Showing posts with label Irish Distillers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Irish Distillers. Show all posts

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Water in your Whiskey

The Water in your Whiskey
The Dungourney River. (Pic via Irish Distillers)


Time and time again, during our recent two day “immersion” at the Irish Whiskey Academy in Midleton, a few drops of water worked its magic at various tastings. Even when we were privileged to taste a 26-year old from a Bourbon cask in one of the warehouses.

“The cask is unique,” emphasised our tutor and guide Ciaran O'Donovan. “Both for its age and for the fact that the whiskey inside has ‘escaped’ been blended since 1991!” 

The bung was extracted and we examined the whiskey in the glass. “It has great legs, more viscous at this age, sweet with fruit flavours.” Then we added a few drops of water to cut the alcohol. Again the old H2O worked its magic, smoothing everything down a little, making it much more approachable without losing any of the essential character.


I know it’s only five or six drops but it always amazes me that this most freely available of liquids (in Ireland anyhow) can be so influential on a more expensive liquids. 
This mill stone, powered by the water wheel, was used to
grind down barley and malt to grist.
And especially so if the ABV is higher than the normal 40%. As it was in the on-site Irish Whiskey Academy, when we came to taste a New Make Pot Still Spirit whose ABV was, wait for it, 94.4%. It was fruity (mainly apple) and again the drop of water did the trick! Old-time whiskey drinkers knew this of course. That's why you see those water jugs in older pubs. 


Modern whiskey experts and masters regularly emphasise the point at tastings and talks. Two years ago, at the Ballymaloe Litfest, whiskey ace Dave Broom has us tasting a whiskey, Tullamore Dew Phoenix, a blend of all three Irish whiskey types:  “The Single Pot Still comes through. It has a rich dark character and you also note the effects of the sherry barrels. At 55%, it needs water. It is lovely, well balanced, with good characters.”
The old wheel, still turning.
And, of course, those few drops at the end of the whiskey’s life are just that. Water has been influential from the very start as it is a key ingredient. And that is why whiskey distilleries are located near a water source. Or more than one water source, which is the case with Midleton.

The most obvious source is the little river (not 20 kilometres long), the short Dungourney that flows through the town and, when you visit the distillery, you'll see the old giant water-wheel. Sometimes the river needed a boost and in 1834, the distillery purchased a stationary beam engine from the UK to aid the water-wheel during periods of low water. That engine was still in use when the ‘old’ distillery closed in 1975.


East Cork is an area rich in limestone and such areas have lots of caves. Just underneath the distillery, there are caverns full of nice cool water! The two other sources are bore-hole and the public supply.
The river was originally the main source of soft clear water supply for the Old Midleton Distillery, hence the big wheel! It is clean but has minerals. Once treated at the water treatment plant, the water is used for various activities including: brewing, distillation, fermentation, feeds recovery and boiler feed water.


The water from the cavern and borehole, located directly beneath the distillery, is ideal for cooling. It is used throughout the various processes: brewhouse cooling, still-house cooling and feeds recovery cooling.
Welcome to Midleton
The town’s water supply is used to reduce the spirit strength (cutting). It undergoes a thorough filtration and demineralisation process in the reverse osmosis treatment plant before it is used in the Vathouse.

The first spirit was distilled in Midleton Distillery in the early 19th century, the river and cool cavern water playing a key role. But so too did the distillery’s access to nearby Ballinacurra (where the Dungourney goes to sea). This easy access meant the the whiskey could be easily transferred by small lighters from Ballinacurra to the nearby port of Cobh and then onwards on salty ocean waters to countries throughout the world.


Distilling continued on the original site for 150 years (with many up and downs) and, in 1975, the new distillery was commissioned just a short stroll away. The original site is now a tourist attraction but whiskey is being made there again in the company's new micro-distillery. The story, including the essential water, continues.

See also: Whiskey. What's Wood Got To Do With It?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Whiskey. What’s Wood Got To Do With It?

