This week the Midleton distillery in Cork County, Ireland opened the doors to their newly renovated premises with an event called “The Housewarming 2013.” Most well known as the home of Jameson Whiskey, the distillery has been expanded with the all-new Garden Still House featuring three large copper distillation columns that allow for increased production while at the same time saving energy and reducing waste.
To celebrate this occasion, friends and family from around the world visited the site on September 4 to take in a day of activities and presentations from world-class craftspeople showcasing the traditions, crafts and blends that define Midleton and Irish whiskey.
London food culture journal The Gourmand delivered an exclusive presentation at The Housewarming, where founding partner David Lane discussed his passion for taste, print and drink, speaking about the relation between alcohol and creativity; in many cases a few drinks can lead to very interesting and off-the-wall ideas. The Gourmand also organized a further presentation by pop-star Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, who performed an acoustic guitar set interspersed with humorous story telling about his own creative process and time in the music business. One of our favorite bits was the song Hannon created for cult comedy series Father Ted.
Amongst buildings dating back to 1795, we enjoyed watching tool obsessive, wood expert and fifth-generation Master Cooper Ger Buckley share the traditional methods of maintaining whiskey casks, a process which is still done entirely by hand today. As 50% of a whiskey’s taste comes from wood (the other half from distillation) the condition of the oak casks is vital in creating an optimal product.
Each barrel comes from either Portugal or America, after having already held bourbon, port or Sherry and is meticulously reshaped using a variety of hand tools. Buckley’s favorite is a 90-year-old mallet with a handle worn thin through generations of use. When asked why they don’t use modern machines, Buckley said he prefers to keep his fingers.
We also had the opportunity to attend a Trends Lab, where some of the world’s leading bartenders and mixologists shared new and old Jameson-based cocktail recipes. Sean Muldoon & Jack McGarry of the Dead Rabbit Grocery NYC took us through classic Irish cocktails, such as the ginger and lime, while Oisin Davis & Eric Fossard of The Sugar Club gave us insight into infused cocktails made with with local, wild ingredients. Most interesting was Nick Strangeway & Dave Wondrich’s Jameson ‘Backs’ presentation. On the heels of the “pickleback” trend, where a shot of whiskey is chased with a shot of pickle juice, we were introduced to a number of other “back” variations including a spicy beetroot version as well as one that blends cola and coffee (cheekily called the “scumback.”) To really experience the intricacies of the flavors, Nick and Dave recommend you sip your “backs” (back and forth between the whiskey and the accompaniment) rather than shooting them.
During The Housewarming we also joined Master Distiller Brian Nation for a tasting of a full range of Jameson whiskies, sampled local Irish flavors at an on-site Artisan Food Market that showcased a range of delicacies from around Cork County including meats, cheeses, seafood and beer, as well as attending The Barrelman’s Feast, a dinner inside one of the Jameson warehouses that included performances by Irish musicians The Chieftans, Cathy Davey, Jerry Fish and Liam O Maonlai.
For those interested in checking out the distillery premises and learning more about Irish whiskey, Jameson offers whiskey tours year round in Midleton, Ireland.
Photography: Pete Williams/Selectism.com