It was 11am in Gatwick airport on Saturday 14th March. The plane taking a small drinks press contingent over to Ireland for Jameson’s extended #HelloDublin St. Patrick’s Day celebrations was due to leave in just over an hour from Heathrow. Had I made a terrible mistake?
In fact, I’d just arrived back from a holiday and had always known I couldn’t make that flight, just as I knew all I’d be seeing on my return to blighty was Gatwick airport itself. My flight to Cork was later, and until then I’d simply be pretending I was Tom Hanks in The Terminal. (Although there were no Catherine Zeta-Jones love interest developments to speak of.)
My time killing was aided greatly by the fact Wales were playing Ireland in the 6 Nations, and even though England needed a Wales win to keep the championship alive part of me was thinking just how great the atmosphere in Ireland would be after a victory. (Come to think of it, perhaps it was this lack of commitment to the Welsh cause that put the kibosh on the Catherine Zeta-Jones thing…) I needn’t have worried about the atmosphere of course, it was about to be St. Patrick’s Day! (And the tournament didn’t turn out too badly for them either, did it?)
The disappointment wouldn’t last long…
Soon enough it was time for my flight and then I’d made it. I was in Cork for #HelloDublin…
Again, no mix up here. Sunday would be spent visiting the new Midleton distillery, home of Jameson since 1975. And this was a big trip. The drinks folk may have been a small contingent but a 50+ strong group was also made up of lifestyle bloggers, food writers, mainstream press, music press, the odd DJ, some cool young things and just a small handful who seemed, erm, let’s say “oblivious to the paradox of their uniform individuality”*. I suspected that many of the latter group were going to enjoy the Dublin leg of the trip rather more than the distillery visit… Credit to Jameson for showing them where the liquid comes from and how it’s made before the big ol’ party.
#HelloDublin / Cork.
I visited Midleton last year for the Irish Whisky Academy, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here, but the distillery really is an incredible place. All the spirit that goes into Jameson and every other Irish Distillers brand is produced at this one site (with the exception of a small proportion of malt in Paddy’s). Just mind-boggling.
I’ve done this twice now. Sorry.
Tasting straight from the casks was one of the major highlights once again, and it was great to revisit the 1991 bourbon matured pot still (re-racked in 2005 from a second fill to a first fill) from cask 095988 and the 1998 Sherry matured pot still from cask 43229 six months down the line. They’re both mid pot stills in terms of distillate Midleton produces. Huge straight from the cask, the richer, autumnal Sherried spirit is still fantastic of course, but the spirit from the bourbon cask seemed to have become even better than I remembered (although it’s quite possible it was that good all along) – like a special fruity banana breakfast Yellow Spot on steroids!
Sadly we weren’t able to get around to the Port cask on this occasion, but the sample we tasted back in September (another mid pot still – filled into cask 38643 back in 1995) was the best Port matured whisky/whiskey I’ve ever tasted. I remember Joel Harrison getting extremely excited about it back then – full of damson, butterscotch and Campino balanced with a spice edge, liquorice and hints of mint or tarragon. Epic stuff.
(Click to enlarge.)
Another highlight for me was catching up with Irish Distillers Master Blender Billy Leighton, a top chap that I first met at the Redbreast 21yo launch, but who was sadly off somewhere on the other side of the world last time I was in County Cork. Having the opportunity to share a pot still Irish whiskey or several with him and chat right into the small hours not just the once, but two nights running, was frankly priceless. He became Master Blender in 2004 you know.
An Instagrammed Billy Leighton.
