Seasonal affective disorder

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The Dungourney river on its slow approach to Midleton.

As part of the Midleton food festival each September, there is a tasting in the Jameson Heritage Centre in the town. It’s usually a ridiculously cheap five or ten euro for four premium whiskeys – but the event used to be completely free. However, one year at the end of the tasting, a little old lady went around and poured all the leftover drams into a little plastic bottle. When confronted and asked why, she said ‘it’s for the Christmas cake’. After that, they started to charge. But it’s hard to argue with the lady’s common sense approach to all that leftover whiskey. To many, it is the Christmas drink – we use it to flavour the cake, torch the pudding, liven up our coffee or just warm the blood during the darkest season in Northern Europe. But what do whiskey drinkers in warmer climes drink? Well, one option is to have something from the ready-to-drink (or RTD) category; Jameson comes in a variety of pre-mixed variations in Australia, including Cloudy Apple, Raw Cola and this:

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Because when you’re drinking in a desert, you need a little more than 35cl of hard liquor to quench your thirst. Which makes it all the more puzzling that Jameson would launch a whiskey in South Africa before anywhere else; but that’s exactly what they did with what we call Black Barrel, then known as Jameson Select Reserve.

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Still known by that name in one of the big emerging markets for whiskey, Kenya, the spirit itself is a bit of an oddity, being a blend of pot still and mixed-mash barley spirit from a column still. You can read the full breakdown here on Liquid Irish. The Black Barrel tag came from the fact the barrels are double charred. The result is a sweet vanilla dram reminiscent, to my mind, of the more American styles. When I try to badger my wife into drinking whiskey, it is this I opt for – ‘it’s kinda like Jack Daniels’ I pitch. ‘Except it isn’t and it’s is a lot nicer’, I think to myself.

While the African market is a growing one for IDL, so too are almost all others – the distillery in Midleton may be capable of creating a vast array and amount of whiskey, but they need more space to grow. To this end, they recently bought a farm that lay adjacent to the site. It went to public auction, the previous owner having passed away. There is a full write-up on the Independent, which makes for interesting reading. Initially being sold in lots, IDL and one other bidder wanted the lot – and IDL, being a very large firm )with a substantial parent firm in the form of Pernod Ricard) won the day.

Some of the land purchased by IDL.

Some of the land purchased by IDL.

What is interesting is how community focused IDL they are; beyond being the best employer in the area in terms of salaries, conditions and general vibe, they also have engaged with some of the bidders to make deals on the smaller lots they don’t need – one of those being the GAA club, which is currently located at the other end of the town. Access there is a nightmare, whereas the land IDL have just bought has planning for a new access road – which would also take their deliveries out of the town itself.

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When I heard the distillery bought a farm, I immediately assumed they were going to use it for grain for the microdistillery, or just as a lovely prop for the whiskey academy, but it seems more likely they will use it to expand their operations – and possibly also to create flood defences, as earlier this year there was extensive flooding upriver from their site. I’ve written about this before, and made the point that some people locally laid the blame on the distillery, despite it being there for four decades with no flooding. You can see from this video that some of the warehouses were affected, but also that the floods spread miles back along the river.

In fact, the area that flooded is the part of the site that is zoned for industry, so I’d imagine IDL have plans for serious flood defences before they start any new building work.

All of this tells you two things – first, IDL are important to the community here. For a small town like Midleton, this kind of employment forms its economic backbone. Without the distillery, we could have gone the way of Youghal – stripped of large businesses over the past 30 years, currently Youghal’s largest employer is the State-run St Raphael’s care home. 

IDL also support various community projects here, including the recently developed youth centre, something worth considering next time you hear someone droning on about the demon drink and how it is ruining society. 

The second piece of information to be gleaned from the farm purchase is that IDL know that they are going to have a lot of competition in the next ten years, so now is the time to flex those sizeable muscles and expand lines as well as the plant itself. I was in Scotland when I first heard about the new Green Spot expression, earwigging on a conversation between Sir Colin Hampden White of the ultra-lux, invite-only Whisky Quarterly magazine and Mark Gillespie of the ever-popular WhiskyCast, who were both off to the launch event the following week. The single pot still whiskey is finished in wine casks from Château Léoville-Barton, a merging of Irish and French cultures that appealed to me, as it was French monks from the Burgundy region who built the monastic settlement that later became the town of Midleton (update – this is massively incorrect; thanks again, Wikipedia. See comment from local historian Tony Harpur below). 

