I always find it fascinating looking back into the history of Irish Whiskey.
This 1983 publication on Old Bushmills catalogues the rich tapestry of the distillery through it’s folklore, scenery, politics, changing fortunes, characters & calamities.
The book clearly displays there’s a lot more to simply enjoying the glass of whiskey in front of you – there’s always a whole back story.
Illustrated with many photographs & tales of the people involved – both from the boardroom as well as the distillery floor – Spirit Of The Age is a testament to the longevity of Irish Whiskey.
At the time of publication Old Bushmills was owned by Irish Distillers – but history is ongoing & Tequila makers Jose Cuervo are now in control.
Ironically one of Bushmills biggest sellers no longer bares it’s name – Proper Twelve has now overtaken the lead sales position Bushmills used to enjoy – and marks yet another chapter in the changing faces of Irish Whiskey.
I found this highly informative & entertaining publication through Libraries Ireland – well worth reading.
Long may Old Bushmills continue producing Irish Whiskey!
It’s a question I often ask myself after coming across various examples of this particular malaise.
But what is Scotch Centrism?
Viewing the whisky world via the optics of tartan spectacles leading to undue bias – intentional or not – towards Scotch, positioning it on a pedestal beyond reproach, usually coupled with scant regard – veering to disdain – for whisky producing countries that aren’t Scotland.
My first encounter with this affliction was a few years ago.
A Scottish internet publication invited non Scottish cities citizens to give a flavour of whisky spots within their environs.
One resident had proclaimed there were no whisky distilleries in this particular location – despite myself having visited one!
The sufferer had such a bad dose of Scotch Centrism they were blinded & unable to see the distilleries operating in their own backyard!
The Scottish publication in turn failed to do any checks & subsequently released this false information.
A more severe example pertains to rules.
Sufferers believe any whisky produced outside of Scotland that doesn’t comply with SWA – Scotch Whisky Association – rules is basically ‘not doing it right’.
Effectively this shows a complete lack of respect for the different ways each country make their own whisky – and verges into cultural imperialism.
Such a position belittles the ‘other’, limits diversity & stifles innovation in the global whisky category.
A final – often milder – example is where the Scotch Centric drinker eventually does get round to sampling a non Scotch whisky & invariably expresses surprise at how enjoyable & well presented it is – often with a hint of patronisation thrown in.
Luckily Scotch Centrism isn’t a permanent condition.
Sufferers merely need to ditch the tartan glasses & open themselves up to a whole new world of enjoyable tastes & flavours.
Treating countries with different rules to those of Scotland with the same respect & having an open mind – and palate – to exploring their produce helps too.
Perhaps then we can learn a bit of ‘kinship, belonging & inclusiveness’ – to borrow an Irish Distillers marketing missive – & ‘Widen The Circle’ along the way when we’re at it.
Tartan glasses courtesy zazzle.com All other images authors own.
This revealing book by James Morrissey focuses on the remarkable turn of events culminating in the Pernod-Ricard takeover of Irish Distillers.
The most sobering chapters however expose the dismal performance & inability of Irish Distillers to drive the category forward – the very reasons a speculative takeover war started.
Irish Whiskey was a monopoly in 1987.
Irish Distillers owned all the distilleries – 2, Midleton & Bushmills – & all the brands – 15 – & was losing sales.
Cooley Distillery in County Louth was just being founded & had yet to mature any whiskey.
Irish Distillers main sales in 1987 were the domestic market followed by bulk sales to places like Japan – whose blending practices have a long history of using non-Japanese stock.
Sales in the lucrative American market dwindled down to a low of around 250,000 cases – about the same as Conor MacGregor’s Proper Twelve sold alone in 2021 – yet Irish Distillers marketing strategies were effectively underfunded & ineffective.
Without the takeover of Pernod-Ricard & increased competition from Cooley who knows where Irish Whiskey would have ended up.
Irish Whiskey today is in a far more healthier situation.
New brands, new bottles & new distilleries are being announced on an almost weekly basis.
I welcome each and every single one of them as they collectively strive to rebuild Irish Whiskey.
A read of Hot Whiskey sobers you up as to how grim things were a mere 35 years ago.
Tullamore Dew is in the spotlight for announcing the closure of their Visitors Centre at the Old Bonded Warehouse situated by the banks of the Grand Canal in the Midlands town of Tullamore.
What the headlines failed to say is they will be opening a new state of the art visitors attraction at their €35 million Tullamore Distillery built only 6 years ago on the town’s bypass.
In whiskey terms it’s a step forward.
Most fans wish to visit a working distillery where they can not only learn about whiskey – but they can also see, feel, hear and smell the actual process of making that whiskey.
