Storming the castle

DSC_0222

Last year was my first time at Whiskey Live Dublin. I got in via a press pass, only to discover that a large part of the ticket price goes to Down Syndrome Ireland, thus prompting me to shamefacedly spend about 30 euro on raffle tickets for the charity. I didn’t win anything, but I had an amazing day. I wasn’t sure what the event was going to be like – I was going on my own, thought I might end up bored, and just felt the whole exercise might be an in-and-out-in-30-mins situation. But while I was one of the first in the door of the venue – then the round room in the Mansion House – I was also one of the last out, some four hours and 30 minutes later. I hadn’t even managed to make all of the stands, as I was having too much fun chatting to just about anyone who came into my line of vision.

The whiskey scene is quite small – domestically and globally – so when you are surrounded by like-minded souls it’s hard not to feel an instant sense of kinship. These are fellow geeks, facedown in a Glencairn, talking about phenolic content, grain vs malt, pot still vs everything else, and us vs the rest of the drinks world. How could I not go back? This year I dragged along my brother in law, and after a giant feed of buttermilk chicken in Crackbird, we sauntered into this year’s venue, the Printworks in Dublin Castle. The place was filling up already, so we got our glasses and hit the floor.

First up was Kilbeggan, where we had the eight year old single grain formerly known as Greenore – light, interesting, mellow – followed by the soon to be extinct 22 year old Connemara peated malt – rich, nutty, and an undervalued whiskey. We were talked through them by a man who knows them best – Master Distiller Noel Sweeney. We sipped our drinks, lamented the passing of Slieve Foy, and that was it – faces flushed, we were in the flow, moving from table to table, having the bants with the reps and sipping some pretty exceptional whiskeys. We also tried the wonderful Longueville House apple brandy, a first for me which is fairly shameful since they are only up the road from me (near Mallow, to be precise). According to the rep, they have been making it for 25 years now, and the original idea came from the fact they had acres of orchards, thus posing the problem of what to do with the apples. Like all inventive Irish people, they decided to make booze – very, very nice booze.

DSC_0104

Right opposite their stand was another novel sensory experience – one from the island of Islay, where Irish monks first showed the Scots how to make whisky. Ardbeg is one of those classic Islay malts, heavy in peat smoke and a drink that I refused to believe was whisky when I first tasted it. I hated it then, I love it now: Briny, tarry, sweet, biscuity, spicy, utterly fucking crazy – Ardbeg is an otherworldly drink from an otherworldly land. To celebrate this, they had what looked like a device from Frankenstein’s lab – a contraption belching out plumes of eldritch fog, which was actually vaporized Ardbeg. It’s called the Haar after the soupy sea fog that occasionally envelopes the island.

So we took a drop of Ardbeg, filled the glass with fog, and then made up our own minds what to do next. I, unlike Bill Clinton, inhaled deeply, then took a sip. I can’t say it instantly changed the profile of the whisky, but it really made for an interesting experience – lungs full of gaseous booze, mouth sizzling with phenols, blood rushing to my face as the liquor hit. It was mental. And slightly menthol.

We also visited The Glenlivet stand, conveniently placed next to Pernod Ricard stablemates Irish Distillers. The Glenlivet is currently the number one Scotch in the world, which means they are under severe pressure to fulfill demand. Thus, like many of their counterparts, they are replacing their entry level 12-year-old single malt with a non-age statement (NAS) Founder’s Reserve. The NAS debate reared its head many times during the day. Is it a necessary move – or are drinks firms just diluting their classics and charging the same price? Is age just a number – or is it reflected in the quality of the whiskey? If stocks are under pressure, surely they should just up the price as supply diminishes, and let the consumer make the call on how much they love the product? Or just lower the price on the Founder’s Reserve. It is a polarizing issue in the whiskey scene – the age statement is an important signifier for the consumer, and to lose that is like having half the ingredients of your favorite dish suddenly obscured. My own feelings are this: As an ordinary Joe, I like the reassuring presence of an age statement, but it can also be misleading.