Whiskey.

What’s Wood Got To Do With It?
Cooper Ger Buckley with a stave secure in his "horse"
“You can take whiskey out of wood but you can never take the wood out of whiskey.” This was a quote in the sales literature when, a year or two back, Irish Distillers launched their Cooper’s Croze (one of a trio that also included the Distiller’s Safe and the Blender’s Dog).The influence of oak can be seen in the Croze through it’s vanilla sweetness, rich fruit flavours, floral and spice notes.  

Last week I had the privilege of seeing Ger Buckley, the master working cooper at Irish Distillers HQ in Midleton, in action, a bottle of the Croze he produced in the background and a croze in his hands. A croze? Ger has used a croze all his working life. He uses it to cut the grove along the top of the staves to hold the head (the circular cover) in place.

It is an old and simple tool, just like his other key implements, the hammer and the driver (both heavy), the carving axe (bevelled on just one side) and the adze (a shaping axe). The hammer, the axe and the adze are ancient tools, sacred tools in some cultures around the world.
Ger with croze in hand
Remember, there is no measuring in the cooperage, all done by eye, but each barrel or cask has a related compass. Other tools include the dog (used to insert the reed that makes a seal between upright and horizontal) and the horse and a stationery plane.

Our opening sentence indicates the importance of wood in the whiskey making process. Ger will say that it accounts for more than fifty per cent of the input to the final bottle and many distillers will agree with him.

Ger, a 5th generation cooper, had (up to a month ago) only ever used white oak. Very recently though, in Irish Distillers’ new innovative series Method and Madness, one of the whiskeys was finished in a Sweet Chestnut Cask.
The three basic tools: adze, hammer,  and axe
Both the American bourbon barrels and the Spanish Sherry butts are made from white oak but each performs very differently. Vanilla and caramel are among the flavours that the American version contributes while dark fruits (such as plum) and sherry flavours come from the European cask.

Recently, for the Midleton Dair Ghaelach whiskey, Irish oak, from ten trees, was used. The cooper told us that it is very sweet (there is sugar in oak!), chocolate too and vanilla, closer to the US than Spain. 

“Did you know that we once supplied staves to Spain?” said Ger. “Up to the 17th century, Ireland was covered in oak forests… the English, who took a lot for their naval forces, are often blamed for the decline..but we ourselves didn’t renew.”   

Ger collapses cask and re-assembles it, all in a few minutes, talking all the time!
Oak coverage here “is on the up again”. And the hope is to get it up to about 17% which is the European normal. “Not just oak though,” warned Ger. “We need bio diversity.”

And this diversity within the forest is good not just for the wood and its creatures but also for the distilleries, and anyone else who needs good timber. “We are looking for a large beam of oak.” And that is achieved by planting other species, beech for instance, close to the oak which then is forced to expand straight up and grow as a beam!

Oak for the cooperage is the most expensive. There must be no defects. The method of sawing, called quarter sawing, also leads to waste but it doubles the strength of the wood.
Ciaran O’Donovan makes a point about oak in the Whiskey Academy.
Good and all as the oak is, it is not perfect. Leaks do arise and most of these can be repaired quickly and without too much loss. But no one had yet found a solution to evaporation. It is about 2% in Ireland, about 30,000 bottles of Jameson a day! That is not too bad, compared to hot climates. In Tennessee it can reach 7%. All around the world, whether the distillery is producing brandy, whiskey or rum, the angels get their share!

Ciaran O’Donovan. of the Irish Whiskey Academy, who led our group in the 2-day immersion in all things whiskey, also filled us in on the importance of the wood (of oak in particular) saying 60% of the flavour comes from it. Did you know that Irish Distillers bring in about 140,000 barrels (with their internal surfaces charred) from America each year, swamping the few thousand Sherry butts (toasted internal surfaces) that come from Spain each November.

Just one corner of one warehouse
By the way, these butts belong to IDL from the very start. They buy them in the north of Spain; they are then taken down to the south, to Jerez and filled with sherry; after a few years they arrive in Midleton. Interestingly, when they come they will have up to five litres of sherry inside! Ciaran called the sherry barrel a "work of art" compared to the bourbon equivalent which, by comparison, has a lot of mechanisation in its production.

The butts (500l) add colour and tannin and flavours of dried fruit, nut, fig, even Christmas cake. The once-used bourbon barrels (200l) are empty! They have been especially sourced by three companies in the US and must be top class. Key flavours here are toasted wood, sweetness and vanilla.

IDL also source casks from other countries: Port pipes from Portugal, drums from Madeira, casks from Malaga (Green Spot 12 yo), casks from Marsala in Sicily, and wine barriques from Bordeaux (Green Spot Leoville Barton).
This comes with a disc of oak in the gift box
And the Irish oak? Well, we did get a chance to taste the Midleton Dair Ghaelach, matured in Bourbon casks and finished in Irish oak, a “project at its beginning”. It has a lovely nose, unique colours, vanilla and sweetness are prominent. 

IDL also import a small amount of Virgin oak from America’s Ozark Mountains and it is used, for example, in Jameson Gold Reserve, very sparingly in Barry Crockett Legacy. We came across it also when tasting a Pot Still 8 year old (where it was the only wood used). Ciaran indicated that while it may not be used on its own “it will improve a blend. Lots of uses for it here.”

In the cask, the young spirits will have a strong distillate character. The longer it spends in the cask, the greater the influence of the wood, and the more complex it becomes. The task for the distiller is to strike a balance between the two. I reckon they get it spot (excuse the pun) on most of the time in Midleton.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

O’Donovan’s 14th Cork Wine and Craft Beer Fair. Some Superb Spirits too.

O’Donovan’s 14th Cork Wine and Craft Beer Fair
Some Superb Spirits too
Mary Pawle

I must say I really enjoyed the variety around the room at the 14th Cork Wine Fair, mounted by O'Donovan Off Licences, in the Clarion last weekend. There were more than a few excellent wines, as you might expect. No shortage of good craft beer and some delightful Irish spirits. Not to mention the local food stalls.

Traffic problems delayed some exhibitors and pundits but Mary Pawle, all the way from Kenmare, was one of the first to set up and my first visit. And her first offering was the biodynamic Dominio e Punctum Viognier 2015. Well balanced, great acidity and she suggests trying it with Asian Cuisine. Should have had toddled over to the Green Saffron stall!

Grüner Veltliner is a favourite of mine and Mary has a good one in the Diwald Grossriedenthaler 2015, dry and rich, with great length.

Time then to touch base with Padraig from Carrigaline Cheese, one of the Cork cheesemakers featured in the Oxford University Press Companion to Cheese, due to be published this Thursday. 

Avril of Rosscarberry Recipes had her problems with the traffic but she arrived with lots of samples, including a new one by son Maurice who has been working on an unsmoked Angus Biltong, a delicious product with lovely texture and flavour. Early days yet but this could be another winner from the Rosscarberry farm.
Padraig from Carrigaline Cheese

Then I got side-tracked by some spirits, including Kalak the Celtic queen of winter. If people tell you that Vodka has no character, then give them a drop of Kalak. “We are very proud of this,” said Damien on the Tindal stand. “Enjoy it in a whiskey glass with a lump of ice. It is made from a single ingredient (malted barley) in a single distillery (West Cork) and only one of six vodkas in the world to be so made and recognised.” It is being sold in all the best places - the Germans love it and is going down well in the US.

Tindal’s were also tasting the Blackwater No 5 Gin. But my eyes were on their Juniper Cask Gin. I remember seeing those small juniper casks before they were filled but had never tasted the result. Damien fixed that. As many of you know by now it is a delight, amazing aromas and flavours.
Damien (Tindal) with two top drops

There were some very enthusiastic people behind the stands. Jamie Winters of Irish Distiller was one and he treated me to a Jameson masterclass that included Blender’s Dog, Cooper’s Croze ad Distiller’s Safe. Each is made by a senior person in Midleton and each has the fingerprint on the bottles. Indeed, I’m told there’s quite keen competition between the three.

