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A GLASS APART – A GREAT NEW WHISKEY BOOK

Irish whiskey was once held in higher esteem than its rivals over the water in Scotland and the United States. Battered by a series of economic and political misfortunes, it went into a steep decline for most of the 20th century. The last decade has seen a dramatic rebirth, with a huge surge of interest from Ireland and overseas. Whereas the Scots are best-known for their single malt whisky, our unique specialty is single pot still whiskey. This distillation method gives almost all of our whiskies a distinctive flavour that sets them apart from their rivals elsewhere.

Fionnán O’Connor, a postgraduate student in TCD, has an in-depth knowledge of all things related to whiskey and pot still whiskey in particular. A Glass Apart tells the long illustrious history of pot still whiskey, how it is produced, and most importantly what it tastes like. O’Connor takes the reader through all of the available Irish pot still whiskies, with comprehensive tasting notes on each. He takes an expert look on how to taste and enjoy whiskey, and profiles the personalities behind our national drink, including the distillers, the coopers, the blenders, and maturation experts. He provides an in-depth history of the craft in Ireland, covering many of the extinct distilleries in the towns and cities of Ireland. It is, as O’Connor says ‘an introduction and a love letter to the history, craft, and diversity of Ireland’s re-awoken firewater phoenix’. A Glass Apart is a lavish and comprehensive production, with excellent photography by Ove Grunnér. Published by Images Publishing it will be available in bookshops from next week. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in our national spirit.

Below O’Connor explains the history behind Power’s Whiskey – the old distillery is now the National College of Art & Design in Dublin. Behind him are the three giant copper stills.

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Take it Home Mescal Red Tripel & Ch. Lorgeril

Take it Home from the Irish Times, Friday 28th August, 2015
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DSCF6049Mescan Red Tripel, Westport

MescanI began hearing great things about the Mescan beers from friends in Westport, but Westport was the only place you could buy them. Eventually I made a trip down there and succeeded in trying out the Red Tripel. It was worth the wait. This is a delicious full-bodied beer with masses of rich malty caramel and peach fruits. At 8 per cent, it is definitely not a session beer, but I sipped my way slowly though a bottle while reading the Sunday papers.

Cillián Ó Móraín and Bart Adams weren’t deliberately trying to create publicity through an artificial shortage; they both worked as vets (Adams has now given up and works full-time at brewing), and simply didn’t have the time or energy to make more beer. “After twenty years as vets, we were both looking for a new challenge or interest,” says Ó Móraín. The Red Tripel is matured for ten months before release, so managing demand is a nightmare. “We have to sell it sparingly because it will be a while before the next batch is ready,” he adds.

Phil Cullen of Mountain Man BrewingTake it home: a Hairy Goat IPA and a supple juicy red
Michaela Dillon and Richard SiberryTake it home: an Irish farmhouse ale and a Portuguese wine
Nowadays most distilleries pay big money for used oak barrels that have been used to store wines and bourbon whiskyIrish whiskey: roll out the barrel

Ó Móraín is from Dublin, Adams from Belgium. They both learned about Belgian beer from many visits to that country over the years, and decided to brew Belgian style beers in the shadow of Croagh Patrick – hence the mountain logo. The reek means a lot to both men. The water used in brewing is drawn from under the mountain. The year before they started, they made a weekly ascent together to plan the brewery. According to Ó Móraín, Mescan was a disciple of St Patrick and his personal brewer (we could all do with one of those).

Classic Tripels are golden with lots of malt and are 8-10 per cent in strength. Red Tripel is made with roasted malts, hence the darker colour. O Móraín thinks they were the first to make this style, but several others have now appeared in Belgium. Mescan now appears to be available nearly nationwide, at least in some specialist beer off-licences. I also managed to snaffle a bottle of their latest creation, Westport Extra, made, as the label says, with extra hops, extra malt, extra alcohol (9.3 per cent, and extra conditioning. But you may have to travel to Westport to find a bottle. “We are,” says Ó Móraín, “small and self-contained; we recycle everything, including the water and the spent grain, which is fed to the animals and our beers get a long maturation. We are in the process of expanding but we will never be massive.”

So, not easy to find, but worth the effort.

