The Bills have eyes

Wrote this for the Indo about the Leitrim village appealing for people to move there.

 

The idea of country living is one that resonates with us all. Deep down we all have the suspicion that urban spaces and their associated lifestyles are somehow eroding our soul. In our minds we dream of being one of the characters of Leni Riefenstahl’s mountain girl films, fleeing the corrupting wasteland of the city for a life of purity stuck up a hill with a goat. So the announcement from Kiltyclogher, a north leitrim village, that it was desperately seeking people to move there resonated with many city dwellers. The poor immobile thousands who take part in the live reenactment of the video for REM’s Everybody Hurts that is the M50 at peak times must surely drift off in their minds and think ‘I shall rise and go now to that village in Leitrim and build a wattle and daub five-bed detached mansion as there are no planning laws in the country’. But for anyone considering a move, there are some things you might want to consider.

Goodbye internet: There are degrees of country. A small town or village will offer you many of the amenities you enjoyed in the big smoke – public transport, council water/sewage schemes, street lighting so every evening walk doesn’t turn into the Blair Witch Project – without all the negatives – giant rats, hourly burglaries, increasing secularism. But then there is the country-country, out there in the dark beyond the last streetlight, and that is where things get complicated. While the city-dwelling flaneur may feel exasperation waiting in line for their frappucino or pickleback (it’s a shot of whiskey with a shot of pickle juice, obviously), nothing will ever compare to the white-hot rage caused by trying to use the internet while living in the country. A move to the country is, in broadband terms, like moving back to 2004. You used to complain about sluggish 10mb speeds, now you would sell your firstborn for something over 1mb. You’ve taken lots of nice photos of sunsets over fields but you can’t upload them because the upload speeds never go over 30kb. The sweet irony of this is that you need the internet more than ever, as your kids are now miles from their friends and you are miles from everything in the world. You feel so isolated that you almost consider switching back to the old version of the internet, Catholicism, with Bible stories instead of Snapchat ones, and hosting the Stations instead of your weekly Game Of Thrones-themed Google Hangout. Rubbish broadband isn’t the only difference from town to country, but it is the first one you will notice.

Hello vehicle: You may have felt you spent forever stuck in traffic when you lived in the city, but in the country you will spend even more time in your car, only navigating the shattered no-man’s land of potholes and subsidence that is Ireland’s secondary roads. In the city you can stroll to the shop for a pint of milk or to the pub for a pint of porter, whereas now you have to drive absolutely everywhere. You may think ‘well there’s always the bike’, but then you realise that the road is not wide enough for a bike and a car to pass each other, nor is it wide enough for a car, a milk truck, a combine harvester or a truckload of bales to pass. Incredibly, you might actually have been safer on a bike in the city, despite still facing a similar threat level to that of fighter pilots in the Second World War.

What’s that odour: The scents of the city are manifold – exhaust fumes mingled with overheating tarmac and the many flavours of vape juice being enjoyed by popcorn-lung aficionados. The country has a simpler odour – poo. In the city you come to believe that your food comes from supermarkets – in the country you are constantly reminded that food comes from the land, and that land sometimes needs nourishment in the form of poo, which was cleverly rebranded as slurry. You may feel like complaining about the smell, but remember that this is like moving in next door to a fat rendering plant and then complaining about the smell of fat being rendered. Also, the fact you now have to look after a septic tank means you don’t really feel like sitting in judgement on the poor cows. It is also why you give a sizeable-yet-shame-filled tip to the poor lads who come to drain it twice a year.

Power cuts: If the power goes out in the city, tens of thousands of people instantly start harassing the ESB to fix it. In the country you usually walk outside your house and peer across a field to your neighbour’s place to see if they have the lights on. If they don’t, you go back inside and tell everyone to stop flushing the toilet, as no power now means no water. This is because you now live in the country and own a pump and are learning the hard lesson that water is not a god-given right, but something that actually costs money. Who knew?  The biggest problem in a power-cut (apart from flushing of ‘solids’) is loss of your already patchy internet, as you now can’t even tweet about how you are basically living in Black ‘47 and no human has ever suffered as you have for the 25 minutes before the power comes back.

Céad míle suspicion: With your Dublin reg, jackeen accent and big city confidence, it will be assumed that you have moved to the country under the witness protection programme, or are just on the run from one of those drug lords with stupid nicknames, like The Marsupial, or Fathead. You think your move is going to be like Green Acres or Cider With Rosie, but your interactions with the locals will be more like the warm reception given to the war hero in Ryan’s Daughter, or the wealthy investor in The Field. Why not endear yourself to the locals by putting up signs along the road about speeding, complaining about the smell of slurry, or the noise of crow bangers, or threatening to shoot the next cow you find in your garden? That should keep the numbers down the next time you host the Stations.

Country living is not for everyone. Life is just as hectic, but in different ways, much like in Withnail & I. People are the same wherever you go, so while the notion of escaping the rat race to north Leitrim might sounds appealing, you turn your back on all the many positives that city life offers. After all, if urban living was such a nightmare, two thirds of our population wouldn’t be crowding into it.

Hyde and seek

Augustine of Hippo knew a few things about lying. In about 395AD he wrote a couple of books on the subject, and in one, De Mendacio (On Lying), he detailed a compendium of the reasons people lie. As listicles go, it stands pretty strong to this day: Here they are, in order of descending severity:

  • Lies in religious teaching
  • Lies that harm others and help no one
  • Lies that harm others and help someone
  • Lies told for the pleasure of lying
  • Lies told to “please others in smooth discourse”
  • Lies that harm no one and that help someone materially
  • Lies that harm no one and that help someone spiritually
  • Lies that harm no one and that protect someone from “bodily defilement”

We are all guilty of at least one or two categories, but within the whiskey business, the third last is prevalent – lies that harm no-one and help someone make a buck. But there is always harm to a lie, no matter how benign it is.