My first sip came from the Distiller’s Safe by Head Distiller Brian Nation. His aim was to show the character of the distillate. Despite the wood that follows, the pot still has the first say and it certainly does here in a light and zesty, gentle sophisticated whiskey.

Head Cooper Ger Buckley was on the darker side, revealing the flavour of the wood so skilfully crafted. Not just the flavour. There is more colour here too and a great mix of fruit, spice and oak with a long and pleasant finish.
Three of the best!

That left it up to Head Blender Billy Leighton to bring it all together, the spirit, the oak and time. And he surely got the balance spot-on. Superbly balanced, sweetness and spice. Time and patience pays off for Billy. It is rich and round, the gorgeous fruit slow to fade in the final.

Major enthusiasm too at the Vineyard stand where we got stuck into the Malbecs! It was Argentina all the way and first up was the Pascual Toso 2014, a “sincere” and satisfactory example. But that was soon eclipsed by the Reserva 2014, super ripe with lots of complexity, very very good indeed.

Next thing we knew, our man vanished and returned quickly with another Malbec, this the Luigi Bosca Signature Malbec Reserva 2012. Like all the previous Malbecs this had a lighter colour than you’d normally find in Cahors. It was smooth and silky and with a great finish. “Magic!” according to our man. Magic Malbec indeed. This had come from the Barry & Fitzwilliam display where we’d earlier been sipping beers by Bo Bristle and Mountain Man.
Pat (O'Donovan's)
pouring a sample.

He went missing again and was back in a flash with a sample of the amazing Zenato Ripasso (from the Tindal stand). I’m a Ripasso fan and have tasted quite a few but this Zenato Ripassa della Valpolicella Superiore 2012 is silky smooth, with amazing concentration and a long long finish. “Dangerously easy to drink,” said Damien when we returned to the Tindal stand. Damien is a huge fan of the wine and the man behind it.

And he had a suggestion for the Christmas dinner: the Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2014, full of character and flavour and easily able to stand up to most the variations on the Christmas table. And we finished here with a sip of the Cotes du Rhône Les Deux Cols “Cuvée d’Alize” made by Simon Tyrrell. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, it was made for easy drinking and, with its rich fruit aromas and flavours, it certainly hits the mark.

And we just had to try the Beefsteak Meaty Malbec 2015 at the United Wines stand. Well we were under orders! This vibrant Malbec, spicy and juicy, rich from the oak, is ideal - you’ve guessed it - for juicy steaks. And believe it or not you can join the Beefsteak club  online!

Pat, well known to patrons of O’Donovan’s in Mayfield, is a big red wine man and he showed us two of his favourites. First up was the Famila Castano ‘Hecula’ Monastrell 2014, a Gold Star winner (under €15.00) at the Irish Wine Show. “Deliciously ripe and opulent, a steal” said the judges.

Catalan design
And I was very impressed with the next one: San Alejandro ‘Las Rocas’ Vinas Viejas 2013 from Calatayud. This won the Gold Star for reds priced under €20.00. And speaking of this old vine wine, the judges said: “..blackberry and mocha fruits with a side order of toast!”.

We finished where we started, back with Mary Pawle. We enjoyed the Stellar Running Duck Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa and a young unoaked Rioja Osoti 2015. Osoti by the way means pigeon in Basque so maybe that’s a matching hint. And she also had a young Côtes du Rhone, the Contrefort du Delta 2014, very pleasing aromas and palate, soft and smooth, and described as “a good all rounder”.

