In this edition of Great Irish Drinks, Oisin Davis looks at some intriguing whiskey events and tastings that are on over the next few weeks. The perfect way to learn more about Ireland's burgeoning whiskey offering.
In case any of you missed it, Irish whiskey is doing rather well at the moment. Sales for category leaders such as Jameson are at an all-time high while the likes of Redbreast and Teeling are picking up top global awards for best overall whiskey and best single malt respectively. Behind the scenes, more and more distilleries are being built around the country laying down new make spirit, patiently waiting for the legal three-year barrel age before it can be bottled and enjoyed, while established brands are continually releasing a dazzling array of new expressions.
Even the most dedicated and passionate fans of our national spirit can have a hard time trying to keep up with them all, which is why it's always good to cast an eye out for any gathering that helps to keep you up-to-date for sampling the newest, finest and most interesting Irish whiskies out there. Social media networks and websites like Eventbrite ensure that there's never been an easier time to set up and market anything from a one-off tasting to a long-term whiskey club. I had a wee gander at what's going down around Ireland in terms of Irish whiskey gigs that are coming up soon and uncovered some real beauts. Read on if you reckon you might like to get stuck in...
Fireside Chats at The Merrion Hotel, every Tuesday in October, tickets €55
Wine tastings have been commonplace in Ireland for a long time, especially in the more high-end restaurants and hotels. Such was their success in The Merrion Hotel that its food and beverage director, Vanessa Lampe examined how they might be somehow replicated in other ways. "We wanted to create an event that was different from the more common wine tastings and given the renewed interest and resurgence in whiskey, it was the ideal subject. When trying to decide where to host the event we quickly realised the only option was Bar No.23 with its roaring open fire and warm Georgian décor."
The first sitting was 10 years ago and it was only meant to be hosted the once. But thirsty customers wanted more and the Fireside Chats have become an annual occurrence. This year they are being rolled out in conjunction with the rugby world cup, are taking place every Tuesday in October and also include a little sojourn into gin.
Tuesday, 1 October - Ireland & France
A very special selection of Irish and French Whiskeys
Tuesday, 8 October - Ireland & England
An exploration of Irish and English gins and the ingredients that make them so special
Tuesday 15 October - Ireland & Scotland
Two powerhouses of whiskey go head to head in this tasting that includes Midleton Very Rare Barry Crockett Legacy and a special Scotch Whiskey selection
Tuesday, 22 & Tuesday 29 October - Ireland & The Barbarians
An Irish selection which includes Method & Madness Single Pot Still Chestnut finish and Redspot battling it out against a special selection from Canada, Italy, Japan and Wales
With a decade of whiskey banter and sessions behind them now, I had to pry and ask Vanessa what her highlight has been thus far: "While every evening is different, the standout would have to be last year when we hosted a very special Fireside Chat in Bar No 23 tasting some of the most exclusive range of whiskeys from the Middleton Distillery ever tasted ‘The Middleton Cask Circle’.
Tickets for each night are €55 and booking is very much advised. Phone 01 6030608 or email [email protected]
Ennis Whiskey Club
Next events are September 27 and October 25 at The Rowan Tree Cafe, Ennis, County Clare. Tickets €45
Hearing about people who have turned their passions into professions will always bring a smile to my face. Eric Flynn was working full time in IT but had always a big grá for whiskey. Back in 2012, himself and his brother in law Paul Quin set up the Ennis Whiskey Club and it has organically grown very well both in numbers and stature. It sparked off a what is now a series of legendary get-togethers and ultimately led to a career change for Eric. "Fast forward a few years since we began and we now have our first Co Clare whiskey company in nearly a century. Louise McGuane, founder of JJ Corry Whiskey, contacted me last summer to see if I'd be interested in doing some work for her. I jumped at the opportunity and now find myself working full-time in the Irish whiskey industry. Pinch me! I still love talking and sharing all things whiskey and now I get paid to do it. With the release of The Banner Blend, my first blended whiskey is a product on the market. Un-be-lieveable!"
It's not just Eric himself that has evolved over the years but so has the Ennis Whiskey Club itself. They occasionally like to dip their palates into global whiskeys and as he explains, "The format for the event starts with a main course meal, which takes about an hour and gives people a great chance to socialise and catch up. Then we serve the whiskeys, one by one, spending about 20-25mins with each whiskey. Four whiskeys, four full measures. We noticed after our very first night that the food menus and ordering process took about half an hour, and everyone ended up ordering steaks. We quickly got rid of the menu system and went straight to rare, medium or well done."
A steak and four whiskey dinner for just €45, I must say is superb value. A Dubliner boy in blue such as myself might be tempted to make a trip out west for one.
Balfes, Whiskeys on our Doorstep, October 15th, Tickets €50
As a former global ambassador for Teeling Whiskey and a self proclaimed, #WhiskeyWarrior, Balfes' newly appointed general manager Kevin Hurley knows a thing a two about our national liquid gold. He's also deeply committed to nurturing and highlighting Irish talents in hospitality as he is also the co-founder of the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards.
For his first big gig in Balfes he wanted to showcase the more local Dublin whiskies and the great talents behind them, which led to the one off, "Whiskeys on our Doorstep" event on October 15th. Not just an opportunity to have a fantastic three-course meal with some gorgeous whiskeys, but also a chance to delve even further into the category. As Kevin points out, "It’s no secret that Irish whiskey is going through a golden era, with more and more new producers opening distilleries and focusing on extremely high-quality products that are seducing not only the Irish market, but also the entire world. But how much do we really know about whiskey, and its complexity and versatility? How should whiskey be properly tasted to be thoroughly enjoyed?"
On the night, Kevin himself will be brushing off his hosting skills while he introduces everyone to the global ambassadors Alan Mulvhil from Roe & Co, Robert Caldwell from Teeling and Conor Ryan from Pearse Lyons. Daryl McNally, master distiller, from The Dublin Liberties Distillery will also be in attendance offering up his own nuggets of wisdom to share.
All guests will be treated to a cocktail upon arrival and this should come as no surprise to those who know Kevin, "For me, no other spirit in the world can be enjoyed in so many ways as Irish whiskey. Its general flavour profile lends itself so well to a massive array of cocktail styles and we're only beginning to re-discover them again."
Main image: Getty
Author: Oisin Davis
Oisin Davis works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks."