The Irish Whiskey Academy

Irish Whiskey Academy

I hold my hands up when ever I conduct or host a tasting, masterclass or seminar and exclaim with the sentence “I confess, I don’t know everything about today’s subject”. Whether that is to be the history of a cocktail, the production of tequila or marketing of a beer, I always have to do my homework, and even then I may still have to refer to my notes to be able to deliver a confident speech or presentation. In my line of work, every day involves some kind of pitch. Even when I was bartending, you have to be confident in selling your products no matter what they are, and that’s exactly what I try to aim towards today. Whether my audience is to be a group of bartenders experiencing pisco for the first time, or thirty wine experts learning about the marketing a product in the modern-day, you have to be prepared for any outcome.

I attend many tastings and masterclasses to learn and experience a wide variety, which hopefully comes across within each article you read on this site. Inevitably I only know and therefore present to you what I take in, with official facts and stories entwined, but the chance to truly understand a category or indeed a specific brand can be rare. I’ve been very lucky since Drinks Enthusiast’s inception in that I have been able to appreciate first hand a variety of brands including Benedictine, Sloane’s, Sibling Distillery, Warner EdwardsAuchentoshan and most recently Grey Goose. All these trips have been an opportunity presented to me and in some cases would be hard for a regular customer to access. One experience is far from this statement, and to the UK, is presented right on the doorstep.

David McCabe of the Irish Whiskey Academy
David McCabe of the Irish Whiskey Academy

Last week, Irish Distillers of Pernod Ricard invited me to explore their relatively new concept within the Old Midleton Distillery, just outside of Cork. Since February 2013, The Irish Whiskey Academy has been offering an insight into the process of grain to bottle, and explain everything in between through modern and traditional techniques. The academy is taught through a classroom of sorts, within the renovated mill manager’s house at the boundary between the old and new Midleton distilleries. Here begins your journey into one of four packages that the academy offer, all presented by the incredibly knowledgeable David McCabe. For myself and the rest of the whiskey enthusiasts who had joined me from across the UK, Ireland and Netherlands, we experienced the ‘Enthusiast’ package (appropriately named I know!) which meant a two day look at everything the academy can offer.

The arrival at the Old Midleton Distillery offers an enticing view that easily transports you back to the 1800’s and sets the tone for the styles of buildings you will explore. In no particular order of itinerary, a tour of the old buildings dives into the workings of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, with the impressive Warehouse A1, one of the first warehouses that matured Cork Distillery whiskey, a must see. Interactive scenes gives you the best insight into the life of a distillery worker with even the likes of the customs office and waterwheel available to explore.

Malted Barley
Malted Barley

The main part of the academy though brings you to a comfortable lecture hall styled room. With movable blackboards offering clear diagrams, David McCabe explains everything from the raw materials used within the distillery, how each material is cultivated, brewed and fermented including the upgrade to modern techniques over the decades and the two main distillation methods used; pot and continuous distillation. Hands on approaches are also used, with the ability to see, smell and taste malted and unmalted barley straight from the fields, to the experiment of distilling water and alcohol within the classroom itself. An explanation into the differences between the variety of expressions created at the new distillery is also offered, so that you are fully aware of how each is created and ultimately shows a different flavour profile.

Staves are also handed out for a better understanding of the maturation techniques that the Irish Distillers use, as well as a look into their use of American and sherry oak barrels and how they came to be an integral part of the brands they create. This becomes even clearer with a demonstration within the cooperage itself, hosted by Master Cooper Ger Buckley. Here, Ger explains his role within the company and the art of creating a barrel through the tools used by previous generations. The insight into the woods used and the methods to repair casks that will ultimately hold whiskey for a number of years really gives an indication of how important the role of a Master Cooper can be.

Warehouse 42
Warehouse 42

This knowledge will also impart your beliefs and flavours into the blending exercise where you are able to blend your very own whiskey for you to take home. Not many places who can give you that kind of opportunity.

Of course, no academy course would be complete without a lesson in the art of truly appreciating the finished product. Held in the lounge area of the academy, itself adorned with old advertising posters, vintage photos and a wall of bottling’s from the Irish Distillers over the years, you can taste the likes of the Jameson range, Paddy’s, Powers, Midleton, Redbreast and both Green and Yellow Spot. To compliment, lunch at the Malt House, Jameson’s own restaurant within the Old Distillery, is a must.