The Old Bonded Warehouse served Tullamore DEW well during the years when there was no distilling in the town and the whiskey for the brand was sourced from elsewhere.
The original distillery – of which many reminders still exist around the town – ran from 1829 to 1954.
Irish Distillers took over the brand & built it up to become the 2nd biggest selling Irish Whiskey in the world.
William Grants in turn acquired the brand & brought back distilling to Tullamore after a 60 year absence.
Having a visitors centre separate from the distillery is fraught with contention & is a bit of an anomaly. There is still one left in Ireland – Jameson Visitors Experience in Dublin – but that’s for another day.
I’ve dug out my only bottle of Tully to celebrate this move – Tullamore DEW 12 Year Old Single Malt Sherry Cask – bought at the Old Bonded Warehouse itself.
I toast to the great leap forward Irish Whiskey & Tullamore DEW has taken in these last few years.
From being a sourced brand celebrated in a museum – to being a fully fledged distillery situated in it’s home town with a brand new attraction to showcase that distillery to it’s best.
Here’s to the next 200 years of whiskey distilling in Tullamore!
Paddy – to my tastes anyway – is my least favourite of the standard entry level trio of blends produced by Irish Distillers.
The other 2 being the flagship Jameson Original & Powers Gold Label. All of these blends contain pot still whiskey in their respective recipes which result in varying degrees of that signature spice flavour associated with single pot still.
I’ve still to sample all 3 blends back to back yet for the ultimate taste comparison though.
Despite Jameson & Powers coming in an increasing array of offerings – Paddy was left floundering with only one – that is if you exclude the honey & apple liqueurs available in other markets.
However in 2013 – to celebrate 100 years of the famous brand – this special single pot still bottling was released.
Packaged in a lovely wooden case – complete with a photo of the legendary Cork Distiller’s salesman Paddy Flaherty – after whom the brand was named – together with an attractively labelled bottle – the overall effect is very attractive.
The liquid inside is also very enticing!
The rich nose & taste of orchard fruits instantly won me over to the joys of this wonderful single pot still in some select whiskey bars where this limited edition bottle can still be found.
Limited being the key word here.
As at nearly 5 years done the line from the original release – the availability of this whiskey is becoming increasingly scarce & hard to find.
It’s falling into that category of whiskey people buy not to drink – which is a pity – but to collect.
I managed to get my hands on one of these beauties for less than 80 euro.
At that price it won’t be around for long. Especially as the Paddy brand has now been bought by American drinks company Sazerac.
I wonder what Paddy Flaherty would have made of that?
You’ve gotta hand it to Irish Distillers – the largest producer of whiskey on the island of Ireland – for constantly coming up with new & innovative expressions for our delight & delectation.
The very successful Jameson Original blend is by far and away the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world – but to be brutally honest – I find it rather bland & characterless.
The surprise hit of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition gave the Original blend a welcome dose of character by it’s final maturation resting in casks that previously held stout from the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork.
This has led to further collaboration with craft brewers around the world with limited releases of Jameson Caskmates in various regions to add more flavour & depth to the Original blend.
The latest incarnation of the Caskmates series takes it’s lead from the hirsute hipster’s darling drink of the craft beer scene – IPA.
You could say it’s bigger than Hip Hop!
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give it the original title – is a style of beer characterised by the varying degrees of bitterness provided by the inclusion of hops in the recipe. It currently fuels the growing interest in craft beer with an explosion of new tastes, new flavours & new styles.
Jameson has taken a leaf out of the craft beer scene to age their latest Caskmate in IPA casks – also from the nearby Franciscan Well Brewery – to provide new tastes, new flavours & new styles to the whiskey world.
So does it work?
Well – the back story and the flavours in the Stout Edition had me hooked so on hearing O’Briens had a limited run of 2000 for a trial period – I was first in line for a bottle!
But what does it taste like?
The dark colour struck me first – perhaps I was taking the IPA influence a bit too much in expecting a pale yellow offering!
On the nose it was relatively soft with a hint of citrus, quiet nice actually.
The taste came over crisp & dry. The bourbon maturation notes faded quickly to leave a pleasant dry lemony tart finish.
Novel & intriguingly enticing.
The overall experience was of a well balanced blend with subtle flavours throughout – perhaps just a bit too subtle for me.
But the hint of hops at the end together with a sprinkling of spice won me over.
It’s always wise to visibly scan the whiskey shelves of any bar you go into to see what they actually have in stock – even if you are familiar with the premises.
I’d not been in the Tullamore Court Hotel for a few months and was very pleasantly surprised by the improved array of fine whiskey before me.
Not only was there a veritable wall of Tullamore DEW expressions lining the front bar, which befits the hotel only being a mere mile away from the new Tullamore Distillery – but also plenty of The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder & Grant’s bottles all from the William Grant & Sons – owners of the distillery – portfolio.
