There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
National Heritage Week in Ireland for 2016 runs from the 20th to 28th August.
It’s a celebration of the rich cultural, natural, creative, architectural and industrial heritage of the island of Ireland which takes the form of a range of events organised locally throughout the country.
My contribution to Heritage Week was to lead a Tullamore Town Whiskey Walk.
But what’s whiskey got to do with heritage? you may ask.
Well – in The Annuls of Clonmacnoise from 1405 there is a reference to a certain chieftain who imbibed a bit too much “aqua vitae” and subsequently died.
Quite clearly Ireland’s relationship to aqua vitae or uisce beatha or whiskey as we now know it has – for better or worse – a long cultural heritage.
Tullamore’s connection with whiskey dates back to at least the 1700’s.
An unfortunate collision with a chimney – believed to be a distillery chimney – led to the world’s first air disaster when a hot air balloon set fire to the town in 1785!
There are still Phoenix emblems on lamp posts on Colmcille St to remember the rebirth of the town after this catastrophe – along with a Tullamore DEW expression of the same name which can either be taken to note the fire – or the beginning of whiskey distilling in Tullamore after a 50 year hiatus when William Grant & Sons opened the new Tullamore Distillery on the outskirts of the town in 2014.
St Patrick St in the centre of town was largely destroyed in the fire. There were a few buildings that survived. One of these buildings is the Tullamore DEW managers office which still proudly displays the name of it’s most famous manager – Daniel E Williams who coined the “Give Everyman His DEW” advertising tag.
Directly opposite are the original distillery entrance gates which bear the name B Daly Company Ltd Tullamore Distillery – Bernard Daly being a previous manager to Daniel Williams.
The gates abut a public house by the name of Bob Smyths. This was formerly a mill house owned by Michael Molloy who happened to be the founder of Tullamore Distillery in 1829. It should come as no surprise the mill was incorporated into the distillery whose main works were just behind. We decided to raise a glass to Tullamore Distillery at this juncture of the walk.
Much of Tullamore’s wealth was generated on the back of the drinks industry. In the early 1800’s there happened to be 2 distilleries, 2 breweries and extensive malting houses in the town. The 3 biggest employers during this period were Tullamore DEW itself, P&H Egans general merchants wine & spirit bonders and Tarleton maltsters.
The heritage of the past shapes the present.
Tullamore DEW is still a world recognised whiskey brand and the original 1897 Old Bonded Warehouse attracts many visitors now it’s a very enjoyable whiskey tourist attraction.
P&H Egans – who originally built the fine Bridge House which still stands today – have a recently released 10 year old single malt bearing the Bridge House on the front of the label. Descendants of the original family are behind the new revived brand and artwork from their forefathers can be seen in The Brewery Tap pub – which happens to be the site of one of the former breweries.
Tarleton seem to be gone but the fertile soils of the Midlands still produce barley for the malting industry to this day. Many of the shops and apartments at the bottom of Harbour St are housed in the old warehouses and malting floors of that former malting industry giant.
Whiskey is still a presence in Tullamore today. It may not employ as many people as in the past but the legacy lives on.
One of several whiskey bars in town – as arbitrarily defined by a previous blog here – has it’s own bottling! We enjoyed a glass of the yet to be launched Hugh Lynch’s Irish Whiskey in the pub that commissioned it. What better way to end the walk.
So why don’t you give Tullamore a visit?
The combination of the old original buildings with their rich history – the new whiskey expressions with their exciting flavours – an exciting re-birth of whiskey distilling quietly maturing in oak barrels at the modern Tullamore Distillery – neatly encapsulates the past – present and yet to be written whiskey heritage of Tullamore.
The journey began last year when I first became aware of World Whisky Day and thought – ‘Now I should do something for that day’. This led to me scrambling around finding a printer open on Friday night to laminate my hastily prepared posters – writing out a basic script for the day and posting some last minute social media posts.
My choice of venue happened during the course of the year. Doing blogs on Whiskey Bars meant I eventually found some much closer to home than I had previously known. Couple this with an award winning whiskey visitors attraction in the shape of Tullarmore DEW Visitors Centre – some whiskey art – architecture and history and the die was set.
2pm on World Whisky Day found me at Bury Quay anxiously waiting for people to turn up.
We were greeted warmly by Shane who invited us in to a complimentary showing of the Tullamore DEW introductory video in the auditorium along with a glass of Tullamore DEW Original to get the day started!