All three were very good but my favourite of her reds was the Jean Bousquet Malbec 2015 with its intense aromas and flavours, soft and supple and with excellent length. Malbec again! Looks like it was the number one grape at the Fair, a very enjoyable few hours indeed.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Munster Wine & Dine in Midleton. Outstanding Trip To Sage and Irish Distillers

Munster Wine & Dine in Midleton. Outstanding Trip To Sage and Irish Distillers
The big one!
 Last week’s Munster Wine & Dine mid-week trip to Midleton was packed with highlights, both at Irish Distillers and later at Sage Restaurant.

There was a generous welcome from the team at the Distillery. For me, the tutored tasting by Brian Ledwidge was the outstanding part, as we got to sample three of the very best produced here.

Cooper's corner. Tools & staves
We started with the Redbreast 12, a single pot still whiskey. The single by the way refers to a single distillery, not a single pot. Pick up your glass - no need to swish it around as you would with wine - just give it a gentle turn and that will allow the aromas rise. The Redbreast has been matured in Oloroso casks and so it is quite aromatic, reminiscent of a Christmas cake being taken out of the oven, according to Brian.

In the mouth, there is a significant “creaminess (from the unmalted barley), fruit (from the cask), and spice (from the pot still), a nice balance of all three”. Brian also told us about the latest Redbreast which has been raised in Lustau casks.

The cottage
 Power’s were one of the three companies that merged to form Irish Distillers in the mid 60s and their line was represented here by John’s Lane Release. John’s Lane (in Dublin) was where the original would have been produced. 

It is nicely spiced from the still. Raised in US (mainly) and Spanish casks, Brian pointed out the vanilla on the nose, also a light apricot.Twelve years (at least) of maturation is rewarded with outstanding flavour and complexity, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, spices, all there together in a long long finish.

Peter: "the next guy that contradicts the guide......"
 And then we were on to an outstanding premium whiskey, the Midleton Very Rare, made from whiskey that has been matured in US casks only. The casks (no more then 250) to be used are hand-picked by Master Distiller Brian Nation and are between 12 and 22 years old. The resulting blend is nicely balanced with “50 to 60 per cent of the flavour coming from the wood”. Unlike the previous two, this is a blended whiskey.

Micro
This truly magnificent and much celebrated whiskey is amazingly smooth (after that long maturation), light of fruit, with hints of sweetness and spice, an absolutely outstanding mouthful.

There was an earlier tasting also, this coming as we toured the massive warehouse complex, with Daniel as our guide. You have to know your way around here - they build a new one every two months! And these are huge; each warehouse holds 16,800 casks. And the overall “population” is no less than 1.4 million casks. All needed, with more than five million cases of Jameson alone being sold annually.

The old millwheel still turning
New!
 Hard to take in those kind of numbers. The going got a whole lot easier though when Daniel invited Beverly, a MWD member, to open a bourbon cask. She extracted the bung like a veteran and we all enjoyed the whiskey that had been inside since 1991. Still time for another sample, this from a 2001 Sherry cask (much bigger) and probably destined for a Redbreast bottle, another lovely sip.

On arrival at Midleton, we were welcomed by Kevin O'Gorman, Master of Maturation (one of the four 'Midleton Masters', and responsible for all of the whiskey once it goes into barrel) and Carol Quinn, Archivist at Midleton Distillery. Kevin told us how Midleton have been making whiskey here since 1825. He’s excited by much that is going on now in Irish whiskey. “So many new things going on. I love the innovation.”


The Jameson Perfect Serve
 We would see some of that right here on our first walkabout, through the old distillery, the history explained in a lively manner by our guide Peter Corr (also a member of the Munster Wine & Dine, so there was some gentle slagging going on).


The old buildings, which have seen duty as a flour mill and as a military barracks, were vacated for the “new” distillery in 1975. They are full of history and memorabilia, enough to explain the production process to newbies!

And its not all old. Irish Distillers now have their very own micro-distillery here, three sparkling new copper stills all ready for action. And no doubt, the firm’s distillers - there are eight of them - will be taking full advantage of the possibility of making new and exciting spirits, something that couldn't happen in the huge new distillery with its massive stills always busy.