I can still remember the moment I realised Hyde Whiskey did not own a distillery. It was at a whiskey society meeting in Midleton to taste the soon-to-be-launched Mano A Lamh, and I got chatting to Fionnan O’Connor about some of the new brands popping up. I was still learning about whiskey and, in retrospect, I really hadn’t a clue. I foolishly assumed that if a whiskey said it was from west Cork, then that was where it was from. Fionnan pointed out that it was Cooley stock and was thus from about 200kms north of west Cork. I was confused – why would they claim to be from west Cork when they weren’t? Why would anyone bother lying about such a trivial thing? Surely you let the product speak for itself, rather than dressing it up as something else, right? 

A quick google brought me the information that I needed – Hyde Whiskey’s parent firm was Hibernia Distillers, a convenient name for a firm that had no distillery. Back then Hibernia was registered to an office in Blackpool (they since changed address to Innishannon, albeit it under the Irish version of the name). The Blackpool office was the same space occupied by a food marketing firm named Bullseye Marketing. Bullseye is owned by Conor Hyde, director of Hibernia Distillers. 

The whole concept of food marketing is an odd one – surely we shouldn’t need to have food pitched at us with some sort of goofy narrative? Wrong. Apparently we need our smoothies to be Innocent, our low sugar soft drinks to be split by gender into diet and Max, and for our whiskey to come with an entirely fictitious story that has no bearing whatsoever on the liquid within. This is because we are easily influenced by brand messages, and so it was that I learned the hard lessons of what Hyde Whiskey – and a lot of whiskey marketing generally – was about.

The bulk of the initial publicity for the brand placed Hyde No. 1, their first release, squarely in west Cork. The local newspapers were delighted to announce that the whiskey was produced in the region. But as any food marketing guru knows, ‘producing’ means anything from actually making to simply packaging.

As for their much touted ageing in west Cork, further scrutiny showed that Hyde actually only finished the whiskey in Cork for six to nine months. So for ten years, this Cooley single malt was aged in their facility up the country, and then, according to Conor Hyde, it was decanted into their sherry cask to be finished in west Cork for less than a year.

Herein lies problem number one – where is Hyde whiskey from? The first Hyde release spent ten years at Cooley’s maturation facility, then an alleged nine months in Cork. I would suggest that it is not from west Cork, nor is it of west Cork. It is a Cooley malt, plain and simple. But no-one wanted to take Hyde to task over this initial claim. Whiskey bloggers are happy to get free samples and will regurgitate whatever you tell them to keep the booze flowing. Similarly, most people who work in the media have vague liberal arts degrees and are rarely experts in a single thing, least of all whiskey, so there are few journalists who would ask ‘are you sure this is actually from Cork?’

In the initial stages the Hydes put out the message that they were planning to build a distillery, but a quick check of the Cork County Council website informed me that this was not the case. They also claimed Skibbereen as their base, presumably because they used the warehouses of West Cork Distillers to finish their whiskey. However, with a brand like this which operates with so little clarity, who really knows.

Then there are the tweets. Photos of bottles of Hyde randomly sitting in fields around west Cork, with constant reassurances that the temperate air of west Cork was perfect for ageing whiskey. Unless it has the same climate as Taiwan – the secret to Kavalan’s success – I very much doubt that the alleged six-to-nine months the whiskey spent in temperate Cork had any impact, other than the fact it was in a sherry cask. Thus far, all of this was fairly standard whiskey marketing – create an illusion, lather, rinse, repeat. And then there was this tweet:

This was the point where I moved from seeing Hyde as just another whiskey brand to something else. It is a tweet with a screengrab of text attached – thus created in a two step process – so it is highly unlikely this could be written off as a typo, clerical error, enthusiastic marketing or anything other than a barefaced lie. It was later deleted when I asked where in west Cork their whiskey was distilled.

But I realised that it wasn’t just the whiskey that was coming with a backstory. In interviews in which Conor Hyde talked about how his family were vintners who owned a tavern. Unless he grew up in an adaptation of Dick Whittington, I would suggest his family were not vintners who owned a tavern – they were publicans who owned a pub. But this is the semantic quagmire of food marketing. Everything is handcrafted, artisan, bespoke, boutique, and craft; terms that have been rendered completely meaningless by marketeers. It is within these blurred lines that many brands operate, because they simply don’t want you to know much about what you are eating or drinking (other than what they tell you about it).

Hyde also tweeted this, presumably to illustrate their craft credentials:

 

They also deleted this tweet after someone pointed out that their product was previously owned by Beam Suntory. 

Then there were the interviews with Conor Hyde, such as this one from the Irish Examiner. Some samples:

So this is a limited, premium product?

We’re not going for high volume low margin.

We are going for a very premium, very top-end whiskey. We’ve spent a lot of time developing this in limited edition small batches, with very special wood.

So we’re trying to command a higher price point in the marketplace given the amount of tender loving care that goes into developing the whiskey before we sell it on the market place.

 

  • It’s a ten year old single malt, not exactly the holy grail of whiskeys. While there are many ten year old single malts that I love, Hyde’s is not exceptional, and is sold at a price point that is almost double what it should be. Also, ‘small batch’ is total nonsense as Cooley rattled out malt at a wicked speed in the biggest batches they could manage. This isn’t to say that their product is inferior – they made some cracking whiskeys over the years, but pretending they were some bespoke, boutique operation is misleading.

 

You just won the Best Irish Whiskey in The World award in San Francisco too?

I have to say that we are absolutely delighted to have won the award. It’s a very prestigious award.

The San Francisco Spirit Awards are the Oscars of world spirits. You have over 1,800 entrants from around the world and everybody strives to win an award at this competition.

You have some of the most respected judges from around the world too. These people are aficionados of whiskey, they know what they’re tasting. There were over 200 Irish whiskeys entered into the competition, so we were over the moon when we won.

 

  • Let’s put this one down to confusion on the part of the journalist (more of that later) – they didn’t win best Irish whiskey, they won best Irish single malt. Redbreast 21 took the top spot for Irish whiskey that year. As for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition – this is how they discern which is the best:

Producers must submit their product for the competition and pay a fee ($475 for 2013) for its evaluation. Not all entries are given awards (those not judged of sufficient quality are not given an award) but most receive a bronze, silver, or gold award from the tasting panel. The fact that most entrants receive an award likely involves some degree of self-selection, as the spirits producers choose whether to enter each of their brands in the competition and pay to receive a rating.

Like Feis Maitiu, almost everyone gets a medal. I’m sure the Apostle of Temperance would be delighted.