Suitably warmed up despite the rather showery weather outside we made the short walk along the Grand Canal – which reached Tullamore in 1798 and aided the economic success of the brewing and distilling industry of the town – to our first whiskey bar of the day – Hugh Lynch’s.
A hard to find discontinued expression was chosen as drink of choice in this bar to demonstrate the fact good whiskey bars operate almost as whiskey libraries in that they stock many a bottle both old – new and potentially exclusive.
Tullamore DEW’s Black 43 went down well with the gathered clan of whiskey friends. It also demonstrated what an additional 11 months in sherry cask can add to a whiskey.
Onwards into town we went. Pausing to view the remnants of the original B. Daly 1829 distillery along with the wonderfully restored gates and Master Distillers Offices across the road.
Bob Smyths pub sits handily beside the Tullamore Distillery gates. It was once owned by Michael Molloy – who established the distillery – so despite not being a whiskey bar – we popped in for a glass of Paddy to acknowledge the brands sale to Sazerac.
Our next stop proved rather more contentious. Back in 1910 the large brewing, malting, bottling and general wholesellers of P&H Egan built what is now The Bridge House Hotel. Descendants of that family released Egan’s Irish Whiskey a few years ago but sadly it isn’t yet stocked at the bar.
We handed a short plea to the management of the hotel to please remedy this situation so Egan’s Irish Whiskey can be enjoyed in it’s true home. By a democratic vote the whiskey walk participants unanimously agreed to bypass this venue in favour of somewhere that did serve Egan’s.
Thankfully we didn’t have to walk far as one bar that does have Egan’s Irish Whiskey is the lovely Brewery Tap on Bridge Street where landlord Paul offered us a discount on the day to enjoy a glass of the lovely rich 10 year old single malt and toast to the future success of the Egan family.
One inquisitive member of the party suggested Egan’s was just a similar bottling to Tyrconnell – also a single malt – so a glass duly arrived for a taste comparison.
Another unanimous decision was reached. Tyrconnell is a smoother slightly more tasty whiskey than Egan’s. It must be stated however that both these expressions were far superiour to the blends we’d been having up to this point.
Back out on the streets our numbers began to diminish due to time constraints. A visit to the whiskey sculpture Pot Stills in Market Square was abandoned. Commissioned by Tullamore Town Council in recognition of the role the distilling trade had in prospering the town. The 3 pots were sculptor Eileen MacDonagh’s interpretation of the gleaming copper stills that currently produce the distillate which goes on to make whiskey in the new Tullamore Distillery on the outskirts of town as well as those at Kilbeggan Distillery only a 10 minute drive from here.
Market Square is also the site of a short-lived distillery built by Mr Manley which closed early in the 1800’s. However there are many fine building which previously housed the large malting trade Tullamore was famous for. Malt left Tullamore by barge to supply many a famous brewery and distillery in Dublin. These malt stores are now apartments’ shops and offices but you can imagine the hive of industry that once frequented the canal harbour in times gone.
Our last port of call was Kelly’s Bar just down the road from the Visitors Centre where we began. Kelly’s have a wide and varied range of fine whiskeys on offer so various expressions were tasted by several fellow whiskey walkers and opinions exchanged as to the merits – or lack off depending to individual taste – of the drams tried.
Our sole Scotch of the day – in recognition that Tullamore DEW is now owned by a Scottish firm – came via a 16 year old Lagavulin. Very tasty it was too.
Eugene the landlord had actually got this whisky in for one of his regular customers. Now that’s an example of a fine whiskey bar!
My thanks go out to all the fellow whiskey walkers who joined me in celebrating World Whisky Day. The publicans, bar staff and the Tullamore DEW Visitors Centre crew who made today a reality in giving generously of their time – and some whiskey too!
Thanks also to the Tullamore Tribune who publicised the event and sent down a reporter to take pictures and report on the days proceedings.
The Brewery Tap is one of those pubs that I’ve passed by on numerous occasions – mainly during my day job as a truck driver – but never managed to actually get inside – until now.
Situated opposite the busy O’Connor Square area in the heart of Tullamore town The Brewery Tap is only a stone’s throw from The Bridge Centre shopping complex and the popular Bridge House Hotel – both premises built on or around the old Tullamore Distillery which closed it’s doors in 1954.
