The annual celebration that elevates the simple act of tucking into haggis, neeps & tatties – washed down with a Scotch – into an extravaganza of a marketing ploy & cultural highlight for Scotland, it’s people, the place and above all – the whisky.
Rabbie Burns image adorns many a bottle, T-shirt, mug or poster as ubiquitously as Che Guevara’s does in other places. Burns predates Guevara’s rebellious nature by supporting the French Revolution of 1789.
Both have become re-invented & re-packaged as popular icons – often disassociated from the narrative of their actual lived lives.
Burns Nectar Single Malt is just one manifestation of this trend.
A sweet honeyed aroma on the nose.
There’s a touch of character on the palate however.
Smooth & sweet to begin with, it dries out midway displaying some dark fruitiness & a touch of tobacco.
A playful prickly tingling is left on the finish.
Rabbie Burns eked out a living as an impoverished farmer, later elevating his earnings as a tax collector.
His fame as a poet mainly came posthumously – and continues to rise today.
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!
Quite how Paddy’s Day came to be associated with drinking both in Ireland and abroad is a bit of a mystery. Suffice to say other countries national days also have this reputation – noticeably Scotland’s Burn’s Night which focuses on drinking whisky as well as eating haggis – which is a lovely combination if you haven’t already tried it.
Anyway, it’s wise to be Drink Aware on this day and point out there are many alternative exciting non-alcoholic events taking part around the world on Paddy’s Day to enjoy.
Not having booked on-line I got rather worried at the sea of tourists queuing up and taking pictures. My fears were confirmed as all the tours were booked out for the next few hours. The reception area, bar and shop were all very well decked out with two lovely whiskey bottle chandeliers dominating the scene but as I had other fish to fry, and the bar was not yet open,I left amidst a flock of Frenchmen topped with green hats, I only hoped they had advance tickets!
The recently opened Irish Whiskey Museum beckoned as my 2nd destination. It’s new clean lined decor and whisky memorabilia shop with adjoining bar and friendly staff impressed me. The guide informatively, enthusiastically and humorously led us through a potted history of Irish Whiskey with the aid of tastefully done set scenes and clever audio visual displays including actors in period costumes to bring the story alive. Interestingly one of the actors was Fr Jack of Father Ted fame, Frank Kelly. I didn’t recognize the others. A stunning display of old Irish whiskey bottles mirrored the rise, fall and subsequent current re-birth of the Irish whiskey industry before being led to the all important tasting session.
Not being tied to any manufacture allows the Irish Whiskey Museum to give a broad range of whiskeys for it’s customers to sample. The 4 offered on my tour are subject to change and may not represent future or past tours. This is very refreshing as it allows for new entrants into the market.
Powers Gold Label Blend – I wasn’t expecting much from this entry level blended whiskey but was pleasantly surprised by it’s slightly spicy taste and warm finish. B+
Teeling Small Batch – All Teeling expressions are very good and this blended whiskey shows what a finishing cask can add to the mix. B+
Not surprisingly personal taste prevailed when asked to name the favorite tipple. A Spanish couple opted for the stronger and fuller flavoured Teeling, a German couple opted for the Irishman whilst I went for the unexpectedly good Powers.
Suitably warmed up it was on to my 3rd stop of the day in the famous Celtic Whiskey Shop. A true cornucopia of whiskey of all descriptions with a mouth watering display for the eyes to feast on. I could have spent hours going through every bottle possibly sampling it’s contents but thankfully for the staff (who would prefer buyers to browsers, although both are welcomed) and my health (I wouldn’t be able for so much Whiskey) I already had a bottle in mind. The shop, through it’s owner Ally Alpine, also runs The Celtic Whiskey Club which conducts whiskey tastings, mails out samples for on-line discussion and offers Whiskey Of The Week to members. Today was the chance for the Hyde 10 yo Single Malt to shine. With a sample taste I duly bought a bottle along with a miniature of which the shop has a fantastic selection. This is a great idea as for the price of one full sized bottle you can sample 6 or 7 of these handy 5cl bottles to try out first at your leisure.
As it had already gone 1pm my stomach was in need of more substantial fare. My prime objective and final port of call was the Irish Beer and Whiskey Fest in the RDS where I knew the Pieman would have their stall. On entering the hall I made a beeline for the wonderful Pieman who didn’t disappoint with a Chicken & Mushroom pie with added Teeling Whiskey for flavour. This was washed down with Porterhouse Red Ale, a delightful combination.
One of the lovely things about the festival are the communal tables and chairs dotted about the place for folks to sit, eat , drink and chat. During the course of my visit I met a South African truck driver now residing in Tullamore, a retired Dublin gent, a young American couple living in Germany and a gaggle of Dublin based Brazilians with a French woman in tow. Conversation flowed easily over what drinks were liked, tips on which beer to go for next and general chat all conducted in a colourful camaraderie of common consumption!
Lunch over I was now on the lookout for desert. The Irish Single Pot Still display provided it as well as making up for missing the Jameson tour earlier in the day.
Whilst browsing in the whiskey shop at the Loop in Dublin Airport last month I noticed a 4 pack miniature box of Irish Pot Still Whiskeys. As these are the very whiskeys which made Irish Whiskey number 1 back in the late 1800’s before the rise of Scotch, I was intrigued. Now I had my chance to try them out!
The staff very friendly made up the 4 samples and gave me a running commentary as I nosed then tasted each one. At this stage of the game my memory and tasting notes were a little muddled by the rich, complex and powerful flavours these whiskeys possess. Greenspot, Redbreast. Powers John Lane and Barry CrockettLegacy truly deserve the marketing campaign that is underway to rebuild the status these whiskeys once held. Again I chose the Powers expression for a full measure shot due to the rich body coupled with a spicy taste. I enjoyed the drink so much I missed the whiskey talk due to be delivered by John Teeling which was a bit of a shame.
I did however make an earlier informal chat with 3 passionate beer makers as part of the Meet The Brewers talk. Kinnegar of Donegal, Mountain Man of Cork and Black Donkey of Roscommon. All told anecdotes about small brewers trying to survive in the market place. I just can’t wait for Black Donkey’s brilliant new advertising idea to bear fruit!
Unfortunately I had a train to catch, so my last whiskeys were a taste off between the Pearse Lyon Reserve and the Town Branch Rye at the Alltech stand. The Rye won out with it’s stronger more robust taste and a generous enjoyable shot delayed my departure resulting in a dash with only minutes to spare.
I was tempted to open my Pig’s Nose miniature on the train but quit when I was ahead to opt for tea and crisps from the trolley service. I also erred on the side of caution and went for a Crafty Irish Red Ale which is part of the Rye River portfolio from Kilcock to accompany the evening meal.
That brought my very satisfying pre-Paddy’s Day celebrations to a happy end. I do hope you enjoy your day as much as I did mine.
I’ll be sober for the actual event – I’m the driver.