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.

Red dawn

dsc_0025

I’ve long been a fan of Writers Tears – even on a purely aesthetic level, I would sing its praises. Fortunate then that, beneath the surface, it is also a cracking whiskey. Walsh have recently released another expression in the family, and because every Irish family has at least one ginge in it, this one is titled Red Head.

This is billed as ‘a triple distilled single malt’ – so this is the point where I tap my nose, wink at you and mouth the word ‘Bushmills’. You furrow your brow, mis-lipread and think I mouthed ‘punch me’ and we end up in a tremendous donnybrook that makes the Táin Bó Cúailnge look like an especially weak episode of WWE Raw.

The official line is thus:

This exquisite, triple-distilled single malt is matured only in select handpicked Spanish sherry butts which have previously been seasoned with the finest Oloroso sherry. It is the influence of these scarce butts that give this expression of Writers Tears its signature rich, ruby hue and hence the moniker – ‘Red Head’. The expression is distilled without chill filtering as nature intended and at a distinctive 46% ABV.

dsc_0028

So what of my slightly-pissed tasting notes:

A real sweetness on the nose, lots of rich caramel (the foodstuff, not the colouring) in there, a little bit of clove and cinnamon. Palate-wise – more spices than I expected, a lot of really nice heat from that extra bit of ABV, definitely feeling that orange peel note touted in the official tasting notes. The finish is not the 2001: A Space Odyssey-style epic the notes suggest, but it has more of the spice and less of the sweetness from the nose. For less than €50, and a NAS to boot, you cannot expect some multi-layered labyrinth of flavour. I prefer the standard Copper Pot expression, and would still recommend it over this, but this Red Head still has more soul than your average ginger

Powers that be

My Movie

You just can’t go wrong with Powers. It is my drink of choice on the rare occasion that I actually get out for the night. It’s easily found in most pubs, is reasonably priced, and – to my palate – packs a bigger punch than it’s more popular sibling, Jameson. I always think of Indian food when I see how the average consumer views whiskey – most people think Indian food is basically varying degrees of ‘curry’. Similarly, many people think all whiskey is basically just Jameson, with minor variations. It’s only once you start to explore either that you realise a whole world, previously hidden to you, was there all along.

Jameson, like many blends, is the tikka masala or korma of the whiskey world – the most common introduction to the field, by virtue of its mellow smoothness and accessibility.  Powers is probably the dopiaza of the field – with more pot still whiskey, it carries a little more spice and an extra dimension than the world’s most popular Irish whiskey. Powers is a great next step into the whiskey world, but while I love it’s oldschool styling, the younglings might be put off by something that exhibits some of the visual keys of a tube of Euthymol. So pappa’s got a brand new bag:

My Movie

Not just a slick new label, but some lovely glasswork, as befitting the elder statesperson of Irish distilling.

Here are the official details:

An Irish Icon Awakes

Introducing the new look Powers Gold Label and Powers Three Swallow Release

With over 200 years of heritage distilled into each bottle, the new look Powers Gold Label is as definitive now as it always was – a pot still style whiskey of superior quality and  undisputed heritage since 1791.

While the aesthetic has changed, everything that makes Powers Gold Label the quintessential Irish whiskey has stayed exactly the same. True to the Pot Still style of the original distillery at John’s Lane in Dublin, Powers Gold Label is still triple distilled and matured in specially selected oak casks bursting with the same wonderfully complex and spicy flavor.

Powers reputation for excellence and innovation placed them at the forefront of Irish whiskey. In 1866, John Power and Son began bottling their own whiskey, which was unheard of before in Ireland, as it was usually sold by the cask. A gold label was entrusted on the bottle to signify premium quality and guarantee it had come directly from the John’s Lane Distillery, earning its name Powers Gold Label by loyal customers

The new look Powers Gold Label bottle will be officially unveiled at an exclusive event in Dublin in a specially created pop-up bar on Mercer Street, Dublin 2 on October 6th. The event will also give guests an exclusive preview and tasting of a brand new Powers Single Pot Still Whiskey expression, Powers Three Swallow Release ahead of its official launch later in the year.

