The Long Good Friday Pub Review

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The drinks industry has built itself on a desperate search for authenticity – every plywood flatpack bar claims to be the authentic Irish pub, every pub aspires to be the real home of Guinness, everyone wants to be the spirit of Dublin, everyone is on the quest for real ale, then there is the craft beer movement, the hipsters who were into every beverage before you, before it got big, before it became corporate.

So many brands try to root themselves in some pre-industrial Never Never Land, as opposed to proudly embracing modernity and the glistening chrome of computer operated production. But authenticity is something that really cannot be faked – contrast some of the Paddywhackery of Dublin tourist pubs with a place like Dick Mack’s in Dingle. The simple charms of The Pub That Time (Almost) Forgot has made Dick Mack’s the country’s greatest whiskey bar, and just a great pub in general. But places like that can be hard to come by.

In my hometown, there aren’t many that come close. But if you want an authentic Irish pub with a better-than-most whiskey selection, Canty’s is a fairly good place to start. It’s been on the Irish Whiskey Trail for a number of years, a tourist initiative started by Heidi Donelan, which saw her travel the country finding proper Irish pubs with a decent whiskey culture.

Heidi ran tours of the pubs, bringing them to Midleton year after year, including some well-known whisky personalities, such as Martine Nouet, a famous whisky-pairing chef and author who forsake her native France for the elemental dramatics of Islay.

Martine is the second from right at front. Also there are Mark Gillespie from WhiskyCast, Neil from CaskStrength Creative, the chap who runs GlenKeith, the chap who works in Aberlour, eh yeah I should have taken more names. The wonderful Ann Millar from Chivas is at the back next to your's truly.

Martine is the second from right at front. Also there are Mark Gillespie from WhiskyCast, Neil from CaskStrength Creative, the chap who runs GlenKeith, the chap who works in Aberlour, eh yeah I should have taken more names. The wonderful Ann Millar from Chivas is at the back next to your’s truly.

The Irish Whiskey Trail website has a little bit of history about Canty’s and its links to the distillery in Midleton, but as a local I have to admit I have probably been in Canty’s twice in my life. It was seen as an auld fellas’ pub when I was a young jackaknapes, so maybe my recent appreciation for it is a sign that I have finally achieved auld fella status.

Canty’s is what an old friend of mine used to call a ‘great drinking pub’ – you could go in there at 10am and have a pint without being judged. When I popped in there recently at about 11am there were a dozen or more patrons, supping pints with the odd half one to follow. The place hadn’t changed since I was in there 20 years before. The current owner, Catherine, told me they mostly do a day trade, and the fact that their smoking area opens onto a lane connecting them directly to the bookies down the street meant that they had the best of both worlds – or a perfect storm of human vices, if you want to look at it that way. But Canty’s is a slice of the old world – a lot of the people in there were the old school drinkers; men in their 70s and up, supping pints and shorts, because that was what men did. There was no meeting the lads for a frappucino or going for a spinning class and sauna together, this was Irish Male V1.0: You drink to socialise, you go to the pub to get out and meet your pals, because they didn’t have brunch during the Civil War lads.

But the patrons in there were good craic, all bemused at me taking photos of their local, wondering what was so special about it. Here are a few of my photos:

The pub was really too busy to have a proper rummage through the dusty old bottles, but I did spot this number:

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Catherine told me she wouldn’t feel right selling it to people as she was worried it had been there so long they might get poisoned from it. I told her to charge them so much they wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer.  Anyway, here are some details via this excellent site:

Sadly, this Whiskey is now a rarity as Irish Distillers decided in 2004 not to produce this fine blend any longer. It was first launched in 1960 by Cork Distilleries Co., the name being a hint at one of its founding distilleries: Watercourse Distillery in Watercourse Road, Cork, owned by the Hewitt Family. Strangely enough, the address on the label – North Mall, Cork – points to another distillery located there, which was owned by the Wise Family. However, the blend consists of two Malt Whiskeys – one from Midleton, one from Bushmills – and a Grain Whiskey from Midleton. It is bottled at 40 per cent abv. As Jim Murray notes, “if you ever see this on the shelf of a bar or store, get it.”