Remnants of the distillery can still be seen on nearby Patrick Street where the manager, Daniel E Williams – whose initials formed the DEW element – sat in his office which still proudly displays his name today on one side of the street overlooking the elaborate and well cared for iron gates which formed part of the entrance to the original distillery on the other.
It should come as no surprise then that The Brewery Tap strongly features the entire Tullamore DEW range of tasty whiskeys inside it’s warm and welcoming interior.
Having missed the opportunity to try out the 14 Year Old Single Malt when I last visited The Old Bonded Warehouse – itself only a 5 minute walk away – I wasn’t going to let this chance go by – and in memory of the recently departed George Martin – a Beatles track.
Now on the blind tasting I did some time ago a few Tullamore DEW expressions stood out from the crowd. Both The Phoenix and Cider Cask releases scored very well so when I first gently nosed the 14 to be greeted by some wonderful aromas I knew I was in for a treat.
The silky smooth dram tantalised my taste buds with it’s warm sweetness combined in a delicate balance of the bourbon – port – oloroso and madeira barrels used for maturation.
Triple distilled – quadruple matured – quintuple the taste!
To paraphrase an advertising slogan for my own experience in drinking this lovely whiskey.
This may be my best Tullamore DEW yet!
Other whiskeys on offer at The Brewery Tap included the Egan’s Single Malt. Judging from the amount of P&H Egan advertising materiel adorning the walls of the bar there’s plenty of scope for the new company to expand their drinks portfolio. Ales – ginger beer and liqueurs all featured in the ads from yesteryears. I just wonder what they all tasted like in their heyday?
Outside of lunchtimes The Brewery Tap only serves crisps and nuts. There is a regular itinerary of musical evenings and other lively events both mid-week and at the weekend. It’s also rumoured that many of the Tullamore DEW executives pop in for some down time to enjoy the fruits of their own labours – and who can blame them?
With a warm glowing fire – friendly staff – comfortable seats and cushioned benches as well as whiskey aplenty – who wouldn’t enjoy the atmosphere in such a fine establishment.
I just hope my next visit won’t be as long in coming as my first!
A short 2 minute walk from the impressive Old Bonded Warehouse of the Tullamore DEW Visitors Centre brings you to the rather unassuming windowless facade of Hugh Lynch’s Bar.
On entering – it’s a different story.
A busy public area bustles with regulars watching the sport on TV whilst a quieter lounge area is gently warmed by a glowing stove pumping out it’s welcome heat giving a warm tranquil cosy feel to the otherwise large space.
The main attraction for me however lay in the impressive display of whiskeys both behind the bar as well as tastefully shown in glass cabinets too.
A very large bottle of Tullamore DEW Original dominates the bar mainly due to it’s size! Fellow Tullamore DEW releases were obviously in no short supply either – including a few that are now discontinued like the Black 43.
What took my eye though was another whiskey claiming to hail from Tullamore – Egan’s Irish Whiskey.
Egan’s is a 10 year old single malt and like Tullamore DEW isn’t actually made in the town of Tullamore. Both whiskeys are produced at one or more (in the case of blends) of the 3 large distilleries that currently have stock matured for long enough to be labelled as whiskey. They are Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton.
The new distillery opened in Tullamore by William Grant & Sons in 2014 won’t be able to release it’s first expression until 2017.
P&H Egan’s were a famous grocers in Tullamore who bottled and sold whiskey in times gone by and the name has now been revived by this new release.
As I missed out on tasting it on my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure I couldn’t refuse the opportunity again!
A rich golden coloured dram soon stood before me and despite being a 46% non-chill filtered release a surprisingly smooth rich nose warmed me to the drink.
The taste pleased me very much. I found it full-bodied and fruity with a lovely warm mouthfeel followed through by a long lingering finish.
Very nice indeed!
It didn’t surprise me to hear the whiskey has already won awards and Pat the bartender informed me it’s a popular seller both in the bar and the off-licence which is also part of the premises.
Lynch’s also features a cafe where decent pub grub can be enjoyed – a large hall at the back for private functions – as well as a regular music nights with a varied selection of bands or comedians hosted upstairs. It’s certainly a busy spot!
I’ll certainly be back to sample some more of the varied whiskeys on offer from countries both near and far. Millars and Shanahans from Ireland I’ve yet to try . Scapa from Scotland and a sprinkling of bourbons from America too.
Being only a half hour train journey from my home in Athlone – I don’t think that visit will be long in the making either!