How about a tasty trio of Tullamore DEW to test your tastebuds?
Clearly the hotel is a popular watering hole & welcome bed for the night to many overseas staff and visitors to the Tullamore Distillery.
Meanwhile the side bar had also broadened to showcase the large selection of Irish whiskeys currently available on the market today.
The trio that caught my eyes however were the very distinctive & attractively packaged Method and Madness range recently released by Irish Distillers to much acclaim.
Comprising of a single grain, single malt and a single pot still – these whiskeys have pushed the envelope in terms of style, cask selection & innovation for Irish whiskey.
This happened to be my 1st encounter with them – so I started at the beginning with the single grain release.
Presented at 46%, matured in ex-bourbon casks & finished in charred virgin oak, the nose immediately captivated me with warm rich vanilla notes associated with the bourbon casks but heightened with added depth from the virgin oak.
This followed through into a warm smooth snug of flavours in the mouth – very reminiscent of a good bourbon – which is hardly surprising as it is made from a high corn mash with some charred virgin oak cask maturation – albeit Spanish oak. There was a slight delay to savour these beautiful notes before a lovely warming, slightly spicy finish coated the palate and enveloped it like a cosy fireside hug.
There is no madness to this whiskey – it’s simply pushing the method of distilling & maturing the spirit to a higher level.
And in the words of Mr Belt & Wezol – I’m happy for Irish Distillers to Take Me Higher.
The single grain category bar has just been raised!
I managed to get my hands on one of those new breed of ryes from Belgium via the marvelously named Drankenwereld online bottle shop. Despite the alleged openness of the European Union – it still took a few emails to arrange a safe & prompt delivery.
Sunken Still Rye Whisky is a 4 year old rye matured in bourbon barrels from the Filliers Distillery in Belgium who also do the Goldlys whisky range.
I found the nose to have a curious honey sweetness with a spice that reminded me of cinnamon – almost into liqueur territory here.
Mrs Whiskey adored the nose & likened it to perfume.
Luckily the taste was clearer with the dry rye spice punching through the soft sweetness to give a long lasting finish.
A pleasant & fragrant Belgian slant on the rye flavour profile.
A collaborative team from the 11 venues of The Galway Whiskey Trail selected this Gold Medal winning 10 year old single malt made at West Cork Distillers to be sold on the trail. I thoroughly enjoyed my day on the trail during an otherwise dull January day.
The launch night itself in May aboard the Aran Islands ferry on the stunning Galway Bay with wonderful company & beautiful scenery certainly deserves a Whiskey Nut Award for the best new whiskey launch of the year!
I’m definitely looking forward to a growing list of whiskey trails around Ireland. Especially as the Irish Whiskey Association aims to be a world leader in whiskey tourism.
And perhaps some new whiskeys specific to each trail?
Brian Nation’s speech at the Irish Whiskey Awards in Tullamore highlighted innovation within the industry.
I had tears of joy when he mentioned Irish Distillers are currently growing 140ha of rye near Enniscorthy for potential use in recreating old John Jameson recipes uncovered by the archive department that included rye in the mix.
Later in the evening some whiskey friends from America were sharing a bottle of Emerald American Whiskey.
Well I say American Whiskey as that’s where it was produced and matured.
But the recipe is based on an 1865 Irish Whiskey recorded for posterity by a British excise agent and includes both malted and unmalted barley along with some oats & rye.
It tasted divine.
Not long after that I came across Prize Fight Irish Whiskey at Whiskey Live Dublin.
Another West Cork Distillers produced whiskey that has been finished in ex-rye barrels from Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the dry mouthfeel and rich spicy punch associated with a rye whiskey came through in this delightful blend. Wonderful!
To top it off Fionnan O’Connor wrote an excellent piece in the inaugural Irish Whiskey Magazine which delved in to the history of mash bills commonly used in Irish whisky production in the 1800’s and what do you know? Rye featured quite a bit to the extent that a certain Andrew Jameson went to the trouble of importing the grain as Irish sources were hard to come by .
My mouth is already watering in anticipation of future Irish rye releases.
My Australian adventure was ostensibly for a wedding but I used it to sample & taste as much Aussie whisky as I could come across on my travels.
The variety of styles, tastes & flavours had me enthralled.
Tasmania was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It’s home to a growing number of whiskey distilleries including Lark, Overeem, Hellyers Road and the wonderful Belgrove Distillery which produces some astounding rye whisky – well – what else would you expect? – combined with fabulous scenery, wildlife & fine dining.
The trend of countries not normally associated with whiskey production will continue as witnessed by Italy’s highly praised Puni Whisky.
My future holiday plans will always try and seek out new and exciting whiskey in whatever destination I end up in.