Three of the best
 After Peter’s tour, which also included the cooperage, we made our first visit to the Whiskey Academy where we met Brian, David McCabe and Maura Coffey and had our first drink of the afternoon, a very welcome Jameson Sour Old fashioned. The bitters by the way are a new product: Jameson Sloe Berry Bitters (foraged in the west of Ireland).

And it was the Academy that also saw our last drink of the informative tour, the Jameson Perfect Serve. Brian told us that Jameson was well known for “its mixability and is also very popular when mixed with Ginger Ale”.

Add caption
His recipe, more or less, is to use a tumbler with loads of ice. Add a standard measure of Jameson, lime ( “a nice big piece squeezed in”), and top it all up with chilled Ginger Ale. Cheers

Roast beets
 After that, it was time to take the short walk out the lane and up the main street and then another warm welcome from chef/owner Kevin Aherne and his team at Sage. We had ordered a meal based on his famous #12 Mile Menu and it was absolutely top notch.

After an lovely amuse bouche and a sampling of his tasty potato bread, we had a choice of starters:
Salt Baked beets, candied outs, apples;
Smoked scallop, wild hedgehog mushroom, sea beet;
Beef filet carpaccio, black onion aioli, purple potato, celeriac.
I enjoyed my scallop dish, soft and delicious in a lovely "broth". And I also managed a sample of the beets, a lovely mix of textures and flavours.

Cod
The fish course had two options:
Butter poached cod, barley, broccoli, smoked cheese;
John Dory, gnocchi, shiitake, mushroom butter.
The John Dory was another soft and delicate dish but thoroughly delicious while the Cod was so well matched with the barley and the broccoli. The fish, in each case, looked invitingly fresh, top class.

Two main courses to pick from:
Pork shoulder, swede, pear;
Beef fillet, cheek, bone marrow, lovage.
The pork was from Woodside Farm, so I wasn't going to ignore that. And I wasn't disappointed. It was superb, full of flavour. And there was only praise too from CL who enjoyed the fillet, also full of flavour. Two quite perfect dishes really, each well accompanied.

White chocolate
Something sweet to finish:
Apple parfait, apple arlette, and spiced bread;
White chocolate cheesecake, blackberry;
Bo Rua Farmhouse cheddar, chutney, nuts.
I know the Bo Rua is lovely but my sweet tooth demanded the chocolate, soft, sweet and soon gone. And much the same could be said by CL about her Apple combination.

* The next Munster Wine & Dine event is a distillery tour (Bertha's Revenge) and lunch at Ballyvolane House - details here.


Friday, October 7, 2016

The Whiskeys of Ireland by Peter Mulryan.

Review: The Whiskeys of Ireland
by Peter Mulryan
Midleton
“Whiskey. Irish for droplets of pure pleasure.” WB Yeats.

You’ll find tour guides in the many new Irish distilleries telling you that whiskey is a corruption of the Gaelic Uisce Beatha (water of life). No need to believe those novices! Yeats got it right and his interpretation is quoted on the back cover of the Whiskeys of Ireland by Peter Mulryan. 

Whenever I get my hands on a new Irish food or drink book, I usually flick through the opening pages to see where it was printed and am invariably disappointed. This, printed in the Czech Republic, is no exception. If we are expected to support the Irish food and drinks industry, then our food and drink writers should do all they can to support Irish printers. But that's about the only gripe  (one more - there is no index), I have against this excellent book.



The new Connacht Distillery in Ballina
Because, for a long time, there were spirits galore but no definition of whiskey, Mulryan says it is difficult to trace its evolution. But distilling was alive and well, if not up to FSAI standards, in the 15th century and the Crown passed a law in 1556, in vain, to put a stop to it. Eventually, after the collapse of the Gaelic order, a licensing system was imposed.

