|Irish Beverages More than Merely Hearty
By J. Herbert Silverman
The Irish have a unique way of recalling past glories. They create whiskey,
proceed to brew beer and then name the results after glorious battles,
famous men and enduring castles.
Following tradition, one should raise a glass of Irish whiskey (uisce
beatha or water of life) or down a pint of stout during celebrations
of St. Patrick's Day. But then learn something more about Ireland's mostly
unsung heroes by investigating the lives of the colorful personalities
behind the founders' names.
Example, According to Irish whiskey lore, monks learned the art of distillation
from missionaries who had served in the Middle East where they had been
busily engaged in spreading Christianity to the infidel. Along with those
pioneers it was said that St. Patrick deserves some of the credit for spreading
the distilling technique.
Never a saint but a mere bishop, Patrick was antedated by one of Ireland's
greatest heroes, Brian Boru, the High King of Eire, whose memory is preserved
today by newcomer Boru Vodka, a five-times distilled premium spirit from
That legendary hero led the Irish to defeat Viking invaders in 1014
at the Battle of Clontarf a monumental victory which unified Ireland 1000
years ago and also became another proud piece of Irish history. This unforgettable
battle was honored centuries later in the form of a spirit named called
Clontarf Irish Whiskey.
The Battle of Clontarf (Cath Chluana Tarbh) took place on Good Friday,
1014, (April 23) between the forces of Brian Boru and those led by the
King of Leinster, Máel Mórda mac Murchada: mainly his own
men as well as Viking mercenaries from Dublin and the Orkney Islands led
by his cousin Sigtrygg, It ended in a rout of the Máel Mórda's
forces, along with the death of Brian, who was killed by a few Norsemen
who were fleeing the battle and stumbled upon his tent.
In their debacle, the Vikings would turn to England and Scotland, eventually
taking power when Canute the Great was installed as King in 1015.
"We named our super-premium vodkas as a tribute to Brian Boru," said
distillery spokesperson Roseann Sessa. She added patriotically, "His bold
attitude and uncompromising spirit are attributes that underscore our own
Over the centuries, myth has been replaced by real people. Ireland's
contribution to man's well being got off to a flying start in 1608 when
Sir Thomas Phillips, the king;'s deputy at the plantation of Ulster, was
granted the world's first license to distill whiskey by James 1.
He chose a site in the tiny village of Bushmills along the waters of
St. Columb's Rill between Tara, the ancient royal capital of Ireland, and
Dunseverick, a great pre-Christian fortress on the River Bush. By coincidence,
Sir Thomas happened to be the local licensing authority in Co. Antrim.
n 1780, one John Jameson arrived in Ireland to start up a distillery
on Bow Street Dublin thus creating an infusion of Highland expertise. His
career was aided by his marriage to Margaret Haig, a member of the illustrious
Scots whisky family.
"Old John," as he was known, created not only a majestic brand but also
generations of Jamesons to come with his progeny of 16 children Proof positive
of the family's social position is the extensive listing today in the annals
of Burke's Irish Family Record, the closest thing there is to a blue book
of Irish high society.
James Power, an innkeeper from Dublin established his John's Lane Distillery
in 1791. At the turn of the 19th century, James' son John joined the business,
and the company ultimately became known as John Power & Son.
By 1823, with the help of a 500-gallon still, the annual output had
grown to 33,000 gallons. A decade later, this had increased tenfold to
approximately 330,000 gallons per annum. As the distillery grew so, too,
did the stature of the family. John Power was knighted and later made High
Sheriff of Dublin.
Power is known for two innovations. In 1866, the distiller began bottling
its own whiskey, Until then, distilleries usually sold whiskey by the cask.
A gold label adorned each bottle and it was from these that the whiskey
got the name Powers Gold Label.
James Power's son achieved a kind of immortality in the world of drinking
by inventing the "miniature" whiskey bottle, calling it the "Baby Power."
The concept of the miniature was simplicity itself. John Power reasoned
that Irish women would form a new market for his distillate. But custom
dictated that women could enter a pub only via a "snug" an enclosed area
separated from the bar and that had obvious limitations. He also believed
that since Irishmen rarely, if ever, stocked whiskey at home preferring
to drink with their cronies in pubs, women were being dealt "a bad hand."
By creating the "miniatures," he enabled the countryman with the ability
to provide for his wife without being spied upon by the neighbors who could
clearly identify a large, obviously visible bottle.
John Ryan, a scion of the Power family, is probably Ireland's leading
chronicler of legends as they relate to the world of whiskey. Ryan is a
fund of information on such esoterica as the history of the toast. "The
word is derived from the 15th century custom of putting a bit of toast
in a drink, presumably to add flavor. By the 18th century, it had taken
on its present meaning. My surmise is that, in between, people discovered
that a graceful sincere thought added more flavor to a drink than a slice
of toasted bread," Ryan opined.
"And why do people clink glasses after a toast?" Ryan expanded helpfully.