Unlike us, Billy had to go into the office in between too! On the Sunday he was working on the new Midleton Rare with Brian Nation in the morning before running Jameson Family tastings for our many groups in the afternoon. This led certain individuals from a well known Lothian whisky blog – we’ll call them Supercharger and Lion to protect their identities – to suggest he must have a liver made of unicorn dust and titanium. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to them though, one of them was banging on about stealing a horse all weekend…
This probably didn’t happen.**
Other recent developments at the distillery include the introduction of a ‘Bottle Your Own’ Jameson whiskey (also available at the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin), and it’s a good’un. A Select Reserve Cask Strength Black Barrel no less! The original Black Barrel (aka Small Batch), if you don’t know, is awesome stuff made by double charring bourbon barrels before maturation. It’s a process that takes place at Kelvin Cooperage, Kentucky, and is overseen by Midleton’s 5th generation cooper Ger Buckley each year. An additional butterscotch sweetness is then added by using two different types of grain whiskey in the blend, one regular, and one made from malt (the ‘small batch’ element) that’s put through a pot still before a second distillation in a column. Not a lot of people know that.
There are also still plans (get it?), and plenty of room in the new Garden Still House, for another 3 pot stills that mirror the current set up. The size of these stills means they have to be made entirely by hand though, so the process – including trying to replicate every dink or imperfection – takes years. Once completed, they’ll be lowered in through the skylights and Midleton will become an even more mind-boggling place, able to produce twice as much pot still whiskey! What would that make the capacity? 80 odd million litres or so?! Wowsers.
It was time we were heading off to Dublin though…
Steve Simpson’s Dublin.
After having our coach delayed whilst the event organisers were forced to help one of the guests put his clothes on or something (one of the last category on that list earlier), we finally departed for Dublin. Each year Jameson bring out a special limited edition label for St. Patrick’s Day and this year’s was designed by Steve Simpson. If you haven’t heard of him, you’ll almost certainly have seen some of his family’s work because his uncle created Bananaman and Steve himself worked on Danger Mouse and the Beano!
Leaving the comic book world behind, he’s since developed his own unique style with the St. Patrick’s Day label design having been based on one of his screen prints. Both feature lines from famous Irish poet and novelist James Joyce about his love for the city: “When I die Dublin will be written in my heart” and “Wherever I roam, it’s Dublin my heart calls home.”
The evolution of Steve Simpson’s label design.
Incidentally, has anyone ever seen Steve Simpson and James Joyce in the same room…?
The time travelling Steve Simpson.
Having reached the capital, it was time for us to experience some of modern Dublin first hand, and for this we were placed in the capable hands of Michael from le cool and his alternative city tour. We started at the Smock Alley Theatre where Richie Egan performed a fantastic little acoustic set for us including the song that, in his words, has allowed him to “make a living from music”: the Jape single “Floating”. Brendan Benson is a big fan and the song was covered by The Raconteurs during their live sets.
Richie Egan plays us some of his songs, especially those that reference Dublin and his life in Ireland.
Jape – Floating
We took in a pop-up store or two on the tour and even ended up in somebody’s flat at one point, where they ran a supper club, for some Irish hors d’oeuvres. It was a specific piece of street art that piqued my interest though, Maser’s BP Fallon. Born in Dublin, Fallon is quite the character – he popped up pretending to play bass for John Lennon on Top of the Pops in 1970 having worked for The Beatles’ Apple Records and then Island (with Traffic, Free and Jimmy Cliff). He then went on to work with Thin Lizzy, T. Rex (he’s “purple-browed beep” in Telegram Sam) and Led Zeppelin before managing Johnny Thunders and Ian Dury.
Later he became part of the brilliant Death Disco club with Creation Records (as in Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis) and Poptones (The Hives, The Boxer Rebellion) founder Alan McGee (who also found time to manage Mogwai, The Beta Band, The Libertines and The Kills), launching Death Disco Dublin. More recently still, Fallon’s been working with Jack White, which brings this neatly back to The Raconteurs who covered Floating by Richie Egan’s Jape. Pleasing.
Maser’s BP Fallon on the side of the Button Factory.
Getting back to whiskey and drinks though, after the tour we were allowed into Jameson’s very own Dublin speakeasy, The Butchers. Disguised at ground level as a butcher shop and reserved solely for training purposes (they support local bars and restaurants whenever possible), you have to go through the meat fridge door, through the PVC strip curtain and down the stairs to find the bar…
The JJ&S Butchers.