This was brought home to me at the Glendalough stand, where we sampled the seven year old and the 13 year old single malts. I found the seven to be extraordinary – citrus notes and sugar, astringent and smooth, it was a real eye opener to just how different Cooley stock can be. So older does not mean better. At the Spirit of Speyside I took part in the Whisky Shop Dufftown blind tasting, where I sampled seven whiskies from independent bottlers.  The last one I tried was incredible – a molasses-coloured malt that had a depth and complexity I have almost never encountered. I found out after that it was a 2007 Adelphi bottling of a Glen Rothes – a seven year old malt from a remarkable cask. Youth does not equate to immaturity, and the reverse is also true – I’m forty and I still wear skinny jeans and listen to heavy metal.

When I was in Speyside I also met this chap, who works with bottlers and single malt legends Gordon And McPhail, who own the beautiful Benromach distillery. He gave us a taste of the organic offering from the distillery; the lengths they have to go to to get the organic certification are incredible, it’s not just a case of using organic barley and leaving it at that. The whole process has to be organic, which means nothing can be burnt, so the malt is steam dried, leaving the drink phenol free. Remarkable stuff – but I still prefer the standard 10.

Then we idled over to my east Cork neighbors, Irish Distillers, where Cork’s Irish Whiskey Society stalwart – and Midleton distillery worker – Eric Ryan was representing, along with Fox And Geese employee Dánú MacMahon, who guided us through a flock of Redbreasts – the cask-strength 12, the 15, and whiskey of the year, the 21. I love the cask-strength – it just takes you right back to that first time drinking whiskey, the fire and heat, gasping for air, eye-watering ‘oh Jesus’ effect, then giving way to that big mouthful of flavor that just rolls and rolls. I offered my condolences to Dánú – her fellow Jameson Graduate Programme participant Karen Cotter got to go to Cannes for a few days, whilst Dánú got to go to Whiskey Live and be bored to tears by me. Mind you, Karen also got to be bored to tears by me already, so maybe they should just make this part of the graduate programme – Module 1: Get Talked At By Boring Old Man In Skinny Jeans.

After that we sauntered over to Teeling, one of the buzz firms of the last few years. They come weighted with great expectations – their dad changed distilling in Ireland, and they are bringing an awareness of branding and marketing to an industry that has sometimes let those aspects slide. They also entered the market with what, to my mind, is one of the best blends in the world. We tried the single grain and the malt, both great but with the malt the definite winner. The Teeling rep was also one of the best we encountered – despite being with the firm only a short while, she was overflowing with enthusiasm and energy, something that can be hard to sustain over the long hours of a whiskey expo.

Another standout were the guys from Tamdhu – they were a joy, despite the fact that I opened by telling them they were representing the ugliest distillery in Scotland. Although I did qualify this by pointing out that it makes one of my favorite single malts. The reps rocketed us through three Tamdhus, four Glengoynes (the 15 is an absolute cracker) and refused to take no for an answer when I tried to decline an Edinburgh Gin. I’m happy they did – it was what I would call a great breakfast drink, infused with pink grapefruit, giving it a tart sweetness that served as a welcome palate cleanser after so many great whiskeys.

The whole event is organized by Ally Alpine of the Celtic Whiskey Shop, who has been celebrating all whiskeys of the world for more than a decade. The shop itself had a big presence on the day, with Mark McLoughlin being the one to talk us through the legendary Taiwanese whisky, Kavalan. Mark informed us that in Taiwan whisky only has to age for two years to earn the classification – but that two years in Taiwan is akin to many more in Ireland. The wet heat in Taiwan means the spirit ages at incredible speed without compromising on flavour. We tried the multi-award-winning Soloist – a super premium malt with a treacle-black color and supernova of flavours. Kavalan has been growing in stature for some years now, so hopefully the often conservative whiskey scene will embrace it as they should. Fun fact: It used to be stocked in Tesco in the UK, but has since almost completely disappeared from everywhere except specialist spirits shops like the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