It also gets a mention in Brian Townsend’s excellent The Lost Distilleries Of Ireland:

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Again, Hewitts was another whiskey yearning to achieve authenticity, pointing to a past it had little connection to, rather than standing on its own two feet and embracing its own oddness – apparently it is the only Irish Distillers blend that does not contain any pot still whiskey, it comes in 1.125 litre bottles, and then there is the fact it contains malt from Midleton – a comparative rarity. Although they did make a single malt many years ago, one that is best forgotten, if the awful title and label design is anything to go by:

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At the other end of the main street from Canty’s lies the town’s newest pub in one of its oldest buildings. The former barracks in the town was designed by AW Pugin, known as God’s Architect because of all the churches he designed across the UK.

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It is a stunning old building, previously run into the ground as McDaid’s, a pub that started so well as an excellent, atmospheric late bar and gradually turned into a teenybopper kip. Shut by the banks, the building was sold for a bargain 600k to the Lynch family of the award-winning Cotton Ball micro-brewery, and is leased to the two gents behind the incredibly successful Castle bar in Glanmire and Elm Tree gastropub in Glounthaune. It had its first night last night (the official opening is tomorrow), so naturally I sauntered along to see what sort of whiskey selection they had. I was very pleasantly surprised by the range – and the venue as a whole.

As always, drinking nice whiskey on a night out is a costly affair; a Yellow Spot was 8.90. So sip it slow. The plans for the venue sound great – it will be over-23s, with a strict dress code, a function room upstairs, and a possibility of food down the road, once they get the upper floors ship-shape.

They also used some of the spaces to celebrate the heritage of the building and the man after whom it was named – JJ Coppinger. You can read about his incredible life here, but here are some more details about the building, past and present, thanks to historian Tony Harpur of the excellent Midleton With One D blog, who corrected a few errors I had in this post originally:

There is a copy of the most famous portrait of Pugin in the smoking area of the bar, surrounded by copies of some of his architectural sketches. These particular sketches belonged to George Coppinger Ashlin. Ashlin was born in Little Island of a Midleton mother (Dorinda Coppinger) and and English father (John Ashlin)! Having studied architecture and partnered Pugin’s son Edward and designed St Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, Ashlin married Mary Pugin, and became Pugin’s son-in-law. Ashlin’s older brother, John, lived at Castleredmond House, hence the presence of Ashlin Road in Midleton.

The building was never the RIC barracks – that was the old part of the Garda Station behind the Courthouse. Instead the Midleton Arms Hotel was requisitioned in 1920 as a barracks to house the Auxiliaries (ex-British army men hired to beef up the RIC during the War of Independence). The facade still ears the traces of bullet marks from an IRA attack in late 1920, although the holes have been filled in.

The Coppingers of Midleton ran a brewery on the site next to the building from the mid-1790s until about 1840. That building is still there – along Distillery Walk and Main Street. It really is nice to see the Coppinger name return to Main Street in Midleton.

Hopefully this new venture will do justice to the Pugin/Coppinger name, the legacy of the building, and the simple needs of an authentic middle-aged git who likes to have a decent whiskey in a nice pub – be it an oldschool auld-fella watering hole, or a collision of exposed brick, historic stone and slick design.

The Galtees

A few photos from various rambles up the Galtees. We should all get out more. Ireland is at its most serene and beautiful when you get to the summit of a mountain on a clear day and all you can hear is the wind and the jackhammering of your heart as you drink in a hundred miles of scenery. It makes you realise that, beyond all the negativity in the press and misery we sometimes like to wallow in, Ireland is a pretty special place. And sher a bit of exercise wouldn’t go astray, would it?

Whisky go leor

 

I love Edinburgh. It is a beautiful, upside-down and inside-out Rubiks Cube of a city, forever shifting and changing, and not just because of the trams and the excavations they wrought on its beautiful landscape. As the writer Murdo Macdonald said, Edinburgh is a city that makes you think about what a city should be. It has incredible history, architecture, modern, functional planning, and a sense that you will never know all its mysteries. I’ve been going there every year since an ex brought me over to meet her folks about 20 years ago. We parted, but my love for the city burns brighter every time I visit. And since I turned into some sort of whisky cult member, the city has revealed another piece of its puzzle to me. So this year was like a trip to Jonestown for me.