As it enters the next phase in its iconic 224 year history, Powers Three Swallow Release, distilled and aged to perfection, is the 21st century embodiment of the traditional pure pot still whiskey style that has made Powers famous the world over.

Powers Gold Label is available in all leading on and off trade outlets, RRP €29.49

For further information, visit http://www.powerswhiskey.com or http://www.singlepotstill.com.

They have also brought on board this chap:

The new look carries a lot of the feel of the (incredible) John’s Lane Release:

It’s interesting to see Irish Distillers doing things like this – there are going to be a lot of competitors in the market over the next decade, so they are really donning the warpaint. Modernising a classic is a brave move, but shows they are confident that they will reach new consumers rather than alienating an older generation who may not initially recognise their beloved brand of yore. It also builds a strong visual link between the various members of the Powers family – be it entry-point blend, or luxuriant single pot still.

Speaking of old people: I recently got some wonderful agitprop in the post:

Yes, I should have dusted the bottle before I took the photos, but you get the idea – a rock-solid Irish classic has got a well-deserved makeover. Also, this confirms that I am officially in the pocket of Big Whiskey and cannot be trusted. Vote IDL! Impeach Cooley! Etc!

Of blood and whiskey

My Movie

There are things that I miss about being in a newsroom. The flow of insider information, the unprintable story behind the story, the kernels of truth you occasionally stumble across. It is like an addiction – once gone from it, you feel the withdrawal, you realise that you are now on the outside. But that isn’t necessarily the worst place to be, and definitely not in today’s media, where low sales are driving a race to the bottom, with everyone now chasing MailOnline and Buzzfeed’s business models of listicles, flesh, rage-bait and endless repetition.

However, one of the best aspects of journalism is the access it gives you; it places you in a position of extreme privilege – you get into places you shouldn’t, get offered things you don’t need, and generally can live a larger life than your wages would suggest. And this brings me, as almost everything does, to whiskey. Two years ago I was sent to an event in my hometown distillery called The Housewarming. It was being held to celebrate the massive expansion of the local distillery, but beyond that I didn’t know much else. I’m not sure what I expected, but nothing could have prepared me for the scale of it. Walking through the arch into the main courtyard behind the old distillery was like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything suddenly blooms into Technicolor, or the first time Aldous Huxley dropped acid; I was, like Adam, seeing all of creation for the first time. After The Housewarming, I was hooked, and have been writing about – and loving – whiskey ever since. And so it was that I was one of only a few journalists to be invited to both the launch of the new micro distillery and celebration of Jameson’s rocketing sales – five million cases plus in 12 months.

5 Mill Case Celeb Infographic

The events in the distillery are pretty special – almost everything they do is delivered in epic widescreen, and this was no different. The first part of the evening was the launch of the microdsitillery, which has seen distilling return to the old distillery site for the first time in 40 years. In fact, this year marked a triple celebration for IDL – parent firm Pernod Ricard turned 40, the new Midleton distillery turned 40, and Master Distiller Brian Nation also hit the big four-O (I also turned 40 in August, but since I was on the dole, celebrations were muted).

Over the past couple of years, an old storehouse was renovated and turned into a small scale distillery – but one which was still larger than many of the new independent distilleries being set up around the country in the past 24 months.

After a drinks reception in the courtyard, we were ushered in to hear IDL CEO Anna Malmhake, Tánaiste Joan Burton and ‘micro-distiller’ (note: not an actual term) Karen Cotter speak about the new venture. Anna acted as MC, and Karen spoke first, giving a speech about her path to this point, about the distillery, her mentors and what the future holds. Given her young age – just 24 – it was remarkable to hear her speak with such clarity and self-confidence. It reinforced my view that she will be a very bright star in Irish whiskey.