 

How do you break through into a crowded Irish whiskey market globally?

Well, we’ve positioned the brand as Hyde’s President’s Cask, so we are positioning it as a presidential quality whiskey.

It’s one of the best whiskeys to come out of Ireland as far as we are concerned.

We take so much time choosing wooden casks from all over the world to justify that positioning. We bring in empty Oloroso sherry casks from southern Spain, which are handpicked and very carefully graded. So then we take our whiskey, which has been maturing in bourbon casks for 10 years, and put them into the sherry casks for a further six to eight months. That’s what makes it so special and that’s what makes it such a premium product and so presidential.

  • Again, none of this makes Hyde whiskey special. In fact, it is all fairly standard. As for presidential, who knows what that is meant to mean, although given how Trump has risen to power using fake news and gaslighting, he might just be right. But this is my favourite bit:

So what makes Irish whiskey so different to any other?

People generally describe Irish whiskey as smoother whiskey. When you drink Irish whiskey you get a lovely warm glow inside your tummy.

With something like a scotch whiskey it’s a peated whiskey, which is made using a different technique.

They actually smoke the whiskey and you get that warm or hot sensation in your throat or your mouth just before it goes down.

It has a bit more fire in the mouth kind of feel to it. Whereas Irish whiskey is actually growing really rapidly around the world because it’s so smooth.

It goes down so easily and has a lovely mellow gentle finish to it as opposed to a more fiery finish that you might get with a scotch.

  • Now I am no expert, but this sounds to me like he either thinks he is talking to someone who doesn’t know a thing about whiskey (he possibly is) or he doesn’t really know what he is talking about. Disparaging Scotch with inaccurate claims about how they ‘actually smoke the whisky’ and that somehow it burns your mouth is bizarre and unhelpful. As for the ‘Irishness’ of the liquid – Hyde whiskey is actually closer to a Speyside whisky than anything – sherry finished, double distilled single malt. But at 70 euro a bottle, it is an overpriced, relatively dull Speysider. 

    But however confusing and misleading that interview was, the best was yet to come. I heard the Sunday Business Post was doing an extensive feature on whiskey, so I picked up a copy. This was what greeted me:

That is Conor Hyde, who, once again, does not own a distillery, or a warehouse, or a maltings, or anything other than a brand. Why was he even included in the interview, along with people like John Teeling, Mark Reynier, Bernard Walsh and Peter Mulryan? These are people who chased this crazy dream of becoming distillers, putting their livelihoods on the line. How is he even on the same page as them?  There are many, many people in Ireland right now who are doing really interesting things in the distilling world, so why did the ‘they-actually-smoke-the-whiskey’ guy get a cover shot? But I’m delighted to report that the feature went downhill from there.

Here’s a shot of the interview so you know I’m not making this up.

Here is the transcript in italics, with a few clarifications by me:

One distillery taking that advice is Hyde Distillery in Roscommon, which was opened by Conor Hyde and his brother Alan in 2014.

  • At least it has one hell of an opening line. Hyde do not own a distillery in Roscommon or anywhere else. The only connection to Roscommon is the fact that former President Douglas Hyde – after whom the whiskey brand is purportedly named – was from Roscommon. It seems likely that this is what we in print media would call ‘a production error’. You might call it a fuck up. More on this later.

For Hyde, the key to good Irish whiskey is not so much in the distilled whiskey but the flavour imparted during the ageing process.

Like Walsh and Teeling, the Hydes spent a big chunk of their budget on selecting the right barrels for their whiskey to age in.

“Other potential entrants [into the whiskey industry] focus on manufacturing,” Conor Hyde says. “But it’s well proven that 80 per cent of the taste of whiskey comes from the wood.”

  • At least this has a bit more clarity, as Hyde are obviously less concerned with manufacturing.  This is because – once again – they do not own a distillery, warehouse, maltings or anything that has anything to do with actually making or maturing whiskey. Hyde also put a lot of effort into talking up the influence of wood on their website  – more on that later in a section titled ‘Plagiarism’.  If 80% of a whiskey’s flavour came from the cask, every whiskey would taste the same, as everyone buys casks from the same sources. To suggest that elements like barley, yeast, distilling itself and warehouse location have a mere 20% impact on the finished product is nonsense. Again, I’m no expert, but even I know that you are clutching at straws when you make a wild claim like that.

That makes it vital to select the right barrels and the right location for ageing, according to Hyde, who ages their whiskey in west Cork.

“It’s very temperate there,” he says, “which makes it perfect for ageing. It’s not too hot and not too cold. [In the barrels] the whiskey breathes in and out. When the wood gets cold, the whiskey retracts: when it gets hot, it migrates back into the wood. It’s that ebb and flow in and out of the oak that gives whiskey its flavour.”

  • Almost all of Ireland is very temperate. West Cork is no different. Exactly where in west Cork Hyde claim to finish their whiskey is a mystery – as I said before, I can only assume it was in the warehouses of WCD, but again, who knows. All we know for certain is that – once again – Hyde do not own a distillery or warehouses.

The Hydes’ whiskey sits in a variety of different barrels as it ages.

“We’re very much focussed on the finishing of the whiskey more than the distillation,” he says. “We put an awful lot of effort into sourcing unusual casks. We have dark rum casks from Barbados. We bring in sweet Oloroso sherry casks in southern Spain. We bring in Burgundy casks from the Cote d’Or near Dijon in France, [which is] very well known for the pinot noir wine grape. We also have your industry standard bourbon casks from Kentucky.”

It’s not cheap. A wooden cask can cost up to 800 to buy and ship, Hyde says, and the requirement to do due diligence is high.

“There are some dodgy cask sellers out there. You have to be careful with your wood.” This is to ensure it hasn’t been denatured by over-use.

  • Well, at least he is almost being honest by saying they focus more on finishing than on distillation, which is true as – and I’m going to keep drilling this point home – they don’t own a distillery or warehouses.  

Hyde Whiskey has won several awards for its whiskey and is exporting to over 18 countries, Hyde says, and it is well established in the US in particular.

“We’re in more than 25 states, and we have a full-time person on the ground in Chicago,” he says.