Round the other side of the stand we tried whisky from Scotland’s ‘land of the lost’ – the region known as Campbeltown. Once the heart of whisky in Scotland, almost nothing remains except Springbank, the newish Glengyle and Glen Scotia. We tried the illusive Springbank and Hazelburn, both smoky and sweet, fruity and dry – a solid bridge between the medicinal malts of Islay and the sweet sherry influences of Speyside.

DSC_0127

After those obscure drams, we decided to opt for one of the global stars – Jack Daniels. Remarkably, this was my first time drinking it. Like Kavalan, the heat in Kentucky contributes much to the flavor, but after all the big flavors, I found Gentleman Jack to be a little flat. Perhaps a rematch can be arranged on a date when I haven’t been pounding my tastebuds into dust.

We also managed to stop off at the Arran table. Arran were one of my big finds last year, and they were ably represented by the be-kilted Campbell, the man who showed Roman Abramovich around the distillery earlier this year. Campbell wasn’t there this year, but we still got to have a few drams and some chat about whether or not Roman was going to buy the distillery, as he is obviously quite the fan. We sampled their new release, The Bothy, and then as the clock was ticking, hit the BenRiach and GlenDronach table.

DSC_0133

GlenDronach is one of my favorite whiskies – a real sherry bomb. It also comes with a great back story. Allardice, the man behind it, brought some of his whisky into Edinburgh to sell it, and failing to shift a single drop, drowned his sorrows with some ladies he met. The next day, said ladies and more of their acquaintances showed up at his lodgings, demanding to get more of his great whisky, and so a legend was born. After a sip of the Allardice release, honoring its founder, we doubled back to the Muldoon stand for a nip of their award winning Thin Gin and then finished up with their honeyed whiskey liqueur – the perfect dessert dram. And with that, we were gone – but not before I managed to get an autograph.

DSC_0218

John Teeling just happened to be passing me, and I just happened to have a copy of Ivor Kenny’s book which he contributed to. In the book John reveals that he was approached to buy Irish Distillers in what was then known as a leveraged buy-out (LBO), and is now known as private equity. There is an excellent book called Barbarians At The Gate about the birth of the LBO which details the takeover of Nabisco – and the beginning of the obscene fees that have since consumed Wall Street and much of the financial world.

But John Teeling didn’t go for the IDL LBO – as he points out in the book (and as he pointed out to me again yesterday), the debt would have been massive, and he also feared the government of the day would come after him, as with any LBO there is massive job cuts. Effectively, borrowed money is used to buy a firm, chop it up, sell it off and repay the debt – with plenty left over for the organisers of the deal. Fun fact: Private equity was actually what Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman was engaged in. So not the most moral end of the takeover business. IDL would have lost up to 300 jobs in the LBO. But John Teeling didn’t go down that road – he left IDL alone, and they have gone on to become a world leader. So Irish whiskey owes him a lot, and not just for Cooley. Meeting him and shaking his hand was a pretty great end to a great day.

Apart from all the great whiskey, there were food pairings, masterclasses, the rugby on massive screens, and loads of free goodies from the various brands. The event is incredibly good value, and a great day out for both the hardcore enthusiast or the casual lush like me. There was plenty I didn’t include above, meeting Finn from Dick Mack’s – the Whiskey Pub Of The Year for the past two years – as well as being told that Jameson are definitely releasing the Whiskey Makers trilogy (something I have since heard is definitely not the case), insider gossip, details of sort-of friendly rivalries, new releases and all the other industry stuff that other writers (ie, Dave Havelin of the fantastic LiquidIrish.com) cover much better than I. My only regret is that I didn’t make half the stands – but sher there’s always next year.