Then it was the Tánaiste’s turn. Deputy Burton spoke about how her ancestors were coopers, having grown up near Bow Street distillery, and also about how important it is to have gender balance in the workplace – be it at the cabinet table, or in the distilling world. Then it was over to the stills to switch them on, one by one, at which point they lit up in sequence.

DSC_0037

One….

DSC_0038

Two…

DSC_0040

Three!

Here is some low-grade audio of part of Karen Cotter and Joan Burton’s speeches:

Whilst there I chatted to local politicians Deputy Sandra McLellan of SF, David Stanton of FG and fellow journalist Tomás Clancy of the SBP. It was great to finally meet Tomás, as we both used to be part of the same media group, and also because he is a great ambassador for whiskey. I had seen him speak at Ballymaloe LitFest with Dave Broom and he was great, really knowledgeable without beating you over the head with it. Top guy, and the SBP is a great paper.

I also chatted to Richard Forsyth of the legendary pot still makers Forsyths – the Rolls Royce of post still makers. I had met him at the Spirit Of Speyside gala in May so it was nice to meet him on my home turf. Speyside is incredible – if you ever get a chance to visit there during the whisky festival, do so. You won’t regret it. The festival is one of the rare occasions when you can get a tour of the massive plant in Rothes. As a Scottish engineering firm their main business is oil and gas – which occupies about 300 of their staff, while the distilling operation has 60 or so working in it. There is an impressive drone flyover of the facility to give you an idea of what they do.

During the Spirit of Speyside festival the town also hosts a tattie bogle contest – local businesses create scarecrows and hang them off buildings or in windows. It is goddam terrifying, like something from Tales Of The Unexpected or The League Of Gentlemen.

 

Also there was Bernard Walsh, head of the IWA and one of the ‘real deal’ distillers in Ireland at the moment. He is the man behind Writer’s Tears, to my mind one of the stand-out Irish whiskeys, not just for its fresh aesthetic and great name, but just because it is a great drink. Bernard’s new pot stills arrived from Rothes last week, so it’s an exciting time for him, the culmination of many years of hard work.

Then it was off to the buses to be ferried down to Warehouse 11, a functioning storage facility that they had transformed into an incredible venue for the evening. About 350 guests filed in, greeted with Jameson whiskey sours, and then on a massive screen we were shown DJ Kormac talking about a commission he was given to create a track from the sounds of the distillery. He talked about his methods as they cut in footage from barley fields, and then he and singer Vivienne Long took to the stage to unveil their track. No wonder he is so skinny with all the frenetic work he does behind his electronics.

Then the screen lifted and we were in the venue proper, with names and tables assigned on a screen. Somehow I managed to locate mine, right up the front near the stage, perfect if i got carried away and wanted to start a moshpit or possibly stage dive onto some marketing people. The meal itself was spectacular, these massive outside events mean you need to set up mobile kitchens in the middle of nowhere and bus in an army of wait staff and chefs. Sometimes this can result in sub standard food, but not in this case; every part of the meal was incredible, really interesting food, beautiful, inspired presentation, and wait staff who were incredibly patient with my increasingly terrible banter: ‘Still or sparkling water sir?’ ‘Sparkling – LIKE MESELF’. I wonder how many times that poor person had to hear that jape in a single night. I was sat next to a member of the Irish Whiskey Association, which much like its Scottish counterpart is mainly involved in protection of intellectual copyright and maintaining the integrity of the Irish Whiskey brand. They make sure that you don’t end up with some low grade hooch from outside the country being passed off as ‘ye olde Oirish whiskey’ as it will devalue the entire category.

Also sat next to me was the Jameson Ambassador to Tokyo, a 23 year old Arts graduate from Wicklow, who possessed the rare (Irish) skill of being able to speak fluent Japanese. He spoke about his work, his projected aims and the brand’s target demographics. It was an amazing insight into a job that seems like it might be akin to being Duffman from The Simpsons, but is actually a lot more sophisticated, nuanced and involves a lot less booze than you would think. He has his work cut out for him – in a fast-paced and somewhat alien cultural landscape (one with a fantastic indigenous whisky scene), trying to attach yourself to the zeitgeist will be akin to catching a bullet between your teeth. But it will still be some incredible adventure for a young man.