For Hyde, the start-up whiskey companies need to make sure that they nail those export markets properly.

“What you’re looking for is an exclusive exportation partner we could work with, who would understand and care for the brand, and position and market it as carefully as we would ourselves,” he says.

“Important advice to any brand: very carefully pick your distributor and importation partners in each country. They’re your representative on the ground, you have to trust they’ll do the right thing by your product.”

  • Uh huh. Distribution is important, yet, speaking as a consumer with zero links to the industry, I would say ‘not lying to the consumer’ is also important.

Hyde is in the process of distilling its own spirit, while it sells blended and aged versions of whiskey it has bought from other distillers.

“Our own probably won’t be ready for another year. Even then, we probably won’t release it for six years, because we have a high quality threshold,” he says.

  • There are two possibilities here – either Hyde are distilling by contract, whereby you pay a distillery to work from a mashbill you give them, then use your casks and age the spirit in someone else’s warehouse; or they are not doing that at all and this is more of the empty posturing that now seems to be part of the brand. If they are distilling by contract, then it is a shame that they can’t be upfront about it. But at this stage, Conor Hyde had passed a point of no return, and really couldn’t just say ‘we are independent bottlers and we are going to do interesting things over the coming years’. But the next part is the best:

His advice for other aspiring distilleries is simple.

“Making it is only half the battle. They have to all be cognisant that it’s not that hard to make whiskey – the hard part is selling and marketing.

  • “It’s not that hard to make whiskey”. It’s hard to underestimate how offensive this comment is – to barley growers, to maltsters, to distillers, to blenders, to just about everyone who works in whiskey. The obvious response to this outrageous comment is simply: If it’s so easy, why the fuck aren’t you making any? Why aren’t you doing this simple thing, rather than pretending you are? As for ‘the hard part’ being ‘selling and marketing’ – he isn’t entirely wrong. Marketing is a huge component of a whiskey’s success (or lack thereof), and it is precisely because marketing is such an all-consuming monster that we have ended up with Walter Mittys like Hyde Whiskey.

“Irish whiskey is only 5 per cent of the world market. We’re not going to go from 5 to 15, as projected in the next ten years, unless we’re strong branded quality products. The last thing we want to be doing is fighting ourselves on the world stage, with people undercutting each other’s commodity whiskey.”

  • Strong brands are important. So is honesty and transparency. As for ‘undercutting’ – if he means offering value for money, I would contend that consumers want value for money: If they don’t get it in the Irish whiskey category, then they will do what I do and just buy a lot of Scotch. I bought a 22 year old single malt from Linkwood for 55 euro on Master of Malt. Hyde No. 1 – a middle-of-the-road, ten-year-old single malt – is 60-70. It’s all very well to say we should all don the green jersey and arrange some sort of cartel, but consumers will get wise, just as they will get wise to the fact that almost all of the whiskey coming out of Ireland right now is from only three distilleries.  

On the day the SBP interview was published, there was an ensuing tweetstorm. First off was the claim that Hyde had a distillery in Roscommon. This was their explanation:

Saying they had ‘a distilery in Roscmom’ is a typo. Making a false claim like the one in the article either means that the journalist got it badly wrong, or he was lied to. This was the journalist’s bristling, unhelpful response to a query:

I’m going to assume that he simply got it wrong. Happens to the best of us, but usually you just put your hands up and admit it, rather than being snide.

In the flurry of tweets that followed, there were two opposing views, which largely sum up the entire debate around whiskey marketing. On one side, people involved in the industry – through marketing, sales, etc – defended Hyde, rightly pointing out that Jameson bottles still say Bow Street, Tullamore DEW says Tullamore, despite neither brand being made in those places.

On the other side of the argument were ordinary consumers who don’t like lies. This particular aspect of whiskey marketing and the ensuing row over it was brilliantly captured by drinks writer Sku in his analogous piece on cottage cheese. It simply asks – does all this detail about provenance actually matter? To many, it does not, but to me it does – I like to know where things come from, and I also think credit should be given where credit is due. Which brings me on to: 

Plagiarism

As I said, Hyde are pushing the wood angle, and their website has a large section devoted to their ‘intimate’ knowledge of casks and wood. Having worked as a copy editor and a copywriter, I learned to spot plagiarism. You can tell when someone copies and pastes work into their own – it lacks flow, and is disjointed.

When I browsed through Hyde’s extensive section on wood, it became immediately clear that it was lifted from somewhere else. I found the source, The Drinking Cup, and contacted Ben, the person who created it. He was terribly pleasant about their theft, even going so far as complementing what Hyde had done with his visuals, admiring how they had redesigning basic diagrams he sourced online and giving them new graphical life. But even though his work was open-source, he still sought a credit for his site, and contacted Hyde to ask for it. A few days later, an unsurprisingly small-batch credit was plonked in at the end of the text:

Hyde had lifted about 80% of Ben’s work with zero credit given. This isn’t just lazy, it is also stupid. To avoid this all they had to do was either put in a credit, or rewrite the copy, as they did for one of their other sections:

I never want to say any firm are ‘just’ bottlers – there is a fine tradition of indie bottlers like Cadenhead etc in the UK and in ten or 20 years we are going to need them here to create a vibrant whiskey scene for consumers. But Hyde have devalued the role of the bottler simply by pretending to be more. They don’t own a distillery, or a warehouse, yet they still send out messages like this:

There comes a point in this where I have to ask: Is it just me? Am I the only one who is bothered by this? Am I the only one who isn’t clicking his heels with joy at each new poorly disguised bottling of Midleton/Cooley/Bushmills? There is a lot of talk about a rising tide lifting all boats, but there is a difference between that and a tsunami of brands that lie with each breath they can muster. How many Irish whiskey drinkers in the promised land of the US realise there is no Hyde distillery? Or that every Irish brand save Dingle comes from one of the same three places? I can still remember when I realised Hyde were lying, and now, two years down the line, I clearly have not forgotten.