Reverse engineering

Midleton Master Distiller Brian Nation and Midleton Micro Distiller (please note: still not an actual term) Karen Cotter at the launch of the new Jameson Deconstructed Series, a travel retail exclusive which celebrates the three elements of Jameson – pot still spirit, grain spirit, and wood.

Jameson, the world’s favourite Irish whiskey, has unveiled plans for its first ever Global Travel Retail exclusive range of super-premium whiskeys. The series was previewed this week at TFWE Cannes, the duty-free industry annual showcase event. The whiskeys will launch in 2016.

In the Deconstructed Series, the Jameson Original components have been deconstructed and reconstructed, allowing individual taste characteristics to be amplified in their own distinctive blend. The series includes three brand new unique whiskey styles:

 Bold, influenced by pot still whiskey, is an intense and robust whiskey, with a strong hit of spices. Initially sweet and creamy, with an abundance of soft fruits, the Pot Still Spices develop to bring a perfect balance of rich barley notes and mellow baked apple.

 Lively, influenced by grain whiskey, offers an elegant and floral taste combined with a citrus lightness. Its soft and sweet taste, drawn from perfume bon bons alongside turkish delight, combines with drying hints of citrus to balance the sweetness. A little chilli oil brings a prickle of spices to the mouth.

 Round, influenced by the wood contribution, is a balance of rich and plump charred tones. A perfect harmony of diverse flavours, sweet vanilla fuses with soft ripe fruit and, together, combines with the rich Pot Still Spices on a firm foundation of toasted oak.

Which all sounds somewhat reminiscent of the Masters’ Series trilogy, which went on show at the event last month to mark five million cases sold:

DSC_0332

Either way, these releases are obviously meant to act as a gateway dram between standard blends and premium whiskey, designed to lure the casual whiskey drinker into the murky world of whiskey geekdom – a secretive underground scene filled with tweet tastings, personalised Glencairns, club memberships and a stack of books on booze next to the bed. Just say no guys, you don’t want to end up like me:

Drinking-Whiskey-gif

 

Powers that be

My Movie

You just can’t go wrong with Powers. It is my drink of choice on the rare occasion that I actually get out for the night. It’s easily found in most pubs, is reasonably priced, and – to my palate – packs a bigger punch than it’s more popular sibling, Jameson. I always think of Indian food when I see how the average consumer views whiskey – most people think Indian food is basically varying degrees of ‘curry’. Similarly, many people think all whiskey is basically just Jameson, with minor variations. It’s only once you start to explore either that you realise a whole world, previously hidden to you, was there all along.

Jameson, like many blends, is the tikka masala or korma of the whiskey world – the most common introduction to the field, by virtue of its mellow smoothness and accessibility.  Powers is probably the dopiaza of the field – with more pot still whiskey, it carries a little more spice and an extra dimension than the world’s most popular Irish whiskey. Powers is a great next step into the whiskey world, but while I love it’s oldschool styling, the younglings might be put off by something that exhibits some of the visual keys of a tube of Euthymol. So pappa’s got a brand new bag:

My Movie

Not just a slick new label, but some lovely glasswork, as befitting the elder statesperson of Irish distilling.

Here are the official details:

An Irish Icon Awakes

Introducing the new look Powers Gold Label and Powers Three Swallow Release

With over 200 years of heritage distilled into each bottle, the new look Powers Gold Label is as definitive now as it always was – a pot still style whiskey of superior quality and  undisputed heritage since 1791.

While the aesthetic has changed, everything that makes Powers Gold Label the quintessential Irish whiskey has stayed exactly the same. True to the Pot Still style of the original distillery at John’s Lane in Dublin, Powers Gold Label is still triple distilled and matured in specially selected oak casks bursting with the same wonderfully complex and spicy flavor.