DSCF6062Ch. Lorgeril 2011, Cabardès
Available from SuperValu at €10

The multiples swing into autumn mode once September comes, usually with a French wine sale. Lidl start theirs on September 7th; SuperValu next week on Thursday 3rd with over 100 wines on offer. I enjoyed two Bordeaux, the light, easy Ch Moulin Lafitte (€14) and the richer softly fruity Ch La Baronnerie (€12). But my wine this week comes from Cabardès in the Languedoc. I remember standing high up in the hills, in the stunning vineyards of Ch Lorgeril a few years back. From the south comes the warm Mediterranean sun, and from the north-east, the cooling Atlantic winds. This unique climate makes for wines with a certain elegance and freshness, despite being less than ten kilometres from the heat of Carcassonne. Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril are the 10th generation of the family to have overseen the estate. Local noble Bernard de Pennautier built the impressive château back in 1620, during the reign of Louis XIII. It is available for hire for seminars, weddings and other events, and just a handy five kilometres from Carcassonne airport.The wine is soft and earthy, with some nice ripe cassis fruits. At €10, it is something of a bargain.

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Mountain Man Brewing Co. Hairy Goat

Mountain Man Brewing Co. Hairy Goat

From the Irish Times online ‘Take it Home’ 21st August, 2015

Image 3

DSCF6041€3.39 for a 500ml bottle

I keep bumping into Mountain Man at fairs, tastings and festivals. There’s usually a lot of hair around, on the logo, as well as on the man that’s pouring. It seems to attract hairy, bearded men too. Behind it all are Phil Cullen and Gordon Lucey, who met on a brewing course in 2012. ‘We were both looking at setting something up at the same time so we thought we might as well put our heads together’, says Cullen. The logo and labeling are distinctive. ‘We took great care with our labels and bottles – you need to have a really good beer, but there’s more to it than that. Nine out of ten people read the label before buying and I thought there was an awful lot of wasted space on some, so we made ours stand out. We have useful information and something to make you smile.’ As for the beards, ‘When we went to the first couple of festivals people asked me ‘Is this your beer? Then where’s your beard?’ So I started growing one. It has become a job requirement now!’ Hairy Goat is an English style IPA, with lovely plump fruits, a nicely balanced hoppiness and a dry but not overly bitter finish. Nice beer. Widely available at €3.99 for a 500ml bottle

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Whiskey – roll out the barrel.

Whiskey – roll out the barrel.

Without barrels there would be no whiskey,’ says Ger Buckley, cooper at Midleton distillery. Until relatively recently, all alcoholic drinks were transported around the world in wooden barrels. It was the cheapest and most efficient method of moving it from maker to seller. Bespoke wine merchants such as Mitchell & Son, Findlaters, Morgans or Woodford Bourne would take delivery of claret, madeira, sherry and port, and mature the wines in cask until they were judged ready for bottling here. You can still find the odd bottle of Chateau This or Chateau That, bearing the label, “bottled by Mitchell & Son, Dublin”.

The same importers also bought freshly distilled spirit from our whiskey producers, which they added to their redundant wine casks. Left to gently mature for a few years, the spirit became smoother and took on a lovely amber colour. It also developed all of those familiar, highly desirable flavours of wood, nuts and caramel. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, wine producers began to bottle their wine at source. In many regions, they were legally obliged to do so. Back in Ireland the distilleries were now ageing and bottling their own whiskey. But they were finding it increasingly difficult to find used oak, a problem they solved by going directly to the wine and spirit producers in Spain, Portugal and the US.

Nowadays most distilleries pay big money for used oak barrels that have been used to store wines and bourbon whisky. As sherry, madeira and port producers don’t change their casks very often, these are more expensive – €700-€800 each. Bourbon casks are less expensive (about $100 but the barrels are smaller) as, by law, all bourbon must be aged in new oak casks. At some stage, distillers here and in Scotland realised specific wines added different flavours to the whiskey, and began to “finish” their whiskies for a short period in cask of a single origin. Typically a whiskey is aged in bourbon casks, before six months to two years in sherry or madeira barrels. This week, there are three new whiskies, each finished in a very different kind of oak barrel.