Green Spot Whiskey 2015

Green Spot Whiskey 2015

But there is another Irish connection here: Thomas Barton, of Barton & Guestier, left Ireland to find his fortune in Bordeaux in 1724, starting a shipping company there before becoming a very successful wine merchant. Barton kept his Irish heritage, buying Grove House, a stately home and estate near Fethard. Known as ‘French Tom’ to the locals – despite being from Fermanagh – the family are central to the history of the town:

Thomas Barton was succeeded in Grove by his son William. William Barton also played an integral part in the life of the local community, he was sovereign in the years 1816,18,19,21,23 and 29.He gave the site for the present Parish Church and also had greeted the public pump on the Square. The pump was being used up to the mid thirties. It became part of Fethard folklore when the rallying cry of old time Fethard football supporters was “Come on the two streets and a pump”.

So what of the whiskey itself – on the nose there is a little menthol, cut with green fruits, but with a real deep rich plummy note from the wine finish. On the palette there is a lot more of the traditional Green Spot tongue-smacking astringency and less of those velvety wine elements. The front is where it’s at, with a rich caramel flavour that passes all too quickly. I feel like I do about Green Spot generally – I like it, but I’m not going to sell my soul to get a bottle. At €69, this is a good whiskey – but not one I would be shouting from the rooftops about.

Redbreast Lustau

Redbreast Lustau

One whiskey I do shout from all surfaces about is Redbreast. When people ask me to recommend an Irish whiskey, it is the one I always fall back on – it was my first foray into the upper echelons of whiskey, and is one I will always have a special place in my heart for. So expectations are even higher for their latest release in this line, the Lustau Edition. Here is some press release:

Redbreast has introduced a new, permanent expression to its decorated Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey family; Redbreast Lustau Edition. Finished in hand selected, first-fill sherry butts that are seasoned with Oloroso sherry from the prestigious Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain, this release celebrates the iconic sherry influence found throughout the Redbreast range.

Matured initially in a combination of exceptional ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks, Redbreast Lustau Edition has been wholly finished for one year in prized sherry butts from Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, the sherry capital of the world.

So what of this one: This has a real, rich fruit element to it that is fantastic – on the nose it has fruit and nut dark chocolate, sherry trifle, a hint of incense. Like they always say, Christmas cake in a glass – on the palette, beyond the stewed fruits, marzipan and lots of salted caramel brittle, but like all the Redbreasts this is just liquid silk. Incredible mouth-coating, oily gush with a snap, crackle and pop as the flavours go to work. I would still favour the 12, but that is simply that I am an ageist. One of the things I love about whiskey is the idea that you are buying time – this drink in your hand lay sleeping in a cask for a decade or more, and when you drink it you are consuming all those years, all that time. As I get older and ever closer to the inevitable maw of the wolf of oblivion, this is important to me; if I drink the waters of life, I want to know how many years I am consuming. Make it NAS and I just spend my time wondering how old it actually is (in this case, 10-13 years). That’s not to take from this whiskey – age statement or not, it is excellent. I’m not saying that the Green Spot is a child of a lesser god – I just prefer the profile of the Redbreast. Green Spot is lighter, to me, it’s a summer whiskey; great with ice or even a mixer. Redbreast is winter, rich food and warm fires, short days and long nights of sitting about like an especially lazy emperor, darkness and comfort. If I had to recommend one over the other, it would obviously be the Redbreast Lustau sherry edition, but bear in mind that this is the recommendation of someone who got drunk for the first time at age 12 on an especially potent sherry trifle, so my opinion may be skewed (and my brain damaged).

Thank you to the good people at Burrell PR for the bottle of Black Barrel, and the samples of the Green Spot and the Lustau.

4 thoughts on “Seasonal affective disorder

  1. Bill,

    Just a couple of points about this post. First, I suspect (without proof) that the distillery’s production facilities will be expanded as you suggest to cater for a growing international taste for more subtle Irish whiskey as opposed to bourbon or scotch. Obviously the best place to do this is right beside, or very close to, the existing Midleton Distillery. The lands in question are to be part of the townlands of Cahermone and Park South (the latter being part of Sir St John Brodrick’s deerpark authorized in the Charter of Midleton in 1670). I do hope that the newly purchased lands will indeed permit the creation of a better access route into the distillery from the N25 instead of forcing trucks to make a sharp turn from Main Street into Connolly Street and vice versa. It should prove easier on everyone’s nerves!