The first Irish patent was granted in 1608 but cronyism and corruption led to the collapse of the system. Taxation reared its head in 1661 and that reinforced the illegal side of the trade. And the same happened when a stiff tax regime was imposed in 1779. The underground operators sold their poitín and that became “the drink of the people”.


A more benign tax regime led to a booming whiskey industry in the 1820s and onwards. But that led to widespread alcohol problems and in stepped Fr Matthew. Distilleries closed by the dozen. 

On display in Teelings, Newmarket, Dublin
The respectable side of the business examined the newly invented Aeneas Coffey column still and he had some initial success here before turning to a warmer welcome in Scotland. Ireland, pants down in Mulryan’s phrase, missed the revolution and would pay dearly.

Close to the end of the century though, the big players in Irish whiskey, including Allman’s in Bandon, were flying high again. Phylloxera dealt the French distillers a hammer blow and that too helped the Irish in what Mulryan terms “the Golden Years”.


Scotland too was on the rise but the bubble would burst as the century turned, fraudulent trading, recession, wars, and increased taxes all contributing.

With the author (left) in his Blackwater Distillery
Ireland now had its own problems: wars and then partition. We were behind internationally and now the domestic market collapsed. And, in the US, prohibition was looming. Closure followed closure.

There were back doors to the US market. The Scots didn't hesitate, the Irish did. Then we Irish had the “Economic War” with England and next came WW2. After they were over, in the US, the Scots were in and, except for Irish Coffee, the Irish were out.

It was a long tailspin, halted only in 1966 when the three (yes, 3!) remaining distilleries amalgamated. Eventually a new outlook led to a new distillery in Midleton (1975). John Jameson was the brand that led to the current revival, the brand that eventual and current owners Pernod Ricard used as a wedge to once more open the international market to Irish Whiskey.

Cyril (left) and Barry of St Patrick's in Cork
Meanwhile, Mulryan relates that an opportunity was spotted by John Teeling at Cooley and, thanks to the eagle-eyed entrepreneur, the Irish industry acquired a new and vibrant arm, an arm that is still reaching out. Now virtually every county has a distillery, many of them micro. The consumer, home and abroad, has never had it so good. Cheers to John Jameson (5 million cases in 2015) and the French marketeers.

Those marketeers include a salesman selling Jameson in a Vendeé supermarket sometime in the 90s. He was an insistent guy and I bought a bottle (the price was good too!) and I still have the free cassette tapes that came with it!


Mulryan's fascinating book covers the history, the rises and the falls and the stunning re-birth, in a lively manner, great for the experienced and novice alike. It is well worth seeking out for the history alone. But he also casts his keen and experienced eye (he founded and runs the Blackwater Distillery) over the current scene (sending out a warning to mid-sized operators).

Whiskey by Hyde's
The closing chapters take us, in plain and engaging English, through the making and blending and, most importantly, the tasting of our beloved Uisce Beatha, sorry droplets of pure pleasure. Slainte!

The Whiskeys of Ireland is published by the O’Brien Press and is widely available. I spotted it in Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork  selling for €19.95.
Hands on research in Dingle recently


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lustau at Ballymaloe

Lustau Dinner at Ballymaloe
Sherry with every course. Of Course!
Paco, Scott and Manolo

Jerez came to Ballymaloe on Wednesday night and Lustau oenologist, Manolo Lozano, who has been named “Best Fortified Winemaker of the Year seven years in a row by the International Wine Challenge of London” brought some delicious wines with him and they were well matched by Ballymaloe chef Scott Walsh.

Manolo, accompanied by friend and translator Paco Lozano (unrelated), was here to visit Irish Distillers in nearby Midleton and the dinner at Ballymaloe celebrated the links between the two companies. The distillery was well represented with Kevin O'Gorman, Master of Maturation; Billy Leighton Master Blender; and Ger Buckley, Master Cooper, among the diners.