Tasting the range within the Irish Whiskey Academy
Tasting the range within the Irish Whiskey Academy

Although I could write about everything I have learnt from my own two day trip, I feel that It would be more effective to explain within each of the features I have written, so please take a look at my articles of the Irish Distillers portfolio over the coming weeks for a more in-depth look at how each expression is created. In summarising this feature though,
I can’t stress enough that although the academy offers quite literally everything you need to know regarding not just Irish Distillers, but Irish whiskey in general, it’s not just for bartenders or expert whiskey lovers. I can safely say that all grades of knowledge will come away with an idea of what whiskey is all about. The four packages have been created to cater, and whichever you ultimately go for, you will go away with so much more than when you entered.

Get yourself signed up, enjoy yourself and try some fantastic whiskies. The Irish Whiskey Academy should be a high priority for anyone who has even a slight interest in Irish whiskey.

For more information on The Irish Whiskey Academy, please visit their website.

For more photos from my trip, please visit my Facebook page.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A St Patrick’s Weekend With Jameson

Jameson Old Distillery

St Patrick’s day is celebrated the world over. It’s a time where all bars in the UK and USA especially, will dress to the colours of Ireland and promote their Irish offerings to the masses that will swarm through their doors. It’s inevitable, and there’s no way to escape it. To me, working in the trade always throws up me serving drinks or hosting a Irish master class, but this year, I had it a little different. Jameson, one of my all time personal favourites, invited me to experience the homeland of both the whisky, and St Patrick’s Day itself last weekend as I travelled to Dublin.

Dublin is a place I’ve never been to before, so jumping at the chance to take in a tour, as well as experience St Patrick’s Day in the way of the Irish meant that the early flight over made no harm to my spirits. The Marker Hotel, alongside the water of the Grand Canal Quay, would be home for three days as not only myself, but an abundance of bartenders from South America, DJ’s from around the world, and fellow UK journalists Gary Sharpen of Cocktail Lovers, Holly Motion of Drinks International, Melita Kiely of The Spirits Business and Alice Howarth of GQ. It’s here that over the course of the day, we mingled and chatted until our first port of call – Master Cooper demonstration with Midleton Master Cooper Ger Buckley.

A short walk from the hotel brought us to a disused space, transformed into a Jameson pop-up, complete with bar, barrels and of course, plenty of Jameson to sample. Hosted by Ger Buckley, he explained the art and craft of a process that although many of us brush off and take little notice in, it ultimately defines each whisky expression we enjoy. A fifth generation Master Cooper, and one of only four coopers working at whiskey distilleries in Ireland, Ger has plenty of passion for his trade, explaining that up to 50% of the taste comes from the wooden barrels. Always white American oak too, as red oak leads to seeping of the whiskey, a crime not worth thinking about! Re-charring is also an art form, a process that Ger explains is necessary to give the richness of Jameson and its various expressions.
One of the newer expressions within the Jameson portfolio (at least to the UK as South American have already experienced), the Black Barrel Select Reserve, takes on the re-charring process a little differently, charring at a deeper level to acquire the toasted flavours and notes needed.

Speaking of the Black Barrel Select Reserve, we had the opportunity to enjoy a dram or two of this, alongside the Jameson Original –

Jameson Black Barrel
Jameson Black Barrel

Jameson Original – 40%

Matured for at least seven years. Soft hints of vanilla on the nose with a light, smooth aroma boding well for the long offering on the palate. Smoother offering of grain and honey with a slight dryness near the end

Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve – 40%

A good blend of soft caramel and toffee aromas on the nose, with both carrying on to the palate. The caramel becomes a little salted, with pepper flavours mixing with spice to create a lingering finish.

Soon after the demonstration, it was straight to L. Mulligan Grocer for food and tipples. As the name suggests, the venue was back in the day a grocery shop, turning into a pub around the 1960’s, yet keeping its name right until the present day, where it is now a whiskey, beer and fine food emporium. Passing a well stocked Irish whiskey bar, we were led to the back of the venue, where long wooden tables were situated, ready for us to join and dine on the likes of scotch eggs, fine food burgers, and dark chocolate mousse. To wet the whistle, we had the first of the weekends many Jameson varieties; The Black Barrel, consisting of Jameson Black Barrel, orange bitters, grapefruit juice and Fever Tree ginger ale. To finish this particular visit though, we were recommended by one of our tour guides Jane Myron the best Irish Coffee in town, using coffee from Bailies Roastery in Belfast, Jameson and Glenisk organic fresh cream. Spot on!