Throughout the event there was incredible live music on stage – Lisa Hannigan, an orchestra playing popular classics (and grunge), and a harpist who would give Tony Iommi a run for his money.

After dinner we were treated to three new whiskeys from the distillery, each curated by a master – Master Cooper Ger Buckley’s the Cooper’s Croze, Master Distiller Brian Nation’s Distiller’s Safe and Master Blender Billy Leighton’s Blender’s Dog, three exclusive blends named after the respective tools of the masters’ trades.

We were asked to sample them, discuss and compare, which we duly did. Then the massive screens flared into life, and a short film about the trio began, showing them getting ready in their various domains, which then cut to a live feed of them walking into through the massive doors of Warehouse 11, all conducted to the strains of Arcade Fire. We toasted them, had a dram, and Hermitage Green took the stage, playing into the night.

CEO of Pernod Ricard, Alex Ricard, also spoke at the event. Last year he talked about the definition of craft and what it means. It has become increasingly obvious that craft, artisan and small batch are products of marketing teams and have lost much of their meaning. However, the consumer is getting canny – Templeton Rye was hit with a massive class action lawsuit over claims their whiskey was small batch, when actually it was sourced from a large-scale production facility. So when Midleton created a micro-distillery, they made sure to avoid the computer terminal controls you see in larger facilities, and instead opted for manual controls. The same goes for Ballindalloch in Speyside – they deliberately went for full manual controls to keep a down-home feel to their single estate distillery.

Alex Ricard posed the question – ‘what is craft?’ Is it the centuries that Irish people have been making whiskey, is it the incredibly history of the drink on this island, and at what point does a facility stop being ‘craft’? Is it a question of size and scale, is it to do with technology? Is there less craft in a large plant than in a garage-based operation? How is that so? Can a multi-national own a craft distillery – is it a question of economics? Most modern food and drink operations operate like pharma plants – is there a chilling effect in this system? Would you enjoy your drink more if you thought some chap made it in his shed? Or is it simply a question of aura, of exclusivity, of rareness? As a species we tend to hate the modern age, and yearn for some pre-industrial idyll that never existed; a simpler time when the noble farmer toiled the land before going home to read Chaucer by candlelight and die of natural causes at 40. We are bemused by the trainspotters and their passion for engineering – but not by people who go to art galleries. Modern engineering is a beautiful thing – be it the micro distillery or the bigger sibling that produces much of the world supply of Irish whiskey.

Mr Ricard also spoke about how everyone present on the night had a personal connection to Jameson – they have their pet names for it, their favourite way to drink it, their stories about how they started getting into whiskey. The jaded cynic in me might raise my eyes, but in a way he was right. Like Jameson, I am from Dublin originally, but spent the last 40 years in east Cork. My mother was a 19 year old from Sherriff Street in the north inner city, who grew up close to the old premises of Haig And Haig, and a few doors down from St Laurence O’Toole Church, supposedly built over old whiskey stores, which has led to the crypts still carrying a lingering hint of the angel’s share. She put me up for adoption, and after six weeks I was brought home by my mum and dad. After a brief stint in Kerry, we moved to Midleton, where my dad worked in the bank that lies just downriver from the distillery.