We talk about whiskey tourism – what if people want to visit the Hyde distillery? Or their warehouse? Or if an American tourist wants to visit any of the other brands who refuse to admit that beyond an office somewhere, they actually don’t exist? We need to get real. Putting out a sourced whiskey when you are trying to build a distillery is one thing – you have a goal, you are a bottler with a view to being a distiller. But if you are simply putting out a sourced whiskey, then you are an independent bottler and you need to accept that, work within it and be clear and straight with the consumer. Look at Lambay whiskey; at least they are trying something new – Cognac finish on sourced stock, with plans for island maturation. They got creative, rather than just talking shit at people and sending out misleading messages. 

You may be reading this and thinking that I am an angry jerk – which, by the way, I am – but I also care about the Irish whiskey category. People who understand whiskey are going to take notice of high-profile brands like Hyde, and what will they say? Well, here’s a few whisky writers, bloggers and journalists discussing the brand:

People are getting wise. Leslie Williams on FFT.ie made this point: “Looking at a bottle of say Hyde Whiskey or similar you would swear they had their own boutique distillery that has been operating for decades. I genuinely feel this is misleading and will come back to bite us if consumers feel they have been conned.  In Scotland and the US it is perfectly normal to sell whisky that has been purchased and aged somewhere other than the original distillery – honesty should be the key.”

But ultimately, what Conor Hyde has done is not that different from many others. He read the market and acted accordingly. He knew that if you had a distillery, your brand had more credibility. He knew place was important, so he chose west Cork for his narrative. He knew the brand needed a backstory so he co-opted Douglas Hyde into it. He did what many other brands do, but almost from the start, he went too far. And what has happened to him since? He has gone on to create an incredibly successful brand that is selling like hot cakes.

Augustine of Hippo’s list suggested that lying for material gain with no harm caused wasn’t that important. Whether or not there will be harm by this brand – and the many others following the same well-worn path of subterfuge and obfuscation – to the Irish whiskey category remains to be seen. But for me, and plenty of other consumers like me, we want whiskey and honesty in equal measure.

Scarla Poochie, Iceland flights, oasis reunion, adam clayton

Somehow I still have a weekly column in the Indo. My folks would be proud and probably slightly ashamed, as they usually were.

 

I haven’t had the most glittering career, but I am comforted by the fact that while I may not have scaled the giddy heights of high office, at least I’m not Anthony Scarramuchi. The Mooch, a modern day Icarus (or possibly Dickarus), apparently flew too close to the giant orange orb currently occupying the Oval Office. He spent a mere ten days as White House comms director, during which time he actually managed to be even more zany than his predecessor, Sean ‘Spicey’ Spicer.

Looking like a Mafiosa version of Steve Guttenberg, Mooch’s lack of understanding of the role became apparent just a few days in when he gave what he claims was not an interview with the New Yorker, in which he ranted in the style of Scarface’s Tony Montana about killing leakers and how Steve Bannon attempts to fellate himself. It is presumed it was a metaphor, as Bannon doesn’t look like he could tie his own shoes.  

The question now is, who will they get to replace him? The world waits with baited breath to see what deranged goon President Caligula hires next to oversee America’s steady descent into madness. I hear OJ Simpson might be available soon.

The news that WOW Air are suspending their Cork-Iceland flights came as sad news, although hardly surprising. Why would you want to go there when you can have all its benefits in our beloved capital city, Dublin. Marvel at nine euro pints, gasp at the Northern Lights of O’Connell Street as you stumble back to your hotel at 3am, and be enthralled by ancient geysers blowing hot air about Dublin’s superiority in the GAA. You can even bring back a memento of your trip with a tasteful bag for life full of traditional Icelandic party food, as recommended by Peter Andre and Kerry Katona. Sher where would you be going.

The will-they/won’t-they saga that is the possible Oasis reunion drags on, to the point where you have to say that surely it is time to let it go. Some moments are best left in the past, as evidenced by my friends who went to the Guns N Roses reunion gig in Slane. Twenty years ago they didn’t have a care in the world, crowdsurfing and moshing like there was no tomorrow. This time round they complained about site access and wait times, as infrastructure and well planned logistics became more important than chugging pints and forming human pyramids. The message was clear: Rocking out is great, but so is lying on a sofa eating nachos watching Love Island.

By the time I’m 57 I plan on having an empty nest. My youngest child will have turned 18 and I plan on drop kicking them into an unforgiving world and turning my house into an Air BnB or possibly a cannabis grow house, depending on which is more tax efficient. It was a thought that crossed my mind when I heard that Adam Clayton and his wife had a baby. Clayton is perfect dad material, as through his time with U2 he has learned how to deal with youngsters (Larry), how wrapping up warm and wearing a wooly hat is important in all weather (Edge) and how to deliver a long, tedious lecture about personal responsibility to disinterest teenagers (Bono).

I often see my role in my house as being like the bass player in a rock band – my wife is the vocalist (obviously), my feral sons are like Animal from the Muppets on drums, while my teenage daughter is on lead guitar, performing screeching solos any time anyone tries to get her to keep time. I’m just there in the background, dum-de-dumming away quietly, apart from the occasional prog-rock style solo when electronics are left on overnight. Despite my less than stellar role in the family, I think that this period of my life is my Joshua Tree, when I am my best self. I’m sure that despite my idle thoughts of the bliss of an empty nest, come the time I will be desperately trying to get the band back together and roll out the classics, like The Time Dad Thought He Had Broken His Arm In The Waterpark And It Turned Out To Just Be A Bruise, or Dad’s Attempt At Lasagna Makes Everyone Sick. Hopefully they will want to get back together, even once or twice a year, and they don’t sue me for royalties for turning them into fodder for a column.

Le quo

Nobody does formal anymore. So here’s a thing I did for the Indo on that theme:

 

The French are a stylish bunch. Perhaps it’s the tan, the teeth, the hair, but they can switch from haute couture to pret a porter with enviable ease. Just look at their First Lady.  Brigitte Macron was recently photographed casually dressed in jeans whilst deep in conversation with Bono and Rihanna at the Élysée Palace. Her bold, relaxed look shows that we have finally entered the Casual Age.

Decorum and its tedious formalities are now a thing of the past – no more will we be shackled to the kitchen table writing thank you, Christmas or birthday cards, as a casual ‘cheers’ or belated ‘like’ on Facebook now covers all. This is great news for Ireland, a nation that struggled with formality, as evidenced by Ronan O’Gara’s encounter with Queen Elizabeth II, when he suffered that social crisis of not knowing what to do with his hands, so he stuffed them in his pockets, like a disinterested car salesman who had already hit his monthly target and didn’t really want to have to talk to anyone.