Powers reputation for excellence and innovation placed them at the forefront of Irish whiskey. In 1866, John Power and Son began bottling their own whiskey, which was unheard of before in Ireland, as it was usually sold by the cask. A gold label was entrusted on the bottle to signify premium quality and guarantee it had come directly from the John’s Lane Distillery, earning its name Powers Gold Label by loyal customers

The new look Powers Gold Label bottle will be officially unveiled at an exclusive event in Dublin in a specially created pop-up bar on Mercer Street, Dublin 2 on October 6th. The event will also give guests an exclusive preview and tasting of a brand new Powers Single Pot Still Whiskey expression, Powers Three Swallow Release ahead of its official launch later in the year.

As it enters the next phase in its iconic 224 year history, Powers Three Swallow Release, distilled and aged to perfection, is the 21st century embodiment of the traditional pure pot still whiskey style that has made Powers famous the world over.

Powers Gold Label is available in all leading on and off trade outlets, RRP €29.49

For further information, visit http://www.powerswhiskey.com or http://www.singlepotstill.com.

They have also brought on board this chap:

The new look carries a lot of the feel of the (incredible) John’s Lane Release:

It’s interesting to see Irish Distillers doing things like this – there are going to be a lot of competitors in the market over the next decade, so they are really donning the warpaint. Modernising a classic is a brave move, but shows they are confident that they will reach new consumers rather than alienating an older generation who may not initially recognise their beloved brand of yore. It also builds a strong visual link between the various members of the Powers family – be it entry-point blend, or luxuriant single pot still.

Speaking of old people: I recently got some wonderful agitprop in the post:

Yes, I should have dusted the bottle before I took the photos, but you get the idea – a rock-solid Irish classic has got a well-deserved makeover. Also, this confirms that I am officially in the pocket of Big Whiskey and cannot be trusted. Vote IDL! Impeach Cooley! Etc!

Of blood and whiskey

My Movie

There are things that I miss about being in a newsroom. The flow of insider information, the unprintable story behind the story, the kernels of truth you occasionally stumble across. It is like an addiction – once gone from it, you feel the withdrawal, you realise that you are now on the outside. But that isn’t necessarily the worst place to be, and definitely not in today’s media, where low sales are driving a race to the bottom, with everyone now chasing MailOnline and Buzzfeed’s business models of listicles, flesh, rage-bait and endless repetition.

However, one of the best aspects of journalism is the access it gives you; it places you in a position of extreme privilege – you get into places you shouldn’t, get offered things you don’t need, and generally can live a larger life than your wages would suggest. And this brings me, as almost everything does, to whiskey. Two years ago I was sent to an event in my hometown distillery called The Housewarming. It was being held to celebrate the massive expansion of the local distillery, but beyond that I didn’t know much else. I’m not sure what I expected, but nothing could have prepared me for the scale of it. Walking through the arch into the main courtyard behind the old distillery was like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything suddenly blooms into Technicolor, or the first time Aldous Huxley dropped acid; I was, like Adam, seeing all of creation for the first time. After The Housewarming, I was hooked, and have been writing about – and loving – whiskey ever since. And so it was that I was one of only a few journalists to be invited to both the launch of the new micro distillery and celebration of Jameson’s rocketing sales – five million cases plus in 12 months.

5 Mill Case Celeb Infographic

The events in the distillery are pretty special – almost everything they do is delivered in epic widescreen, and this was no different. The first part of the evening was the launch of the microdsitillery, which has seen distilling return to the old distillery site for the first time in 40 years. In fact, this year marked a triple celebration for IDL – parent firm Pernod Ricard turned 40, the new Midleton distillery turned 40, and Master Distiller Brian Nation also hit the big four-O (I also turned 40 in August, but since I was on the dole, celebrations were muted).

Over the past couple of years, an old storehouse was renovated and turned into a small scale distillery – but one which was still larger than many of the new independent distilleries being set up around the country in the past 24 months.