Irish Irish Distillers recently released limited quantities of Dair Ghaelach (Irish oak), the first whiskey finished in new native Irish oak barrels. This blend of 15-22-year-old single pot still whiskies was aged first in American bourbon casks before spending its final 10 months in new Kilkenny oak casks. A mere 12,000 numbered bottles were produced. As part of the project, each of the nine 130-year-old trees felled was processed into separate barrels, so that every bottle can be linked to a specific tree. The forest is Grinsell’s Wood on Ballaghtobin Estate that has belonged to the Gabbets for 350 years. The trees were transported to Galicia to be quarter-sawn, before moving to Jerez, where cooper Antonio Paez Lobato seasoned the wood for 16 months, made 40 hogsheads and gave them a medium toast. Transported to Ireland, they were filled with the whiskey.

Mitchell & Son were one of the merchants that imported wine and then aged whiskey in the same barrels. Green Spot and Yellow Spot whiskies are descendants of these. They have teamed up with the Barton family in Bordeaux to create Green Spot Ch. Léoville-Barton. Initially aged in sherry and bourbon casks, this is finished in oak barrels first used to mature Ch. Léoville-Barton, one of the great grands crus classés of St Julien. The casks were then shipped to Ireland, and filled with Green Spot. Tullamore has released a whiskey finished in barrels used to ferment cider. The freshly squeezed apple juice was added to bourbon casks and left to ferment and mature for three months, before being replaced by Tullamore DEW Orginal for three further months. The result is quite intriguing.

DSCF5795Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish Irish Whiskey
40%
€54 for a 1 litre bottle

Honeyed, toasty, spicy and rich with attractive subtle notes of red apple.

Stockists: Duty-free shops and the Tullamore D.E.W. visitor centre

Image 6Green Spot Ch. Léoville-Barton Single Pot Still Whiskey
46%
€70

Apple and pear fruits with hints of vanilla and blackcurrant. Textured and smooth with a lovely lingering finish.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences.

Image 2Midleton Dair Ghaelach Single Pot Still Whiskey
57.9%
€260

A complex nose of toast, vanilla and dark chocolate, full-bodied on the palate, with forest fruits underpinned by caramel, finishing with a note of coffee and spice.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences.

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Brooklyn Sorachi Ace

From The Irish Times online 22nd May, 2015

7.6%
€12.99

“The beer you grew up with did not taste of beer. It was crappy beer.”

Garrett Oliver hauled up at the Ballymaloe Litfest last weekend to take part in debates and promote the cause of craft beer. Articulate, witty and hugely knowledgeable, he is a formidable and persuasive speaker. As well as writing the Oxford Beer Companion and The Brewmaster’s Table, he has been the driving force behind the Brooklyn Brewery, one of the most successful and innovative craft brewers in the US. In addition to their standard range, Brooklyn produces once-off highly experimental beers and seasonal releases.

Oliver uses leftover lees from cider, spruce needles, myrtle, citrus peels, pepper, honey, bourbon casks, and a host of other ingredients to add flavour and complexity to the beers. He is a great believer in matching beer and food too. The Sorachi Ace hop was developed in Japan in the 1970s, a cross between a Czech and British hop. The beer has wonderful herby lemon zest aromas, a soft dry palate full of herby flavours. Unique and delicious.

Widely available.

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Dark Arts Porter, Trouble Brewing

Dark Arts Porter, Trouble Brewing

From The Irish Times, online ‘Take it Home’ 12th June, 2015

DSCF55874.4% €2.99 for a 500ml bottle Widely available

“It’s not about the hops. It is all about the malts”, says Paul O’Connor of Trouble Brewing. “We use six different kinds of malt in the brew alongside some flaked barley.” The Dark Arts beers always have enough flavour to please the beer nuts while still appealing to the rest of us. “Dark Arts was the second beer we did, six months after we started. It arrived fully-formed. We have never tweaked the recipe since that first batch. We intended it to be a one-off special but people raved about it and it quickly became our second core beer. It’s never been the best-selling beer (that would be the Deception Golden Ale) but we have always got great reviews.” This is great porter, one of my go-to beers when I need something to sip slowly on a midweek evening. Medium-bodied with chocolate and roasted coffee, and a light hoppy freshness.