Midleton Master Cooper, Ger Buckley
Midleton Master Cooper, Ger Buckley

Once finished, we were to be visiting the Old Jameson Distillery, where indie band White Lies were performing an exclusive acoustic set within, beamed live by New York based East Village Radio. VIP guests a plenty, Jameson signature serve in the Jameson & Ginger were on trays, alongside Jameson Whiskey Sour to wet the whistle, all in the confines of the now tourist attraction (don’t worry, Jameson is now produced in Cork at the Midleton Distillery). It was also odd to see on the floor glass windows, looking onto the brick structures that held the original wash backs. It would have been here that the fermentation of the whiskey would have taken place. It all added to the experience; drinking Jameson, inside the Old Jameson Distillery on St Patrick’s weekend. Perfect!

The last venue to visit for the evening came in the form of a third floor lounge. Peruke & Periwig, a rather stunning bar setting, invited us in to enjoy the likes of The Smoking Gun; Jameson, tobacco liqueur, Bénédictine and bitters, as well as a Harry Houdini; Sazerac Rye, Fin de Cognac, honey, bitters and an absinthe rinse. A wall full of books on one side, and a fire place with framed Victorian-esque images hanging from either side, complete with small tables and chairs to give that really intimate feeling, I’d say it’s a perfect escape from the noise and bustle of St Patrick’s.

A tour of Dublin was the order of the day on the Sunday, with local traders on the list as we started out with the Irish Design Shop. Award-winning Irish illustrator, Dermot Flynn gave us a short talk about his inspiration behind the new St Patrick’s themed Jameson label for the brands next limited edition, saying that he was “inspired by the sights, sounds and atmosphere of Jameson’s hometown, Dublin”. We also visited the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, a speciality shopping centre set in an elegant Georgian house, as well as well as enjoying some Irish cheese from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers. Our final venue on our ‘Sights and Sounds of Dublin’ tour was the Me and Him and You Design Studio. They’ve been creating prints and artwork, and were specially commissioned to create Dublin themed print for the brand, as well as designed print on the lining of flat caps, in honour of the new Jameson Black Barrel.

Grogan’s pub, the famous whiskey and toastie den, was to be the setting for lunch, complete with cheese and ham toasties, and plenty of Jameson and Ginger, or of course, Jameson straight from the bottle. Soon after though, we were on our way to Damson for a Jameson cocktail master class hosted by Oisin Davis. Oisin demonstrated the versatility of Jameson, creating such classics as the Jameson Whiskey Sour, The Irish Cocktail and The Tipperary, the latter not seen as much over in England, but causing quite a stir between myself and fellow cocktail lover Gary Sharpen!

An appetite created after sampling cocktails for the afternoon led us to Fade Street Social, a traditional Irish restaurant and gastro bar. With a menu that included such dishes as smoked salmon, roasted pork belly, rump of Wicklow lamb or Wexford sirloin,  it was hard to resist ordering a banquet for the table. Despite being a Sunday, the venue was always tipping to full, with its open kitchen looking out over all three rooms available.  We couldn’t be their for long though as we had the annual Jameson St Patrick’s Live Event at the Ambassador Theatre to attend, with the White Lies once again on stage, this time in full throttle to adorning fans of both Jameson and the trio. An added bonus for the evening was the secret VIP Jameson bar, serving up Jameson and ginger alongside straight drams to carry on the main St Patrick’s evening of the weekend.

That wouldn’t be it for us though, as we attended the after party held in the lower level of Hogan’s Bar. A chance to wind down and enjoy the festivities was had, and after spending all weekend with fellow journalists and trade, it was great to enjoy the last swan song so-to-speak before I hit the hotel for a couple of hours and caught my early morning flight back.

In a nutshell – what an experience! The chance to enjoy not only St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, but in the capital, alongside world-wide known brand Jameson, with a tour of bars that I have to be honest, I would probably have missed if I was here with others. Looking back on it too, I never received a bad drink. Of course, the Jameson alone is always up to scratch, but the likes of the Whiskey Sour, The Tipperary and The Smoking Gun are just a few of a number of highlights enjoyed, echoed by Gary himself.

If you get the chance, experience Dublin over St Patrick’s. It’s a very high recommendation.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.