After a drinks reception in the courtyard, we were ushered in to hear IDL CEO Anna Malmhake, Tánaiste Joan Burton and ‘micro-distiller’ (note: not an actual term) Karen Cotter speak about the new venture. Anna acted as MC, and Karen spoke first, giving a speech about her path to this point, about the distillery, her mentors and what the future holds. Given her young age – just 24 – it was remarkable to hear her speak with such clarity and self-confidence. It reinforced my view that she will be a very bright star in Irish whiskey.

Then it was the Tánaiste’s turn. Deputy Burton spoke about how her ancestors were coopers, having grown up near Bow Street distillery, and also about how important it is to have gender balance in the workplace – be it at the cabinet table, or in the distilling world. Then it was over to the stills to switch them on, one by one, at which point they lit up in sequence.

DSC_0037

One….

DSC_0038

Two…

DSC_0040

Three!

Here is some low-grade audio of part of Karen Cotter and Joan Burton’s speeches:

Whilst there I chatted to local politicians Deputy Sandra McLellan of SF, David Stanton of FG and fellow journalist Tomás Clancy of the SBP. It was great to finally meet Tomás, as we both used to be part of the same media group, and also because he is a great ambassador for whiskey. I had seen him speak at Ballymaloe LitFest with Dave Broom and he was great, really knowledgeable without beating you over the head with it. Top guy, and the SBP is a great paper.

I also chatted to Richard Forsyth of the legendary pot still makers Forsyths – the Rolls Royce of post still makers. I had met him at the Spirit Of Speyside gala in May so it was nice to meet him on my home turf. Speyside is incredible – if you ever get a chance to visit there during the whisky festival, do so. You won’t regret it. The festival is one of the rare occasions when you can get a tour of the massive plant in Rothes. As a Scottish engineering firm their main business is oil and gas – which occupies about 300 of their staff, while the distilling operation has 60 or so working in it. There is an impressive drone flyover of the facility to give you an idea of what they do.

During the Spirit of Speyside festival the town also hosts a tattie bogle contest – local businesses create scarecrows and hang them off buildings or in windows. It is goddam terrifying, like something from Tales Of The Unexpected or The League Of Gentlemen.

 

Also there was Bernard Walsh, head of the IWA and one of the ‘real deal’ distillers in Ireland at the moment. He is the man behind Writer’s Tears, to my mind one of the stand-out Irish whiskeys, not just for its fresh aesthetic and great name, but just because it is a great drink. Bernard’s new pot stills arrived from Rothes last week, so it’s an exciting time for him, the culmination of many years of hard work.

Then it was off to the buses to be ferried down to Warehouse 11, a functioning storage facility that they had transformed into an incredible venue for the evening. About 350 guests filed in, greeted with Jameson whiskey sours, and then on a massive screen we were shown DJ Kormac talking about a commission he was given to create a track from the sounds of the distillery. He talked about his methods as they cut in footage from barley fields, and then he and singer Vivienne Long took to the stage to unveil their track. No wonder he is so skinny with all the frenetic work he does behind his electronics.

Then the screen lifted and we were in the venue proper, with names and tables assigned on a screen. Somehow I managed to locate mine, right up the front near the stage, perfect if i got carried away and wanted to start a moshpit or possibly stage dive onto some marketing people. The meal itself was spectacular, these massive outside events mean you need to set up mobile kitchens in the middle of nowhere and bus in an army of wait staff and chefs. Sometimes this can result in sub standard food, but not in this case; every part of the meal was incredible, really interesting food, beautiful, inspired presentation, and wait staff who were incredibly patient with my increasingly terrible banter: ‘Still or sparkling water sir?’ ‘Sparkling – LIKE MESELF’. I wonder how many times that poor person had to hear that jape in a single night. I was sat next to a member of the Irish Whiskey Association, which much like its Scottish counterpart is mainly involved in protection of intellectual copyright and maintaining the integrity of the Irish Whiskey brand. They make sure that you don’t end up with some low grade hooch from outside the country being passed off as ‘ye olde Oirish whiskey’ as it will devalue the entire category.

