I suppose it was wishful thinking expecting some existential answers to questions like ‘Why has whisky captured the human spirit?‘ or ‘ Candrinking whisky sooth a troubled soul?‘.
The Philosophy Of Whisky is however an easy – if brief – entertaining introduction into the growing global reach of distilling, maturing & enjoyment of the brown spirit.
Chapters covering the big 5 producers – Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada & Japan – along with mentions on Sweden, Taiwan, India, Australia & Mexico to name a few – give a welcome & refreshing world view on this tasty beverage.
The author still appears to elevate Scotch above the others – even when world whisky is winning tasting awards – & fudges facts over the earliest written records for aqua vitae – the forerunner of whisky.
Yet for all that – anyone still restricting their whisky drinking to Scotch is missing out on a world of exciting tastes, flavours & growth.
Excuse me while I pour some Titanic Irish Whiskey!
On leaving The Dail Bar in my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure – I’d popped across the road from the pub and into another famous Galway institution – Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop.
Charlie’s is a cornacopia of culture and literature. Over the years I’ve picked up a few titles related to my poison of choice. One of them being the famous – or infamous depending on your point of view – Jim Murray’s ‘A Taste Of Irish Whiskey’ which has given me lots of source information regarding distilleries and brands – particularly the old Cooley brands I’ve been enjoying today.
Going into a book shop half cut probably has it’s risks – but on seeing ‘How To Cure A Hangover’ by Andrew Irving in the drinks section I couldn’t resist buying it considering I could be experiencing one next morning!
Back to the trail.
Tigh Neachtain’s occupies a prominent corner spot made all the more striking by the deep blue colour scheme and attractive murals outside. Inside it’s a warren of wooden nooks and crannies where you can loose yourself in conversation and craic. Most of the snugs were busily occupied by cheery customers when I visited so once more I happily found a spot by the bar.
Suitably situated to spy on the whiskey shelves I quickly spotted the Titanic. NOT the doomed ocean liner now – NOR the DiCaprio-Winslet love story either – but another discontinued Cooley expression for the Belfast Distilling Company.
But wait a minute – what’s that?
A rather tatty & worn whiskey bottle was retrieved from the shelves and placed on the counter for me to inspect. Bailey’s The Whiskey – I didn’t even realise they’d done a whiskey!
‘Don’t know much about it.’ proffered the bar tender,
‘Bailey’s did make a whiskey but pulled it at the last moment before the launch for some reason. There’s not much of it about now, but we have a bottle or two.’
Despite the higher price incurred by the rarity – and visions of a sickly sweet and creamy whiskey like a Bailey’s Original liqueur – I just had to give it a go.
Well yes it is sweet – but not overpoweringly so – and well within the taste experience of other whiskeys I’ve had. It’s also very smooth with a very satisfying whiskey rush.
Why Bailey’s binned this lovely tipple is beyond me. I did an internet search when I got home and found very little. The best I could find from the Irish Whiskey Society chat site is the following;
‘In 1997, the innovation team at Grand Metropolitan’s spirits division International Distillers and Vintners were about to extend the franchise of the “Baileys” Irish cream liqueur brand. The idea was to turn Baileys – a cream base containing among other things Irish whiskey – into an Irish whiskey base containing cream, chocolate, vanilla etc. The concept was revealed “exclusively” in the “Irish Independent” newspaper on 12th November 1977. A follow-up piece on 12th March 1988 confirmed that the product – now named as “Baileys. The Whiskey” was to be tested in the Dublin market prior to a wider rollout in Ireland and the UK. Before it could go much further however, “Baileys. The Whiskey” ran into a major obstacle in the shape of the Scotch Whisky Association and the European regulations on spirits drinks. The production method used to create “Baileys. The Whiskey” involved finishing the spirit in casks that had been infused with the key flavouring elements from the “Baileys Cream Liqueur” product. This technique was marginal in terms of its adherence to the EU regulations and while in normal times, the management of IDV would have fought its case these were not normal times. IDV’s parent Grand Met had just merged with Guinness PLC to create Diageo in December 1997 and IDV Managing Director John McGrath was in the Chairman’s seat at the SWA. When it became apparent to the wider business that Baileys were engaged in a whisky project that would push the legal boundaries of the EU whisky definition, there were some rapid and terse discussions. The industry was still absorbing the formation of a formidable new lead player in the shape of Diageo and any row with the SWA over what the Association would regard as a non-compliant product would embarrass John McGrath and potentially tarnish his SWA Chairmanship. The decision was taken quickly and effectively. “Baileys. The Whiskey” would be withdrawn with immediate effect. News of the brand’s demise does not appear to have entered the public domain and in the continuing turmoil that marked the integration of the Guinness and Grand Met businesses within Diageo, the project was quickly consigned to history. It is not certain how many bottles ever made it into the Irish licensed trade but it is likely that this is one of only a handful of bottles still in existence. The distinctive bottle departed from the “Baileys Liqueur” pack although the front label retained a family look with a bronzed landscape. In gold beneath this label is a specially composed ode to the spirit.’