I grew up in a house overlooking the distillery, halfway between there and the new maturation sites in Dungourney. As a kid I swam and fished in the same river that they make all those incredible whiskeys from, and later I went to school just over the wall from the distillery in Midleton College. If you ever visit the Garden Stillhouse, see if you can find the sinkhole nearby, which leads to the underground stream from which the distillery takes some of its water. The stream travels under the wall and into the school grounds, and over the years pupils used to dare each other to travel through the pitch black cave network and up into the distillery – despite the fact that for some of the 50 yards or so you would be chest-deep in ice-cold water. My parents sent me to this expensive, private school – and they worked hard to pay for it. My dad loved whiskey – the first article I wrote for the Irish Examiner was about The Housewarming, but also about my dad, and in it I told this story: When I was about 10, my mother had a massive brain haemorrhage. She was given 24 hours to live. My dad went to the hospital chapel and made a deal with God – he would give up his beloved whiskey if mum pulled through. She duly did, and he hasn’t touched a drop since. She passed away nine years ago now, but he still won’t drink it as he says ‘a deal is a deal’.

It sounds like bunkum, but I like this story because it tells you the kind of guy my dad is. Part of my love of whiskey comes from him, and from suddenly having that strange epiphany when you realise that your dad is a great guy. He grew up in an Ireland that has thankfully almost completely disappeared – his dad used to come home, eat dinner, then go to the pub. His father once told him about the hilarity among his friends when they saw a friend of their’s pushing a buggy. Fathers back then earned the money and that was about it. The kids were women’s work. But my dad was always there for me, as I crashed headlong through life. Despite the fact that I often made terrible choices, he supported me no matter what. Whiskey to me is a symbol of all that is great about him – of being a good father, a good husband, a good human being. It represents the slow joy of growing old, of maturity. It’s about the simple pleasure of a mind-unclenching, blood-warming drink whilst surrounded by your family as they bicker about X Factor or try to figure out what the hell was going on in Age Of Ultron. It’s a celebration of making peace with this world. I have enjoyed constant privilege – from the luck of being a journalist to the childhood I had. I went down Sherriff Street for the first time this summer to see the old family home, to see where at least part of me is from. The area is a ghetto, fenced in by the ugly opulence of the IFSC on one side and, on the other, a canal, which once brought so much wealth and industry to the area, now filled with rubbish. While we were down there a child shot at the car with a BB gun. We didn’t stick around for long. It was a sobering reminder of how lucky I am, in all aspects of my life. I have tasted amazing whiskeys, seen amazing things and met amazing people over the last few years, and the event in Midleton last month was a reminder of all my good fortune – of growing up in the home of Irish whiskey, in a house filled with love and unopened bottles of Jameson, because, as my dad says, a deal is a deal.

Whiskey in the jar

Lynott at Slane

Great shot of Phil Lynott at Slane in 1981 yoinked from the Indo. The grand plans of Jack Daniels parent firm – and Slane Whiskey owners – Brown Forman were revealed yesterday:

Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman’s chief brands officer, told DI the company’s family structure enabled it to “think long term” in the Irish whiskey category and with sustained investment over “20, 30, or 40 years”  build Slane Whiskey in to a “global brand”.

Brown-Forman has experience distributing Irish whiskey in the US, as the former distributor of Bushmills in the market.

Whiting said Brown-Forman had “looked at mothballed distilleries” in Ireland before announcing in June to create its own distillery in the grounds of Slane Castle.

Brown-Forman’s first release will be from bought-in Irish whisky stocks, with Whiting arguing that consumers would not be confused by a change in taste profile when the Slane-produced whiskey is released in a few years. “We will be making lots of different styles of whiskey; consumers love to try other things,” he said.

Hell yeah. Provided ‘other things’ isn’t code for ‘shitty RTDs’. In which case, no. Also, bleurgh.

Drambusters

Whiskey Live Dublin med_1

A nice PR shot of me mincing across the floor at last year’s Irish Whiskey Live with some sheets of paper and zero mates. This year I am going to be there again, but this time I am dragging my brother in law along so I don’t look like a total sad case. That said, I had a ball last year, having the bants with stallholders from far and wide and chatting to other geeks about whisk(e)y. Anyway, this year sounds rocking: Here’s the deets –

The best of Irish and International whiskey will be celebrated as Whiskey Live returns to Dublin for the fifth time on Saturday 24th October in its new city centre location of The Printworks at Dublin Castle, Dublin 2. The move to this new location has allowed the event to grow to accommodate up to 1200 visitors over two sessions 1.30-5.00pm and 6.00-9.30pm. Tickets are limited and available from www.whiskeylivedublin.com.