    My second point concerns last January’s flooding. I entirely agree – the distillery didn’t cause the flooding. As a schoolboy, I watched that new distillery being constructed up to 1975 – we had a great view from the living-room! I also saw the construction of additional warehouses after 1975. During all of that time there was no flooding in the vicinity of the distillery. Indeed, I would add that without the distillery’s intervention and the generous assistance it gave with its pumps in January 2016 much of Lauriston and the Rugby Club would have been under floodwater for weeks. The truth is that the local authority didn’t have the equipment to deal with the flood, and it certainly wasn’t prepared for such flooding. So if it wasn’t the distillery that caused the problem, perhaps the County Council’s granting of planning permission for uncontrolled house-building may have contributed. I’m struck by the fact that video appears to show that the flood may have followed the disused Midleton to Youghal Railway line into the Rugby Club. I’d suggest readers should examine the aerial photo of the newly purchased land again, but more closely. It shows the long riverside fields (strips really) on each bank of the Dungourney River as it approaches town by the distillery. Very likely these strips represent water-meadows that were traditionally liable to flood. Now these fields are kept dry….perhaps this may be a potential source of, and solution to, the flooding problems. As a kid walking these fields to Cahermone Castle (located near the ‘tail’ of these lands) it was clear to me even then that these lands were frequently soggy, even in dry weather.

    A third point – I fear that your notion of Burgundian monks in Midleton from 1180 may be a little romantic. The Cistercian order was indeed a Burgundian reform of the Benedictines, but the founding monks of Corabbey were Gaelic Irish Cistercians. The only foreign monks were those who came in to impose discipline on the abbey after the Irish monks had rebelled against the Cistercian Order in the 1220s! The ‘Mad Monk’ isn’t just the name of a pub in Midleton situated next to the site of the abbey. We did indeed have our hopping ‘mad monks’!

    Fourthly, during the nineteenth century a site (now unidentified) on the newly purchased lands was noted as the location where John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the Seneschal of Imokilly, ambushed Walter Raleigh as he forded the river in 1580! The normal view is that the ambush happened on the Owenacurra River further west, but a nineteenth century report says that the site ‘near Mr Murphy’s distillery is still pointed out as the site of the ambush’. This is clearly a reference to the Dungourney River, and not to the Owenacurra River. Hopefully Irish distillers will permit archaeologists to inspect the area before they start building. Just think of it, early American history might have been rather different if Walter Raleigh had been killed at…….Midleton!!!

    Finally (yes!): I must say that it is welcome news that the distillery bought this land, and are sharing it with the GAA club. I look forward to learning about any new developments planned for the site. It should be good for Midleton,…..and for Irish whiskey! Fingers crossed.

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    1. Hi Tony, thanks for all the great info, was wondering how French monks ended up in Midleton, but didn’t bother researching past Wikipedia – like all journalists I like to play it fast and loose with the facts if it suits me!
      Definitely a new access road for the distillery would make sense – the last time they took delivery of storage tanks, the truck barely got around the corner on Main Street.
      It will be interesting to see what happens to the current GAA grounds – I assume it will be sold for development..
      Fascinating about Raleigh! I was down in Youghal for the day yesterday, so much history in that town – it really is a goldmine. Frustrating to see it struggling economically.
      I concur about the fields along the rail line – I used to walk the line into town from Bilberry, and those fields all the say to Cahermone Castle (and the oddly named Balls Rock) were often boggy or submerged.

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  2. You would be pretty amazed at the range of RTD (ready to Drink) tipples containing well known self respecting ‘heritage’ brands in Australia. It is a particular market quirk, the RTD market there is the biggest in the world and massively developed. But in the same way that you will only see George Clooney flogging coffee this side of the Atlantic, everyone tends to keep the RTD’s quiet. They are usually developed by local Aussie brand teams to the consternation of the global guys who turn a blind eye because they make up so much on the bottom line and market share.

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    1. I’ve drunk the raw cola and cloudy apple, and can safely say they are an affront to good whiskey. I can totally understand why certain markets demand drinks like them, but as you say it is so bizarre to have what is basically a Jameson alcopop on sale overseas when they aim for prestige over here.

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