First up was a visit to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a bite to eat and some drams. Operated as a members club, they offer their own bottlings, all with the same intriguing labels describing the flavours in the most bizarre and esoteric ways. The original site of the society, founded in 1983, was down in Leith in a venue known as The Vaults, but that seemed a bit far away so we visited the Queen Street branch, which – like almost all the buildings in Edinburgh city centre – was rather beautiful. After an especially classy burger and chips, we settled down for a few tastings, randomly selecting them with the help of the staff. The bottlings are anonymous save for the tasting notes and titles, and are presented at cask strength and without chill filtration. This is what R. Kelly might call real talk – pure and honest whisky, stripped of all the marketing bumpf, the spiel about the days of yore, the recalling of some pre-industrial Never Never Land. This is the beast in its natural state; naked, growling, unchained. These iconic, relatively anonymous green bottles let the drink do the talking: They all look the same, save for the number and the notes. It is pure whisky served in a place of worship – we spend the evening sipping, nosing, sharing, laughing and just kicking back and geeking out. The photos show some of the bottlings we sampled, and this is the one I brought home:

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Who could resist that? Certainly not me, but then I’m fairly sure that I am at least 34% bumblebee.  

Next on the list was WM Cadenhead’s, a shop that refuses to modernise – and is all the better for it. The recent online lottery on Master Of Malt for the new Yamazaki Sherry Cask makes you realise that Cadenehead’s is special – they just about have a website, do not sell online and have all their stock on a chalkboard – or an old ledger that looks like something from Hogwarts. They stock rare and valuable whiskies, some from silent distilleries, and they don’t charge the world. I bought a 23YO Ledaig from Tobermory, a steal at about the 100 mark. If this was an official distillery release I would have been paying double that – at least.

The shop also offers cask ends – they put any drops left into small 20cl bottles so you can try a few different samples without breaking the bank. I bought a 13YO Springbank ‘Green’. The ‘green’ part is a code for ‘organic’, but they can’t officially call it that as – according to the staff member I spoke to – someone in Springbank screwed up the paperwork and they were unable to get it certified organic. I tried the organic Benromach at Whiskey Live Dublin, and was not overly impressed – but then, it was late in the day and I was become overwrought from all the great drams. The Springbank is great, that sherry cask kick is something my bumblebee tastebuds crave, but it has an aniseed, liquorice sweetness in the aftermath that really takes it beyond standard issue. In both the SMWS and Cadenheads I asked for Irish whiskey – both places had bottlings from an ‘unnamed’ Irish distillery. Can you guess which one it was? Here’s a clue:

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We also stopped off at the St Vincent, not far from George’s Street, alongside the church yer man from Rockstar Games bought because he had stacks of cash and sher why not.

The guys in the Vin have started offering grub as well as a decent selection of whisky, bourbon, craft beers et al. I opted for the Dutch Rudder – a burger with peanut mayo and edam. Yes I eat a lot of burgers. Yes I used to be a chef in an upmarket bistro. No I don’t feel any shame. Yes a Dutch Rudder is a sex thing. And yes it was a great burger.

On my way back from Scotland I had a few hours to peruse the whisky in the airport. It was like a zombie film, except non-age statement whisky was patient zero and everyone had been bitten already. I actually found it hard to locate age-statement whiskies, and when I asked a staff member about the epidemic of NAS, they gave the usual spiel about how age statements were the real scam, that the NAS movement was about getting back to how it used to be, and blah blah blah. It seems I am the only one who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid on this matter. Or maybe I’ve just been drinking the wrong Kool-Aid, maybe there is less well-aged Kool-Aid out there that I just haven’t tried yet and that will change my mind. Or maybe I am just too insecure to rely on taste alone and live without a number on the label telling me how much I should appreciate the liquid within. Or maybe I simply spend too much time thinking about these things when I should be helping my kids with their homework. In fact, one of my daughter’s homework tasks this evening was coming up with metaphors to complete statements; one was ‘Chocolate is….’. My suggestion was ‘chocolate is getting punched in the face with happiness’. Which is actually the title of one of the bottlings we sampled in the SMWS.

I have no shame. And I also have no money, as I came home with this lot: 

Me explaining my purchases to my wife:

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