Also sat next to me was the Jameson Ambassador to Tokyo, a 23 year old Arts graduate from Wicklow, who possessed the rare (Irish) skill of being able to speak fluent Japanese. He spoke about his work, his projected aims and the brand’s target demographics. It was an amazing insight into a job that seems like it might be akin to being Duffman from The Simpsons, but is actually a lot more sophisticated, nuanced and involves a lot less booze than you would think. He has his work cut out for him – in a fast-paced and somewhat alien cultural landscape (one with a fantastic indigenous whisky scene), trying to attach yourself to the zeitgeist will be akin to catching a bullet between your teeth. But it will still be some incredible adventure for a young man.

Throughout the event there was incredible live music on stage – Lisa Hannigan, an orchestra playing popular classics (and grunge), and a harpist who would give Tony Iommi a run for his money.

After dinner we were treated to three new whiskeys from the distillery, each curated by a master – Master Cooper Ger Buckley’s the Cooper’s Croze, Master Distiller Brian Nation’s Distiller’s Safe and Master Blender Billy Leighton’s Blender’s Dog, three exclusive blends named after the respective tools of the masters’ trades.

We were asked to sample them, discuss and compare, which we duly did. Then the massive screens flared into life, and a short film about the trio began, showing them getting ready in their various domains, which then cut to a live feed of them walking into through the massive doors of Warehouse 11, all conducted to the strains of Arcade Fire. We toasted them, had a dram, and Hermitage Green took the stage, playing into the night.

CEO of Pernod Ricard, Alex Ricard, also spoke at the event. Last year he talked about the definition of craft and what it means. It has become increasingly obvious that craft, artisan and small batch are products of marketing teams and have lost much of their meaning. However, the consumer is getting canny – Templeton Rye was hit with a massive class action lawsuit over claims their whiskey was small batch, when actually it was sourced from a large-scale production facility. So when Midleton created a micro-distillery, they made sure to avoid the computer terminal controls you see in larger facilities, and instead opted for manual controls. The same goes for Ballindalloch in Speyside – they deliberately went for full manual controls to keep a down-home feel to their single estate distillery.

Alex Ricard posed the question – ‘what is craft?’ Is it the centuries that Irish people have been making whiskey, is it the incredibly history of the drink on this island, and at what point does a facility stop being ‘craft’? Is it a question of size and scale, is it to do with technology? Is there less craft in a large plant than in a garage-based operation? How is that so? Can a multi-national own a craft distillery – is it a question of economics? Most modern food and drink operations operate like pharma plants – is there a chilling effect in this system? Would you enjoy your drink more if you thought some chap made it in his shed? Or is it simply a question of aura, of exclusivity, of rareness? As a species we tend to hate the modern age, and yearn for some pre-industrial idyll that never existed; a simpler time when the noble farmer toiled the land before going home to read Chaucer by candlelight and die of natural causes at 40. We are bemused by the trainspotters and their passion for engineering – but not by people who go to art galleries. Modern engineering is a beautiful thing – be it the micro distillery or the bigger sibling that produces much of the world supply of Irish whiskey.

Mr Ricard also spoke about how everyone present on the night had a personal connection to Jameson – they have their pet names for it, their favourite way to drink it, their stories about how they started getting into whiskey. The jaded cynic in me might raise my eyes, but in a way he was right. Like Jameson, I am from Dublin originally, but spent the last 40 years in east Cork. My mother was a 19 year old from Sherriff Street in the north inner city, who grew up close to the old premises of Haig And Haig, and a few doors down from St Laurence O’Toole Church, supposedly built over old whiskey stores, which has led to the crypts still carrying a lingering hint of the angel’s share. She put me up for adoption, and after six weeks I was brought home by my mum and dad. After a brief stint in Kerry, we moved to Midleton, where my dad worked in the bank that lies just downriver from the distillery.