The Spanish visitors gave us a brief introduction to their sherries. Manolo: “Jerez is one of the oldest wine regions in Spain… just three varieties are used, Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez…. we used the solera system, a dynamic system, to get the characteristics we want… there are no yearly vintages….” To read all about Lustao, including the methods of production, click here.


"A style for every occasion"
There are different types of aging for the dry and for the sweet and the casks used are made from either Spanish or American oak with a capacity of five to six hundred litres. We had Fino Jarana both as aperitif and as a match for the first course: Toasted Almonds, Wild Watercress and Honey Salad.

Manolo explained the flor, the “veil of yeast” that covers the young wine in a biological process (see diagram below). Hence the pale colour, the salty nose with hints of yeast. “It is elegant, with nutty (almond) elements”. Chef Walsh had gathered his watercress and had a good word to say about the recent storm Barney: “It is a great time to gather watercress, the storm increased the water flow and enhanced its peppery flavour. A sprinkle of sea salt clinched it”. A perfect match indeed.

Ballymaloe's Colm McCan (left) with his
guests from near and far.
Then we were on to the Amontillado Los Arcos, a darker sherry. This is raised first under flor and then after the addition of higher alcohol has killed off the flor, the second maturation begins. Colour is amber and while the palate “reminds of Fino, the nutty flavour is no longer that of almond”. The chef had a big challenge here in trying to do it justice. So he used cured farm pork and the fat in the smoked meat “made the match”. The full title: Ballymaloe Kasler, white bean and Parsley tostado.


The first two sherries were dry,  under 5 grams per litre, and so was the third, the mahogany coloured Oloroso Don Nuno, “raised in the same casks that Irish Distillers now have!” Alcohol here is 20 per cent. The wine here has been selected from the start to be Oloroso so there is no flor at all. All three start “very plain. Then we develop what we want. It is a very good wine, a strong wine for red meat, for game. Hard to match!”
Main Course
Scott came up with the answer, even if there are now “no cow tails left in Midleton”. “There’s a lot of meat on a cow, “ he said. “But just one tail!”. The dish was Braised Ox Tail with Romanesco, tomato, lentils. And we believe that both red and white wine, even some brandy were also added. The chef was hoping the sherry would “cut the richness and the fat” and neither he nor we were disappointed. A superb pairing indeed.

Now we were onto the sweet Moscatel sherry (200 g of sugar per liter). “This is not allowed to ferment at all; alcohol is added immediately to allow natural sugar remain in the wine. Grapes are pressed, fermentation is stopped. The Pedro Ximenez grapes (450g), on the other hand, are “transformed” by sun-drying prior to pressing.
Scott and Yours Truly

Before he and Paco sat down to enjoy their desserts, Manolo asked us to consider sherry in a new light. “Don't forget, sherry is a wine. It is very versatile and there is a style for every occasion.” They had indeed demonstrated exactly that.

The chef had come up with a divine Steamed Kumquat Pudding for the Moscatel Emilin while the PX San Emilio was paired with Ballymaloe Vanilla Ice-cream. The PX was supposed to be drizzled over the ice-cream but you know the Irish drizzle!

There was one further liquid treat in store for us, a glass of Redbreast 21 year old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. Master Blender at Midleton Distillery is Billy Leighton: “The Redbreast family is all based on whiskey raised in sherry casks. Paco and Manolo have been of tremendous help to us in Jerez. We get the best quality cases and that leads to the best quality whiskey”.


“There is a succulent fruitiness on the nose more so than on the 12 years old, a heavier style. Secret is to match the sherry flavours with the spicy whiskey, get that balance of fruitiness and spices. And that taste is full and silky, smooth and, even at 46% abv, it slips down nicely before the fruitiness slowly fades away and it drys out leaving the barley at the very end. Sláinte!”


And Sláinte indeed to everyone at Ballymaloe. A privilege to be there at Manolo's first ever sherry dinner in Ireland.
Producing sherry.
For more info check Lustau website