Kith and Kinsale

You can be happily married, or you can live in Kinsale. That’s what I was told by a fellow traveller on Cork Whiskey Society’s expedition to the Folkhouse in the Cork seaside town. Kinsale is like Cork’s riviera, a playground for the rich and shameless, and, if my guide was right, a hotbed of wife swapping and French-style casual affairs. How exciting, I thought. Sadly, my trip to the south county was not in pursuit of whatever name they might have for dogging in a 60ft ocean-going yacht, but the equally aristocratic pursuit of quaffing Cognac. The Malt Lane whiskey bar in the Folkhouse was our venue, and Hennessy was our brand. I met two of the descendants of Richard Hennessy two years ago, but somehow on the night I managed to come away with no free bottles of booze (or ‘bribes’ as they are also known), despite two stylish chaps from the Maison stage managing the entire interview. Contrast LVMH’s stinginess with the generosity of Irish drinks giant Pern O’Ricard, who send me booze with such regularity that I think they might be trying to kill me. Well, as they say in the media, what doesn’t kill you makes you drunker. 

Brandy can be made anywhere in the world. Just ask Chip Tate, the maverick distiller behind the legendary Balcones Distillery, who after departing the Texan distillery and signing a non-competition agreement, is now going to make Texan brandy. Cognac, however, can only be made in the region of France that bears its name, and only using three grape varieties. They make a poor wine, but once distilled the liquid comes to life. I was surprised at how similar to whiskey the three expressions we tried were – there were differences, obviously, but nothing like my reaction when I first tried an Ardbeg and spluttered ‘what the fuck is this?’

We were guided through the expressions which went from the entry level VS, to the XO, and on to the Paradis, which costs about a grand a bottle, and which I presume is what they use to water their plants with in Kinsale. It’s very hard to be objective about anything when you are being bombarded with information about how exclusive and special it is – tastings with brand ambassadors tend to be about creating an aura around their product. The Paradis was a good drink, but to my mind, the XO was superior, and not just because I could actually afford a bottle without selling a kidney.

There was also a rare Hennessy Irish whiskey on offer on the night. Released for the Asian market, it was a Cooley NAS and probably didn’t do much to raise the profile of Irish whiskey overseas (not that Jameson Grace did any better). The packaging also incorrectly referred to Ireland as being ‘west of England’, instead of saying England is to the east of Ireland.

The evening also featured ‘posh pork scratchings’ AKA a cheese board, great pints, great bants and a minibus journey expedited by two bottle of Jameson Black Barrel. Another great event by the Cork Whiskey Society, not that you get that from my incredibly blurry photos: 

Rebel Alliance

The Cork branch of the Irish Whiskey Society went independent, so to help promote them as they were out of the warm bosom of the national body, I wrote some guff for a freesheet here in Cork. They cut it down, but here it is in all its glory.

Cork people have trouble following orders. From siding with Perkin Warbeck in the War of the Roses, to siding with Roy Keane during the Battle Of Saipan, we have a long and illustrious history of rebellious, independent thinking – and a new chapter in that history has just been written. The Cork branch of the Irish Whiskey Society was set up three years ago to satisfy the growing interest in all things whiskey. Initially operating under the auspices of the Dublin branch, the Cork strand has since grown in numbers to the point where they felt it was time to fly the nest and become the fully independent Cork Whiskey Society.

The rebels leading this charge – Liam Murray, Eric Ryan, Ray Foley, Conor Ryan, Arney Gadegast and JP O’Riordan – hosted their inaugural event just before Christmas, and followed this up with their second tasting last Monday night in the Porterhouse – a bar that has strong links to whiskey, having been owned by the late Oliver Hughes of Dingle Distillery, and housed in the old warehouses of whiskey bonders Woodford Bourne, now part of the Mardyke entertainment complex. The host for the night was Tullamore DEW brand ambassador John Quinn, who was full of praise for the Cork society and the professionalism of their operation.

John talked the 40+ society members and guests through some of the whiskeys on the menu for the night, going into the history of each of them and throwing in a few anecdotes and legends while he was at it.

The Cork Whiskey Society spend a lot of time and effort (and obviously, money) sourcing rare whiskeys, and Monday night’s collection was no different – there was a 1950s Tullamore Dew blend, a 1960s Tullamore Dew blend, a selection of cask strength Tullamores (comprising of grain, pot, malt), the new 14 and 18 year old Tullamore expressions and a special treat from a private distillery cask.

The piece de resistance was the presence of the illusive Knappogue Castle 1951, which costs between 700 and 1,000 a bottle. The other whiskeys, while released under the Tullamore DEW brand, came from Bushmills in the North and Midleton in the deep south, but Knappogue Castle 1951 is a 36-year-old pot still from the original Tullamore distillery owned by the Daly family – a whiskey not many people will ever get to try. The Knappogue Castle 1951 that the Cork Whiskey Society tasted on the night was a family cask – in other words, one of the best single casks chosen by the Andrews family, founders of the Knappogue Castle brand. This makes it even rarer – with a value of more than a thousand euro.  
The night also featured other good fortunes, as there was a raffle of rare and collectible whiskeys, proving that as with all things Cork, independence is the way forward.