I grew up in a house overlooking the distillery, halfway between there and the new maturation sites in Dungourney. As a kid I swam and fished in the same river that they make all those incredible whiskeys from, and later I went to school just over the wall from the distillery in Midleton College. If you ever visit the Garden Stillhouse, see if you can find the sinkhole nearby, which leads to the underground stream from which the distillery takes some of its water. The stream travels under the wall and into the school grounds, and over the years pupils used to dare each other to travel through the pitch black cave network and up into the distillery – despite the fact that for some of the 50 yards or so you would be chest-deep in ice-cold water. My parents sent me to this expensive, private school – and they worked hard to pay for it. My dad loved whiskey – the first article I wrote for the Irish Examiner was about The Housewarming, but also about my dad, and in it I told this story: When I was about 10, my mother had a massive brain haemorrhage. She was given 24 hours to live. My dad went to the hospital chapel and made a deal with God – he would give up his beloved whiskey if mum pulled through. She duly did, and he hasn’t touched a drop since. She passed away nine years ago now, but he still won’t drink it as he says ‘a deal is a deal’.

It sounds like bunkum, but I like this story because it tells you the kind of guy my dad is. Part of my love of whiskey comes from him, and from suddenly having that strange epiphany when you realise that your dad is a great guy. He grew up in an Ireland that has thankfully almost completely disappeared – his dad used to come home, eat dinner, then go to the pub. His father once told him about the hilarity among his friends when they saw a friend of their’s pushing a buggy. Fathers back then earned the money and that was about it. The kids were women’s work. But my dad was always there for me, as I crashed headlong through life. Despite the fact that I often made terrible choices, he supported me no matter what. Whiskey to me is a symbol of all that is great about him – of being a good father, a good husband, a good human being. It represents the slow joy of growing old, of maturity. It’s about the simple pleasure of a mind-unclenching, blood-warming drink whilst surrounded by your family as they bicker about X Factor or try to figure out what the hell was going on in Age Of Ultron. It’s a celebration of making peace with this world. I have enjoyed constant privilege – from the luck of being a journalist to the childhood I had. I went down Sherriff Street for the first time this summer to see the old family home, to see where at least part of me is from. The area is a ghetto, fenced in by the ugly opulence of the IFSC on one side and, on the other, a canal, which once brought so much wealth and industry to the area, now filled with rubbish. While we were down there a child shot at the car with a BB gun. We didn’t stick around for long. It was a sobering reminder of how lucky I am, in all aspects of my life. I have tasted amazing whiskeys, seen amazing things and met amazing people over the last few years, and the event in Midleton last month was a reminder of all my good fortune – of growing up in the home of Irish whiskey, in a house filled with love and unopened bottles of Jameson, because, as my dad says, a deal is a deal.

Whiskey in the jar

Lynott at Slane

Great shot of Phil Lynott at Slane in 1981 yoinked from the Indo. The grand plans of Jack Daniels parent firm – and Slane Whiskey owners – Brown Forman were revealed yesterday:

Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman’s chief brands officer, told DI the company’s family structure enabled it to “think long term” in the Irish whiskey category and with sustained investment over “20, 30, or 40 years”  build Slane Whiskey in to a “global brand”.

Brown-Forman has experience distributing Irish whiskey in the US, as the former distributor of Bushmills in the market.

Whiting said Brown-Forman had “looked at mothballed distilleries” in Ireland before announcing in June to create its own distillery in the grounds of Slane Castle.

Brown-Forman’s first release will be from bought-in Irish whisky stocks, with Whiting arguing that consumers would not be confused by a change in taste profile when the Slane-produced whiskey is released in a few years. “We will be making lots of different styles of whiskey; consumers love to try other things,” he said.

Hell yeah. Provided ‘other things’ isn’t code for ‘shitty RTDs’. In which case, no. Also, bleurgh.