So we can all relax, and undo the twine holding up our trousers a little. But what if we relax too much? How do we navigate this potential minefield of relaxed weddings, funeral selfies and tuxedo T-shirts? Let’s look:

  1. Funerals: You have lost a loved one. You are heartbroken, but this is still an opportunity for you to create some content. The general consensus is that taking selfies at funerals is probably not ok, even when your post is signed off with a touching message like ‘smdh’ (shaking my damn head) to show how grief stricken you are. Even in today’s relaxed world, leaning across a coffin with a selfie stick to try and capture grandma’s pan-stick coated death mask while you do ‘peace ‘n’ pout’ is still a no-no. Perhaps try to limit your snapping to the church steps, as you attempt to channel ‘soft grunge’ looks for your Instagram followers. But some things don’t change, so as always you don’t want to go too formal in your funeral attire here, lest you look like someone who thinks they might be getting a little taste of the estate, despite most of it being headed straight for that nursing home where grandma spent her final decades. You know, the one down the road from your house that you never visited.
  2. Weddings: Wearing jeans in the Elysee Palace is one thing, but it’s not like she was hosting a world leader, despite what Bono might claim on his CV.  Weddings are still formal events, and thus showing up to one in your best indigo jeans is improper and impractical, as once you embrace the bride your jeans will leave a Shroud Of Turin style print across her lower half. Of course, it’s entirely possible she is wearing hotpants, what with it being some sort of permanent casual Friday nowadays. Another sign of our impending social apocalypse is the rise of the wedding barbecue. No, not the one held the day after – an actual BBQ on the day, held instead of a five course banquet. Of course this sort of thing will never take off here, for even if you followed the example of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, and commissioned ten thousand terracotta statues of the child of Prague to be buried in the back garden the day before the big event, it will still absolutely hammer down rain, as this is the perfect storm for inviting rain – a barbecue on a wedding day in Ireland.
  3. Birthdays: Gone are the days of the birthday card, or even having to remember when a person’s birthday is, as Facebook has annihilated any real bonds of friendship you might have once enjoyed. Ever since MySpace allowed you to rank your top friends, your closest pals have become feuding chieftains trying to gain the succour of you, their digital warlord. Come your birthday, the automatic Facebook reminder goes out, and everyone piles in to wish you a very happy birthday, all 780 of your friends, even though you are fairly sure you actually only have two actual friends, and both of those are analog ones who send you a humorous yet highly insulting card from the other side of the world. The Facebook birthday wish is a godsend to the cheapskate – ie, most of us – as you no longer have that uncomfortable moment when you realise you should probably stick a One4All voucher for a tenner in with the card. As usual, America is the world leader in casual birthday wishes, with new chief of staff Anthony Scaramucci congratulating his estranged wife on the birth of their son via text message. America is also mastering the art of the casual goodbye, as President Trump announced that Reince Priebus – who despite his name is apparently human and not a type of neolithic crustacean – was departing office via three tweets. Hopefully when he nukes North Korea he will let us all know via DM.
  4. Introductions: When people hear this word they most likely think of Plenty Of Fish, Tinder or Grindr, but there was a time when people were introduced face to face in a formal setting rather than being introduced groin to groin in a Holiday Inn. First impressions still count –  when meeting someone for the first time, do attempt to make eye contact and attempt some sort of hand gesture, perhaps a firm handshake, limp high five or awkward fistbump. Open by asking them how they are, before launching into a probe of their online influence, platforms they use, and whether or not you can use them to leverage your brand. Remember – a stranger is just a follower you haven’t muted yet.
  5. Work: The rise of the tech start-up has shifted all the rules about how we work. Apart from the meaningless Nadsat that now makes up management speak (hey Chad, some great blue sky thinking with that ultraviolence, real horrorshow!), we no longer know what to wear to work – the seat of that Penney’s three-piece suit won’t withstand daily trips down the slide to the canteen, nor will it withstand you struggling to get out of an oversized beanbag after playing Call Of Duty during what was meant to be a business meeting. Dress like you did in college, for, much like in college, you are not being paid, but are rather subsisting on ‘start up moxy’ and Red Bull. But be warned – modern workplaces are so relaxed that it is easy to get confused. If your work compound has all sorts of perks, like on site gym, full restaurant, healthcentre, and creche, you might not be working for Apple or Google and might have accidentally joined a cult, or at least a cult that isn’t either Apple or Google.
  6. The Dail: So you have been elected to the second highest office in the land (the highest is the local GAA county board and/or parish council, obviously), and are burdened with the knowledge that our people struggled under centuries of hardship just to get to the point where we could take part in the democratic process. To honour their fight, and show respect to this high office – and fittingly high salary – that you now hold, what do you wear? Well, have you considered a sleeveless T-shirt? Possibly a faded, slightly tatty one, the sort of thing a charity shop wouldn’t take? Because our countless fenian dead would like nothing better than to see our parliament filled with people who look like Balearic rave wizards. Honour their sacrifice by dressing like a homeless shaman, despite earning three times the average industrial wage.

Brigitte Macron’s jeans may signal a relaxing of the old order, but in a very French, very stylish way. Somehow it seems unlikely that Michael D will be answering the door of the Aras in a tracksuit any time soon, or that any of us showing up to an interview in a Minions onesie will get us a job. As digital interactions supplant human ones, there is even more value to be placed on going to the trouble of writing a card, making a phone call, or just having manners. We may not need to doff the cap to all and sundry, but even in the age of informality, showing a little bit of respect will never go out of style.

Game Of Thrones, Alan Moore, Chester Bennington, Phil Collins

Last week’s column, today!

 

American Psycho is a difficult read. From its initial release more than a quarter of a century ago, it has divided readers with its jet-black satire, misogyny and violent nihilism. However, for many readers, it is the passages about Eighties pop music that can be the biggest challenge. At certain points in the novel, the protagonist directly addresses the reader with page after page of dull analysis of the music of Huey Lewis, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.