Compass Box may not be the only whisky company to arouse the SWA rule book!
Unless anyone has any other theories as to the disappearance of Bailey’s The Whiskey – the above premise is all I can go on. Another site did suggest the team that put the whiskey together went on to form Castle Brands Clontarf brand.
Whatever the truth – this is a great dram.
I enjoyed it so much I ended up walking out of the pub without paying!
What else can I say? All apologies.
‘Down with this sort of thing!’ as Father Ted used to say.
Even in my inebriated state there is no excuse for such bad behaviour!
I’m glad to say Tigh Neachtain were very understanding when they contacted me.
After settling my debt I’ll even be allowed back in again!
Prior to the Beam/Suntory takeover of the Kilbeggan/Cooley distillery, it was the only independently owned distillery in Ireland. (This situation has altered again due to the many new entrants into the market). A number of brand names were dropped from the portfolio during the changing process which has led to exciting developments in the Irish Whiskey industry.
The 1st notable omission from the current line-up is Locke’s Single Malt.This is a fine example of a smooth tasting pot still Irish whiskey. The fact that the Locke’s family ran the Kilbeggan distillery for over 100 years through the ups and downs of the whiskey trade and that there name was synonymous with a good dram – it seems a startling miss out. For further reading there is a very informative book – “Locke’s Distillery, A History.” by Andrew Bielenberg, produced for the 250th anniversary of the distillery. Well worth getting hold off. I got my copy at the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society shop in Tullamore.
The main beneficiaries of the sale to Beam were the Teeling family. Brothers Jack and Stephen wasted no time reinvesting their share in building the 1st new distillery to be opened in Dublin for 125 years. I’ve been lucky to have visited it already. It’s a grand building and will produce some very fine whiskeys indeed judging by the Teeling releases currently out there which are all presently spirit made at Kilbeggan/Cooley. There is a must see documentary called “The Whiskey Business” soon to be screened on Irish TV on June 5th which follows the boys making their dreams come true.
Father John is also building a grain distillery at Dundalk – no doubt to supply his sons (and others) with one of the main ingredients for blended whiskey.
There are a number of other clients who previously sourced their spirit at Kilbeggan/Cooley who have gone on to develop their own distilleries.
Lottery winner Peter Lavery previously released the Titanic and Danny Boy whiskey brands. He is now behind the release of McConnell’s Irish Whiskey prior to the development of Crumlin Gaol in Belfast as a whiskey distillery.
Meanwhile – a whiskey I have tasted and enjoyed – Michael Collins – is taking a rather different approach. The Sidney Frank Importing Co is suing Beam for the cessation of it’s whiskey stocks!
There is also the rather unknown quantity of “own label” brands – supermarket chains for example -that would have got their spirit from Kilbeggan/Cooley. This is a major business – but often hard to get information on. The requirement is only to state which country produced the whiskey – not the distillery – but Kilbeggan/Cooley under Teeling supplied this lucrative market.
One example is O’Reilly’s Irish Whiskey which is available in Tesco’s. It has the Cooley Business address on the back. It is still on the shelves at present so whether stocks have been secured post Beam – or pre Beam – I don’t know. I’ve aslo not tasted it. But it is an example of the many different labels a distilleries output can end up in!
The above are only a small sample of whiskeys manufactured at Kilbeggan/Cooley during the time John Teeling was at the helm – 1987 to 2012. Many are no more – but some may survive. I certainly enjoy hunting them down and experiencing the differing tastes and styles on display – marvelling that they were all produced at the same distillery!