RAIS­ING THE BAR for Ir­ish Whiskey

Hot Press - - Wildlife -

If you’re look­ing for Christ­mas cheer, step this way, as STUART CLARK meets one of the fo­menters of the Ir­ish whiskey rev­o­lu­tion, the chair­man of the Ir­ish Whiskey As­so­ci­a­tion, BERNARD WALSH of Walsh Whiskey, and lists the fes­tive sea­son’s must-try beers, spirits and, well, what­ever you’re hav­ing your­self…

Along with a Bea­tles Yel­low Sub­ma­rine Lego kit, Hot Press is look­ing for­ward to wak­ing up on Christ­mas morn­ing and find­ing some qual­ity brews, spirits and mix­ers in our Santa sack.

2016 has been an­other in­cred­i­ble year for the drinks in­dus­try here, with Sul­li­van’s in Kilkenny and Dot Brew in Dol­phin’s Barn be­com­ing what by our reck­on­ing are Ire­land’s 62nd and 63rd pro­duc­tion brew­eries – there are a fur­ther 24 gypsy brew­ers, who’ve de­cided to go the col­lab­o­ra­tive route; and there’s also what can only be de­scribed as an Ir­ish spirits rev­o­lu­tion with the likes of Teel­ing Whiskey Dis­tillery, Din­gle Dis­tillery, Con­nacht Dis­tillery, Water­ford Dis­tillery, Drumshanbo Gun­pow­der Gin, Bertha’s Re­venge Gin, Kalak Vodka and Mi­cil Ir­ish Poitin all join­ing the fray over the past 12 months.

Jame­son has, of course, led the way, carv­ing out a mar­ket for Ir­ish whiskey that oth­ers have been able to cap­i­talise on. The in­creas­ingly high-re­gard in which our dis­tillers are held in­ter­na­tion­ally is un­der­lined by Teel­ing pick­ing up three gongs at the pres­ti­gious World Whiskies Awards in Lon­don, and the whiskey that West Cork Dis­tillers have de­vel­oped in as­so­ci­a­tion with The Pogues win­ning ‘Best New Prod­uct’ plau­dits in the States.

“Six years ago, there were only three fully op­er­a­tional dis­til­leries in Ire­land; now we have six­teen, with a fur­ther twelve be­ing con­structed or in the plan­ning,” re­veals the Chair­man of the

Ir­ish Whiskey As­so­ci­a­tion, Bernard Walsh. “We’re the fastest grow­ing whiskey in the world, and have been given our own ge­o­graph­i­cal in­di­ca­tion, like Cham­pagne and Cognac, in or­der to pro­tect it and the strict qual­ity guide­lines that make Ir­ish whiskey so spe­cial and unique.”

1999 saw Bernard and his wife Rose­mary set up Carlow’s Walsh Whiskey, which now ex­ports its pre­mium, triple-dis­tilled ‘Writ­ers Tears’ and ‘The Ir­ish­man’ brands to 40 coun­tries world­wide – and ris­ing.

“Our aim was to recre­ate the 1800s, when Ir­ish whiskey was the world leader and dis­tilled in cop­per pots, us­ing only the finest, lo­cally-farmed in­gre­di­ents,” he ex­plains. “Faced with writer’s block, the nov­el­ists, play­wrights and po­ets of the day would take to the bar for an hour, or a day, or a week, seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion. When they cried, their tears were said to be of whiskey – hence the name!”

As with all great dis­tillers, Bernard is in­spired by both a sense of his­tory – and the im­por­tance of the finest in­gre­di­ents.

“We were in­spired by both that rich Ir­ish legacy and what was go­ing on at the time in the US, where you had mi­cro dis­tillery brands like Baby Hudson and An­gel’s Envy rein­vig­o­rat­ing the bour­bon mar­ket. Rather won­der­fully, you’ve now got bar­tenders in the States us­ing Writ­ers Tears and The Ir­ish­man in what were tra­di­tion­ally bour­bon-based cock­tails.”

Bernard makes the point that there is no longer such a thing as a ‘typ­i­cal’ whiskey drinker.

“Whiskey used to be what your grand­fa­ther drank, but it is now cross-gen­er­a­tional,” he re­sumes. “In­creas­ingly, you’ve got 25-35 year-olds who love the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion around whiskey and the di­ver­sity of ex­pres­sions you can have. Like most of the coun­try, we went to our lo­cal bar after Ire­land beat the All Blacks – Joey Car­berry is from just down the road in Athy, so we had ex­tra reason to cheer! – and cel­e­brated by drink­ing High­balls with Writ­ers Tears, mint and lots of ice packed in there.

“On a Sun­day even­ing, you might just have a dram warm­ing up in your hand and take an hour to sip it,” he adds. “It de­pends on the time of day, the mood – and the sport­ing oc­ca­sion! You can go into any whiskey bar in Ire­land and say, ‘What should I try here?’”

Walsh Whiskey cel­e­brated its 17th birth­day at Easter this year by mov­ing into a new €25 mil­lion dis­tillery at Royal Oak, a glo­ri­ous 18th cen­tury es­tate on the banks of the River Bar­row.

“It’s been a dream of ours for a long time to build a new dis­tillery in the heart of the Ir­ish coun­try­side,” Bernard en­thuses, “where we can use lo­cal water – ours comes from the Bar­row Val­ley Aquifer, which is an un­der­ground lake – and bar­ley from nearby farms, to cre­ate this beau­ti­ful aro­matic whiskey.”

“Whiskey used to be what your grand­fa­ther drank, but is now cross-gen­er­a­tional”

Tears of joy: Bernard Walsh in the new Walsh Whiskey Dis­tillery

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