 

Whiskey Live Dublin showcases an eclectic collection of whiskeys from around the world, along with great food pairings, cocktails and a range of entertaining master classes to learn more about whiskey. This year also sees the introduction of craft gins and vodkas, reflecting the continuing growth of distilleries and the whiskey industry in Ireland.

 

Visitors will have the unique opportunity to sample whiskeys, whiskey cask-matured craft beers, whiskey cocktails and other Irish spirits and liqueurs whilst mingling with their producers and distillers. Among the large variety of exhibitors are Nikka Japanese, Wild Beech Leaf Liqueur, Kilbeggan Distillery, Teeling Distillery, Dingle Gin & Vodka, Glendalough, Longueville House Apple Brandy, Single Pot Still Whiskeys of Ireland (Midleton, Redbreast, Powers), Isle of Arran, Saint Patricks Distillery, Walsh Whiskey and Bulleit Bourbon.

 

Mixologists from Koh Bar, Bull & Castle and Native Blenders will be at hand serving up samples of delicious Irish whiskey cocktails. A selection of Dublin’s best restaurants, including Koh Bar, L Mulligan Grocer and FXBs will present a menu of delicious food pairings to match the excellent whiskeys. Whether you are a whiskey enthusiast, an uninitiated newcomer or just looking for a day out that offers you something different, Whiskey Live is an inspiring experience.

 

Organiser Ally Alpine of The Celtic Whiskey Shop commenting on the event says; “This year’s line up of exhibitors is the strongest Dublin has ever seen and it really reflects the new investment and energy in the Irish whiskey category. Over recent years there has been significant interest in Irish whiskey globally and this is evident in how this indigenous industry has grown and will flourish over the next decade.”

 

Tickets for Whiskey Live Dublin are priced at €39.50 plus booking fee with The Celtic Whiskey Shop donating €10 per ticket to Down Syndrome Dublin. Tickets are available via www.whiskeylivedublin.com or from the Celtic Whiskey Shop, 27-28 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, or by phone at 01-675 9744.     Visit www.whiskeylivedublin.com for more details

Confirmed exhibitors to date include:

 

  • Adam Elmegirab Bitters
  • Auchentoshan
  • BenRiach
  • GlenDronach
  • Benromach
  • Boann Distillery
  • Bowmore
  • Bulleit Bourbon
  • Bushmills
  • Celtic Cask
  • Celtic Whiskey Club
  • Celtic Whiskey Shop
  • Cocoa Atelier
  • Coole Swan
  • Dingle Gin & Vodka
  • Echlinville Distillery
  • Gaelic Whiskies
  • Glendalough
  • GlenGlassaugh
  • Glengoyne
  • Glenmorangie
  • Gonzalez Byass
  • Gordon & MacPhail
  • Great Northern Distillery
  • Greenspot
  • Hyde Whiskey
  • Irish Whiskey Awards
  • Irish Whiskey Society
  • Isle of Arran
  • Jack Daniels
  • Jack Ryans
  • Jefferson Bourbon
  • Kalak Vodka
  • Kilbeggan Distillery
  • Knappogue Castle
  • Laphroaig
  • Lexington Brewing  & Distilling
  • Longueville House Apple Brandy
  • Muldoon
  • Nikka Japanese
  • Palace Bar
  • Quiet Man
  • Saint Patricks Distillery
  • Single Pot Still Whiskeys of Ireland (Midleton, Redbreast, Powers)
  • Teeling Whiskey Co
  • Tullamore Dew
  • Walsh Whiskey
  • Whisky Magazine Wild Beech Leaf Liqueur
  • Woodford Bourne
  • Yellowspot

Gif reaction: anigif_enhanced-16040-1414597207-12