Reading A Song Of Fire And Ice, the series of books later adapted into TV juggernaut Game Of Thrones, is a little like this. Interspersed between the psychotic violence and political intrigue is a level of detail that, while enriching the realism of a book that needs sorely needs it given that it is filled with dragons, is intensely boring. Passages are given over to describing the stitching on tabards, ironwork on swords, and other details that you can’t help but feel are wasting time that could be spent reading Madame Bovary, or perhaps just reading more chapters about dragons incinerating people.  

For those who watch the show and never read the books, I quote Wildling character Ygritte — you know nothing. Nothing of the countless hours spent dragging your weary eyes through page after page of descriptive prose about the various qualities of a suit of armour, nothing of the interminable wait for the next book, and nothing of the fear that George RR Martin won’t actually finish the last two novels before, much like one of the characters in his books, he keels over dead, leaving his readers in limbo. It isn’t some elitist approach, where I tell you the books are better than the series – in fact, I would say they are at least equal. GRRM himself seems to think the same, since he has revealed the endings and major plot points of the final two as-yet-unwritten books to the producers of the TV show, which at least means that if the worst happens, we can get closure via the TV series without wading through entire chapters on needlework.

While Martin embraced the adaptations of his work, not every fantasy/sci-fi author is so open minded. Alan Moore’s sprawling graphic novels From Hell, Watchmen and V For Vendetta may have brought respect from the literary world, but their adaptations into film brought scorn from critics and, strangely enough, Moore himself. He washed his hands of many films of his work, refusing a credit and thus turning down a potential sum of several million dollars, countering that you cannot put a price on empowerment like that: To just know that as far as you are aware, you have not got a price. Moore – who has just announced he is starting work on the last chapters of his League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, part of which was also made into a really terrible film – may be a great British eccentric, but he seems to have figured out modern life’s great revelation; that money isn’t everything.

Chester Bennington’s death came as a shock. Aged just 41, the lead singer of Linkin Park had enjoyed some of the greatest success of any hard rock band in the last 20 years. On the outside, he had it all. But our idea of ‘having it all’ is largely shaped by the same capitalist nightmare that Brett Easton Ellis bloodily skewered in American Psycho – where money equals happiness. Ellis depicted a world without depth, where business cards and nouveau cuisine were all that mattered, soundtracking it with music that he found to be vacuous pop.

Little wonder then that Phil Collins was not best pleased by the inclusion of his music in the novel as a symbol of soulless commercialism, telling Q magazine: “”I didn’t read it. At the time, I just thought, ‘That’s all we need: glorifying all this crap. I’m not interested’.”

On the upside, Phil did like the film adaptation, saying that he thought it was ‘very funny’. Given that his classic track Sussudio is used in a scene where Jared Leto gets an axe buried in his head, we can probably assume he isn’t going to be releasing an album of 30 Seconds To Mars covers any time soon, or that Leto will be taking the lead role in a reboot of Buster. We live in hope.

Sportz, Dr Who, piano bars, robots

Completely lost all sense of who I am and what I am doing with this column, but here’s this anyway:

 

It’s been a busy season for us non-sports fans, as we struggled to avoid the all-encompassing maelstrom of the Lions tour. Normally we can avoid sports chat by simply explaining that we don’t have any real interest in sport, even though that usually is received with the furrowed brow and slight look of disgust that greets a statement like ‘I’m not into sports but rather do enjoy skinning live animals and making lampshades with them’.

An interest in sports is seen as vital to human existence, and especially so when the males of the species are involved. I have fond memories of going on a double date many years ago, where the other chap had obviously been told that I was not into sports, but was studying film in college. Clearly trying to find some middle ground that would normally be facilitated by sports, he spent 45 minutes talking about his favourite film; Event Horizon – a truly awful, derivative pile of space junk –  to the point where I really wished I could steer the conversation around to something less awful, like the repealing of Rule 42, or the finer points of sledging, or the Manson murders.

But big events like the Lions tour make sports chat unavoidable. You’d be there, nervously sipping from the office water cooler, when up pads a pride of Lions fans, ready to draw you into their yawning maw with the latest rumours out of the camp. Your eyes glaze over and you succumb to smiling and nodding and trying to chuckle at the right time, like one of the replicants undergoing the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner.

By the end of the conversation you all concur that you will be up early to watch the big game, while you secretly think ‘I will be up early for a Paw Patrol marathon with little people who will grow up as outsiders because their dad couldn’t teach them about sport’. But at least I will be able to teach them that a draw doesn’t mean everybody wins, it means nobody does. And that Event Horizon is a really terrible film.

Rejoice, people of the second city, for you are getting a piano bar. The latest addition to Cork’s nightlife will surely complement the aura of fading 1970s Americana created by the presence of about 20,000 donut shops in the city centre, whilst also bringing the je ne sais quoi of 1980s Leeson Street to the Rebel County.

Piano bars are a sort of nightclub for people who don’t like loud music, and who think waving your arms over your head whilst sitting down constitutes dancing. The venue, part of Rachel Allen’s new restaurant, will hopefully go down the same route as one of Europe’s great piano bars, the wonderfully titled Fingers Piano Bar in Edinburgh, a basement venue that welcomes you with its rich odours of urinal cake and desperation. There are few better places to enjoy an irony free singalong with Billy Joel’s classic The Piano Man, whilst also enjoying some mild frottage with a middle aged tax consultant. Fingers is the piano bar at the end of time, where it’s fin de siecle atmosphere comes off like a Graham Knuttel painting of an orgy at Mrs Dalloway’s. One can only hope that Rachel’s new venue attains this high standard of wanton sadness, or, failing that, that it offers good food in a nice atmosphere for those of us too old to go clubbing.

The announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor was roundly welcomed, with the exception of a few coots who screeched that ‘it’s DOCTOR Who, not NURSE Who’. Overall the news received a positive reaction, primarily because science fiction fans are a progressive bunch. Sure, they are reared on a diet of dystopian cityscapes where mankind stage their last stand against the dehumanising effects of technology, but they are also excited to see what the future holds, and accordingly embrace change.

Look at all the developments foreseen by sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke – everything from the cell phones, to the internet, to 3D printers. But just this week another one of his predictions – self destructive existentialist robots like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey – came true.

