Showing posts with label ger Buckley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ger Buckley. Show all posts

Friday, May 17, 2019

Wine, Whiskey, Beer and Pizza at Franciscan Well. With ace cooper Ger Buckley the star of the show.


Wine, Whiskey, Beer and Pizza at Franciscan Well
With ace cooper Ger Buckley the star of the show.

Ger (right) doing a bit of barrel charring! Note fire exit and hose close at hand

After the flames...
“It’s a thrill to be back ‘working’ in the North Mall,” said Irish Distillers much travelled master cooper Ger Buckley as he introduced himself at the start of an evening of wine, whiskey, beer and pizza at the buzzing Franciscan Well Bar last Thursday night. The link between the three drinks (the whiskey, the wine and the special Franciscan Well stout have all spent time in barrel) is of course the wood. Ger will tell that it accounts for more than fifty per cent of the input to the final bottle of whiskey and many distillers will agree with him.

Many years ago, Ger started his cooperage apprenticeship, with his father, in the distillery on the Mall, remembering not just the smell of the whiskey but also that of leather as there were tanneries in the area. There was quite a tradition of coopers in that part of town, and an earlier source of employment for many was the Firkin Crane in Shandon, part of the renowned butter market.

Ger still has, still uses, many of the tools, some as much as 200 years old, used by his father and ancestors including the hammer, the driver, and the adze. On the hammer he said: “Let the weight do the work.” “Hold that driver properly. My father used say you’ll pay for your mistakes, in lost finger-tips and worse.”

The adze has an amazing and long history, used by ancient ship builders and log cabin builders; it was a sacred tool in the Maori culture. “It looks clumsy, “said Ger. “But it’s great to remove excess wood and gives a great finish.” Another tool he uses is the compass. “Everything I do (measure) is by eye. The compass, a Cork tradition, is my only aid. This craft goes back 4,000 years. I don’t do much that’s different from those early coopers.” 
Sophia brings us the wine

Ger would soon show us how to use those tools, or at least, how he uses them. But now it was the turn of Sophia and the Australian introduced us to the Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, a premium wine finished in aged Irish Whiskey barrels. Blackcurrant on the nose and on the palate, smooth integrated tannins and a satisfying finish. Those charred barrels certainly played a part in this rich, deep, smooth and quite impressive wine.

The cooper returned to centre-stage and used those tools as he first demolished a barrel (see video below) and then, stave by stave, put it together again, working away with amazing precision while still keeping us entertained with yarn after yarn of his days in the North Mall. While reassembling the barrel he remarked to the incredulous audience: “It becomes second nature after a while. I know how to match the various stave sizes by eye”.
Sharp operator

In his days in the Mall, the coopers would be repairing barrels, always keeping an eye out for a few drops of whiskey in the bottom, often enough to fill a couple of bottles. But how do you fill a small container from a very large one? With great difficulty. They’d start by borrowing a tea pot from the canteen and then the fun began.
Paudie told us the
Caskmates story

“Can you two imagine langers, maybe each already half-langers, trying to hold a barrel over a tiny teapot and trying to pour the contents out of the big one and into the small one. Quite often they succeeded but there were regular failures too and broken teapots. So then the apprentice was sent down town to buy a new teapot for the lady in charge!”

He kept working and talking. “I live by Blarney, tells you why I talk so much,” he joked. And then more seriously, as he hammered a hoop into position. “Use the weight of the hammer but you must make the right contact. If you don’t, the hoop will bend - bad news!” He demo-ed that too!

Liam and Black Barrel


And then the Jameson rep Liam was introduced to tell us all about their Black Barrel whiskey, “one of the best quality whiskeys with its depth of flavour and spicy notes”.

Nowadays, Irish Distillers have some 1.5 million barrels in total stored in Midleton. But years ago, many were stored outside and weren’t in great condition when they were brought in for filling. “So they were charred to a greater degree than normal, were filled with whiskey and the result was Black Barrel.” 


He told us how to smell: “Put your nose inside the glass, open mouth slightly and breathe in that hint of vanilla sweetness and exotic fruit” We then went on to taste, getting that trademark Jameson spice (“from the unmalted barley”) and, “from the charred wood” came vanilla, butterscotch and caramel. “One of the best, pound for pound,” he concluded and there were nods all around.

Video of barrel collapse

"Here's one I un-made
earlier"
A collaboration between Jameson and Franciscan Well led to Caskmates and that was explained to us by Paudie of the Well. Firstly, the brewery made a stout in six barrels that previously held whiskey and it turned out stronger than expected due to the whiskey in the wood. Later, the returned barrels were filled with Jameson in Midleton and Liam told us an extra long finish resulted and was called Caskmates.  “It is very popular as a sipping whiskey”. We sipped and enjoyed it as we enjoyed the delicious stout. Every second sip!
Cabernet Sauvignon Pizza, boy!

Ger then talked about another tool, the Croze, “the one tool I must have” and “that’s why I named my whiskey after it”. The Cooper’s Croze is one of three relatively new products from Midleton; the others in the set are Blender’s Dog and Distiller’s Safe. 

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.

“Now,” said Ger. “The pizza is ready. The best pizza in Cork to go with the best beers in Cork, in my opinion.” Pompeii Pizza are the resident producers here in the Well and they had three specials for the occasion.

We enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon Chorizo (tomato sauce, Gubbeen chorizo roasted in Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, black Kalamata Olives, Fior di Latte Mozzarella, Oregano).

Matching the whiskey was the Smoked Cheese and Caramelised Onion (featuring Carrigaline beech smoked cheese and Black Barrel Whiskey). For the beer lovers, Pompeii came up with the Shandon and Sausage (with Shannon Stout and Jack McCarthy’s Bramley Apple sausages in the mix).

Another brilliant night at the Franciscan Well.


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.