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O’Hara’s Hop Adventure Series Sorachi Ace Single Hop India Pale Ale

O’Hara’s Hop Adventure Series Sorachi Ace Single Hop India Pale Ale

From The Irish Times online ‘Take it Home’ 24th July, 2015

DSCF56135% €2.99

A few weeks back I wrote about the Sorachi Ace from the Brooklyn Brewery. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you seek it out straight away. While you are doing that, keep an eye out for the O’Hara’s Hop Adventure Series Sorachi Ace. The Carlow brewers have released their version, the first in a series of beers featuring specially selected hops from around the globe. Sorachi Ace came about back in the 1980s, when a Japanese company crossed a Czech hop with one from England; the resulting hybrid added unique flavours of dill, lemongrass and lemon to a beer. The O’Hara’s Sorachi Ace is a very delicious summery light-bodied beer with lemon verbena and dill on the nose and a lovely easy soft gently hoppy palate.

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Northbound 08 Kölsch

Northbound 08 Kölsch

From the Irish Times online ‘Take it Home’ 31st July,2015

DSCF5619€4.15 / £2.99 – 5%

I have very fond, if slightly hazy, memories of Kölsch from my student days working on building sites in Germany. If you were in Düsselfdorf, you drank Altbier, a copper-coloured fruity beer. If you were a little further south in Köln (or Cologne) you drank Kölsch. You were treated with contempt if you asked for Kölsch in Düsseldorf or an Alt in Köln. Kölsch is pale-coloured, like a lager, but top-fermented like an ale. It is light with a delicate fruitiness and subtle malt flavours. It is not an easy beer to produce but a few craft breweries around the world have tried their hand at it including, now, one in Ireland.

David and Martina Rogers emigrated to Sydney in 2004 as backpackers with a difference – David was an engineer with a residence permit. He started working with Tooheys Brewery, one of the largest in Australia. Included in his work description was “must be able to taste beer at 6.00am every morning”. He qualified as a master brewer in 2013. Drawn back by family ties and the beaches of Donegal, they returned to Ireland and set up Northbound brewery in Derry.

To keep things going, David consults with breweries and distilleries in Ireland and Scotland. In Sydney, Martina worked in sales; here she does “everything the master brewer doesn’t want to do”.

The brewery took two years to set up. “We are coming out of the madness I hope,” says Martina, “We bought our first house, had our third child and took delivery of the brewery in a very short space of time”. Their Kölsch is very good, with subtle malts and a refreshing crisp edge. It brought me straight back to Germany and those building sites. Mine was sourced in Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown.

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Black Donkey Brewing Sheep Stealer Irish Farmhouse Ale

Black Donkey Brewing Sheep Stealer Irish Farmhouse Ale

From the Irish Times online “Take it Home’ 7th August, 2015

DSCF58345.6%
€3.39 for a 500ml bottle.

Black Donkey Brewing is based in Ballinlough, Co. Roscommon. Richard Siberry and Michaela Dillon returned here from New York, having learnt the art of brewing in their garage. ‘Next Thursday marks a year since our first sale to the Salt House in Galway,’ says Siberry, ‘ so we’ll be having a tap takeover with our three beers there. The following Friday we will have four on tap in 57 The Headline in Clanbrassil St., including Beyond, our new rye pale ale.’

But it is the Sheep Stealer we look at today. ‘When we launched it people said it wouldn’t take off, but it was a favourite style of mine and we have been very pleasantly surprised by the reaction. It is very accessible, but that doesn’t make it bad. I think it’s where spaghetti or pizza was twenty years ago. People will fall in love with it. I suspect Irish brewers were brewing something similar a hundred years ago, even if it is seen as a Belgian style nowadays.’

The Sheep Stealer is a cloudy, funky Saison, full of sweet maltiness and peaches with a clean dry citrus finish. Thirst-quenching and moreish, this is one of the best beers I have tasted in quite a while. You can certainly enjoy it with food – mine went very well with a few cheeses – but I would happily sip this solo any day.

If you feel like going one step further, try Buck It, which Siberry describes as a malt-bomb. ‘Buck It is divisive’, he admits. ‘Some people love it, others can’t bear to be in the same room as it. But that’s fine with me – if I had wanted to please everyone I would have made Budweiser!’

Available from specialist off-licences

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