his efforts.