The west’s awake

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Dublin isn’t Ireland. Obviously, it is part of the Republic and we all love it very much, but as a representation of what Ireland is, it is far from the definitive article. When you meet people abroad who tell you they’ve been to Ireland because they spent a weekend in Dublin, there is always the urge to point out that far from the urban sprawls of our dirty-beautiful capital, there are huge expanses of open country, peppered with the odd house, terrible WiFi and breathtaking scenery.

In terms of ‘places that are not Dublin’, Dingle in West Kerry is as good an example as any: Remote, stunning, and devoid of the brash cacophony of The Pale. My love affair with Dingle started after I finished my Leaving Cert. A group of us drove to Schull, spent two days on the lash, then I hitched down to Dingle (this was back in the days when you were able to hitch without ending up in The Hills Have Eyes). In Dingle I met up with my girlfriend and in an abandoned house not far from the village, I lost my virginity to her. It might not seem like the most romantic of spots, surrounded by the ghosts of the faithful departed, but it was, as it always is, a turning point.

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Years later I went back to Dingle, this time with another girl, a Scot who was obsessed with Fungi, the harbour’s resident dolphin for the past three decades. On my 23rd birthday, we went out into the harbor and she swam with Fungi in the middle of a solar eclipse. Bizarre. We later went our separate ways, I married and settled down, but this year I went back to Dingle consumed with another great love affair – whiskey. I spent four days in Dingle Distillery – a stone’s throw from the abandoned house I stayed in all those years before. The distillery is compact and bijou, staffed by a group of young lads with enthusiasm and passion to burn.

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I got to meet Oliver Hughes, the visionary behind The Porterhouse and the distillery. Oliver is an interesting guy, constantly moving, bristling with energy and ideas. A former criminal barrister, I’d imagine he was a formidable opponent to face across the courts. He was a great host, generous with his time and his passion for the area, where he too had found love, having brought his girlfriend-now-wife there many years before.

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While we were there the distillery was visited by one of the Founding Fathers, the title for investors and supporters who bought a cask to help fund the distillery. Bob Dunfey’s name may not mean much to you, but he holds a very important role in Irish politics. Bob and his brother attended a meal during the very early stages of the Peace Process, and shocked the world by inviting Gerry Adams despite the fact that Martin Trimble would be attending. It may not seem like a big deal now, but back then it caused consternation, with many invited guests threatening to pull out. But they didn’t, and it was the start of an incredibly important period of our history.

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Bob and his wife Jeanette at front left with some whiskey school students, teachers and distillery staff.

Bob, who had a background in hospitality, cracked open his cask in the distillery, and shared it with us. It was just another special moment from a very special place.

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On one of the evenings Oliver drove us out around Slea Head. We stopped off to admire Inishtooskert, the island better known as The Sleeping Giant. The spot popped into my mind as I read an email informing me that Dingle’s other giant is about to awaken from its three-year sleep:

After three years of careful maturation on the Corca Dhuibhne coast, the first public samples of Dingle Whiskey are just about ready to be pulled from cask! Specifically, we’ll be dipping our glasses into Cask #2 – a first-fill American white oak barrel seasoned with bourbon, filled to the brim with our own triple distilled single malt, left to sit until December 20th and, on that auspicious upcoming occasion, bottled at cask strength for your own full enjoyment! The day that it’s bottled, our little distillate ceases to be spirit and finally takes its place among the whiskeys of the world.

And we’ve been at it a while now. The first-to-start in what has recently grown into an erupting craft distilling movement, the Dingle Distillery’s first three-year-old will also offer tipplers their first taste of Irish craythur crafted outside the ‘big three’ producers in over thirty-five years. Using Irish barley, Irish mash bills, and three small pot stills hand designed by legendary distiller John McDougall, the Dingle distillery aims to make both artisan single malt and single pot still expressions – the first of which is finally ready to call itself whiskey.

We may have started doing this back in 2012, but Irish whiskey takes a while. As the barrels bask in the warm gulf-stream summers and cool winters of the Irish southwest, the oak staves expand and contract, allowing the spirit to breathe and injecting it in return with oaky tannins, sweet vanillins, honeyed bourbon residues and in the case of our own seaside warehouse, a brine-stung breeze that leaves one last signature of place on this famous old process. Whatever it tastes like, this first small batch sample will be unmistakably a spirit of Dingle…

The price for this limited edition whiskey is €350. To order your bottle, contact The Dingle Distillery.

If you’re thinking ‘but didn’t they already release a whiskey?’ then you are sort-of right – they released a Cooley blend as a revenue generator.

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Chas and a bottle of the Cooley blend they released under the Dingle Gold brand. Fun fact: One of the chaps working in the distillery is a direct descendent of Michael Collins. 

I bought one of the last bottles of it when I was down there and even had the cheek to get Oliver Hughes to autograph it. I asked him to sign it ‘to eBay, love Oliver’ – sadly he didn’t, but he did sign it with a wry smile.

As for the blend – I think they regretted releasing it, as they felt it devalued the brand and confused the consumer – but hopefully any confusion will be cleared up on December 20 when the world will finally get a taste of what the land, sea and sky of West Kerry can produce.

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