At the bottom we were welcomed by an enthusiastic Oisin Davis who explained how Jameson commissioned the excellent Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller (off of Mixellany) to research the history of Jameson cocktails a few years back. It’s a step that came as no surprise to me having met the Irish Distillers Archivist last time I was in Ireland and seen their desire to own their own history. Oisin then set about disseminating the key findings of their research, which as you may have guessed led to a cocktail or two…
Starting with Alfred Barnard’s The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, published in 1887, we’re told that Jameson’s Bow Street distillery in Dublin was producing 1,000,000 gallons (over 4.5 million litres) of whiskey a year. (For comparison, Barnard has The Glenlivet at around 200,000 gallons and Glenmorangie at 20,000.) With all the old cocktail books simply calling for “Irish whiskey” rather than specific brands, you can certainly argue that the odds that Jameson was intended are fairly good. Going back further still, in 1869 legendary bartender Harry Johnson claims to have won the world’s first ever cocktail competition. Asked to create a dozen whiskey cocktails, Johnson famously created a pyramid of glasses, mixed enough drink for twelve serves and poured them all in one go, winning the championship in style. The drink he supposedly mixed that day? According to Oisin and their research it was The Irish Cocktail.
The Irish Cocktail
- 60ml of Jameson Irish Whiskey
- 2 dashes of Absinthe
- 2 dashes of Curaçao
- 1 dash of Maraschino Liqueur
- 1 dash of Angostura Bitters
– Stir over ice and strain into a chilled coupette or Sherry glass – express a flamed orange peel over glass (and discard), garnish with an olive.
Next up was The Tipperary, or rather the Tipperary that features in Hugo Enslinn’s 1914 Recipes for Mixed Drinks. The story goes that when John McCormack (an Irish tenor who was something of a global sensation at the time) was on tour in New York following his 1914 hit “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, the savvy Enslinn release his cocktail book including The Tipperary to lure the star and his entourage into his bar at The Wallick Hotel. Whether he invented the cocktail is up for debate, but what’s perhaps more important is that his plan worked and he was busy serving up this fantastic drink for the duration of McCormach’s stay (and probably beyond). I’ve since discovered that McCormack also knew James Joyce, having spent time with him to work on his singing, which links nicely back to the Steve Simpson label.
– Stir over ice and strain into a tumbler filled with ice – Oisin likes to garnish his with an olive and a sprig of rosemary, which seemed to work very well with the Chartreuse as well as provide the required savoury notes to balance the cocktail perfectly. Highly recommended. (Alternatively, Gaz Regan has a version that’s 2:1 whiskey:vermouth, with a Chartreuse rinse.)
The Irish Negroni?! Cheers!
It’s also said that when Jack Judge wrote the hugely popular war time song, which led to the popularisation and to some extent the rediscovery of The Tipperary cocktail, he did so after a lock in and for a bet. If this songwriter hadn’t left a pub in the early hours in such a state that someone was willing to wager he couldn’t write a new song from scratch to perform the following evening – back in 1912, in Stalybridge – then we probably wouldn’t be enjoying this drink now. Chaos theory? It’s pretty awesome anyway.
All this takes us through to the Monday evening before St. Patrick’s Day, which is a bank holiday in Ireland. Time for a party. Or a gig and an after-party to be precise. Firstly, it was time for Jameson St. Patrick’s Day Live 2015…
St. Patrick’s Day Live
…and then onto The Liquor Rooms to ring in St. Patrick’s Day with some soul, hip-hop and whiskey! Definitely nothing else to tell you about that Supercharger and the eligible Lion at this stage. Nope.
A MoM blog glass of Irish whiskey raised to Whisky Belfast Stuart, Food Goblin and Louise off of Hot Bar Chick for (as Stuart says) the awesome craic! We hope everyone else had a fantastic St. Patrick’s Day too, or (as Oisin says) International House of Pain Day…
In full effect.
* I should probably clarify – not saying anything about ‘hipsters’ here, rather it’s just a reference to, well, idiots.
** and yes, that’s a Terminator eye.