A shopping centre in Washington DC was faced with the grim task of fishing their new security robot out of the centre’s water feature after it threw itself in there. No cause for this bleak end has been suggested, although it’s quite possible it had to endure a double date in a piano bar where somebody assumed it would want to discuss Paul Blart Mall Cop for 45 minutes, when it just wanted to talk about the match. Or perhaps it simply couldn’t navigate steps, like one of those poor Daleks in Dr Who.

Allsuds

Somebody said something silly, so here’s this:

 

Kirsty Allsop knows a thing or two about home layouts. As the host of Location Location Location and Kirsty’s Homemade Home, she taught us all about where and how to live. So when she recently told us that having a washing machine in the kitchen was disgusting, we were a little taken aback.

Where is it meant to go we pondered; in the shed, with the dusty exercise bike and letters from ex boyfriends? Or just plonked in the garden next to the compost bin, so that when it goes into spin cycle it can roam free range around the lawn, possibly even nudging its way through the griselinia into the neighbour’s garden, only to tip over and disgorge its precious cargo of faded jocks into their coy carp pond?

Part of the confusion over where Kirsty wants us to stick the washing machine is explained by the fact that she is an aristocrat. Despite having a name that sounds like a brand of detergent, Allsop is actually the daughter of the 6th Baron Hindlip, making her the Honourable Kirsty Allsop. So while she may think we all have larders, back kitchens, ballrooms and vomitoria, her cries of ‘Let Them Eat Calgon’ have just caused confusion in this land of peasantfolk who feel blessed to have a kitchen, a living room with a giant TV in it, and, if you are very fancy, a shed with electricity.

However, there are some parts of the average household that are simply out of place in modern Ireland.

  1. The dining/ironing room: The dining room is great in theory, but in reality you eat standing over the kitchen sink, while your kids eat in their rooms, in front of the TV, or anywhere away from you, so you can’t see them blast peas out of their nostrils at each other, or feeding your terrible lasagne to the cat. Thus the dining room becomes a depository for a year’s supply of unironed clothes, and has all the class and sophistication of a cargo container loaded with fake charity collections, destined for Eastern Europe.
  2. The bidet: Now a relic of a bygone age, the bidet is not an object you stumble across all too often, unless you are buying a dilapidated starter home recently vacated by a dead person. The bidet started popping up in Irish homes in the 1970s, as the first whiff of the sexual revolution wafted across our shores. Irish people had no idea what this revolution actually entailed, but thought it best to be prepared anyway by having the cleanest arse possible, in much the same way you only wear clean jocks in case you get hit by a bus and end up in hospital. The bidet, like the toilet brush, asks more questions than it answers, and really needs its own bidet to clean itself with after use.
  3. Soft furnishing in the toilet: Again a throwback to the 1970s, when luxuriant plush synthetic fabrics were all the rage, carpet cleaners hadn’t been invented yet, and nobody really understood that the bubonic plague was being resurrected by having a carpet and velvet drapes in the toilet. Thank god for tiles and blinds, otherwise it would have been curtains for us all.
  4. The sacred heart: Sat up high in the kitchen, the sacred heart watches over your attempts at cooking, like a benevolent Mary Berry, quietly judging your collapsing souffles and crumbling marriage. Back in the olden times the sacred heart was vital for two reasons; one, Jesus needed to make sure you didn’t put too much sherry in the trifle, and two, the little flickering light was the best way to tell if there was a power cut or not. Now you know when there is a power cut because the WiFi goes and your children start talking to you for the first time in months.
  5. JFK painting: While the sacred heart keeps an eye on the kitchen, the JFK portrait is usually in the living room, as he was the patron saint of fun, so you don’t need to feel any shame having a drink and possibly attempting to flirt with an au pair beneath his squinty gaze. Morally, it’s the equivalent of having a framed picture of Dick Byrne from Glenroe in your living room.
  6. Ashtrays: Once upon a time you had to offer smokers an ashtray when they were in your home, in case they felt the urge to enjoy their delicious, obnoxious habit within the confines of your house, thereby shortening their life and damaging the health of everyone in your family, including the pug, who was struggling to breathe anyway. Now you welcome smokers to your home by making them stand outside in the icy dark, so they can get pneumonia or abducted by aliens. If you still have an ashtray in your home just for smoking guests, why not take your hospitality to the next level by offering them a tincture of laudanum or perhaps a toot on your opium pipe?
  7. Home bar: With all the drink driving legislation now making it impossible for a simple country person to have ten pints and four shorts before driving a combine harvester home whilst eating a steak at the same time, the home bar seems more and more practical. In reality, it makes you look like you have been barred from every pub in your province and thus are bitterly setting up your own pub, where you will drink mostly alone until your unclean taps give you e. Coli and you die alone, face down on a beer mat that has your own face printed on it.
  8. Entryway shoe storage: Having one of these inside your front door is a great idea, as we live in a country where, if it didn’t rain 300 days a year, we would be up to our knees in dog faeces. Every guest to your home comes with the gift of traces – or chunks – of dog turd on their shoes. However, even though you believe that the shoe rack gives your home a certain zen feel to it,  it actually makes your hall look like a poorly lit bowling alley, complete with moist insoles, lifting floorboards, and the faint odour of parmesan.  
  9. Fondue sets: Fon-don’t. A tin pot trough for government cheese or discount cooking chocolate that brings nothing to your home except mouth blisters and high cholesterol.
  10. Actual swimming pool: If it’s a medical necessity, you get a pass. Otherwise it is there solely so you can feel smug on the 12 days a year we get great weather on a weekend. The rest of the year it’s Davey Jones’s Locker for thousands of bugs and the odd rodent, unless you drain it and use it to store boxes and boxes of worthless AIB share certs.

Kirstie Allsop backtracked from her claim that washing machines in kitchens were disgusting by saying that if you had nowhere else to put them, then it was fine, which is like saying having a jacks in the kitchen is disgusting, but sher if there’s nowhere else to go then it probably makes sense. A washing machine in the kitchen isn’t a sign of sloth or an indication of a lack of food hygiene – it’s a simple necessity for most of us. Despite being an expert on location, poor Kirstie failed to notice just how out of place her comments were.