"The sound was believed to drive away evil spirits. The superstition
is not just endemic to Ireland. That's why the Chinese celebrate holidays
with firecrackers," he said.
Possibly the most familiar of Irish toasts remains the following:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back
The sun shine warn upon your face
And rain fall oft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand
Tullamore Dew was first distilled in 1829. Created in Tullamore, Co.
Offaly, by one Michael Malloy. Today, it is the only Irish whiskey packaged
in a handsome"jar" or ceramic crock (as well as glass) and reminiscent
of the days when it was a "standard" fireplace ornament.
Eventually the distillery passed to a grandnephew, Capt. Bernard Daly.
Since the officer had most of his time was taken by such interests as horseracing,
in turn he passed the mantle to an employee D.E. Williams, who used the
acronym of his initials for an early and memorable advertising slogan "Give
Every Man His Dew."
n the waning years of the last century, the late American spirits importer,
Sidney Frank, became fascinated with a movie about the Irish patriot Michael
Collins, the iconic leader of the forces in the 1921 Civil War. With the
permission of the patriot's descendants, Frank launched its Michael Collins
Irish Whiskey with a picture of the War of Independence veteran on the
Introduced last year in the U.S., to date, more than 50,000 cases of
the whiskey have been sold since the launch. Made at the independent Cooley
Distillery in the outskirts of Dublin, the bottle features a copy of Collins'
signature from the 1921 Treaty on the bottle neck
Collins was one of the most prominent IRA leaders during the War of
Independence. He signed the treaty with the British government which led
to the creation of the Irish Free State but split the republican movement.
In agreeing to the treaty, Collins famously said he was "signing my own
death warrant." His eventual assassination, during the subsequent civil
war, saw him become one of Irish nationalism's most famous figures.
One doesn't have to confine nomenclature to mankind. Take Tyrconnell,
named after a horse that won the 1876 Queen Victoria Plate at 100 to 1
New to the American market it is one of two Irish malts produced by
the Cooley Distillery.
Actually, Tyrconnell was an ancient kingdom of Ireland. Conall Gulban,
a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, king of Ireland, acquired the wild
territory in the northwest of Ulster (the modern Co. Donegal), and founded
the kingdom about the middle of the 5th century. Of the several branches
of his family, the O'Connells, O'Cannanans and O'Dohertys may be mentioned.
The kings of Tyrconnell maintained their position until 1071.
A potable is also be memorialized as a swan by the poet William Butler
Yeats who wrote "The Wilde Swans at Coole":
"The trees are in their autumn beauty/The woodland paths are dry/Under
the October twilight the water/Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water
among the stones are nine-and-fifty swans."
Now the 60th swan exists in the persona of Coole Swan, an expensive
and handsomely bottled cream liqueur just introduced to America.
Ireland is noted for the beautiful castles that reside in the countryside,
among them, the magnificent Knappogue Castle, in County Clare which also
lends its name to a vintage single malt.
Built in 1497 by Sean MacNamara, Knappogue Castle has a long and varied
history, serving from battlefield to dwelling place. In 1571, Knappogue
became the Seat of the MacNamara clan which actually descended from Brian
Boru. In fact, one of the castle's stained glass windows features the legendary
high king. The bar pours Knappogue single malt.
Over generations, the castle exchanged hands many times, and after falling
to disrepair in the 1920s, it was later purchased and restored by Mark
Edwin Andrews and his wife of Houston, Tex. During this time, Andrews began
buying casks of fine pot still whiskey from the top distilleries in Ireland.
He aged and bottled them under the Knappogue Castle label. His last batch
of Knappogue 1951 is now the oldest and rarest Irish whiskey.
By 1966, the leading whiskey families in Ireland, decided to amalgamate
as Irish Distillers Ltd., in order to end financially expensive competition
and to join in a mutual fight to regain what they regarded as a fair share
of the American market.
Some years ago, in the world-wide takeover trend of privately-held companies,
France's Pernod Ricard acquired the group, and ownership passed into foreign
hands for the first time in history. The contemporary distillery is located
in rural Midleton, Co. Cork, and is considered the world's largest.
Turning away from spirits and towards beer, The Irish might be considered
far-sighted. What other country in the world would welcome a man so sure
of his product that in 1759 he would sign a £9,000 lease for a brewery
along the River Liffey in Dublin. His prescience has been justified.
That man, of course, was Arthur Guinness who came to Ireland from England
with a 100-pound legacy from the Archbishop of Cashel, scarcely a fortune
even in those days, to set up his good works. Today, the once family-owned
business is part of the giant Diageo spirits group still producing stout
and lager. More than 10 million glasses of Guinness beer are poured every
single day around the world, and 1.8 billion pints are sold every year.
The beer is available in well over 100 countries worldwide and is brewed
in almost 50.
Although it was sold by Diageo some years ago, the Guinness Book of
Records, now called the World Record Book adds to the luster of the breweryand
contains an internationally recognized collection of world records.
The book itself holds a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted series.
By way of background. In 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director
of the Brewery, went on a shooting party in the North Slob, alongside the
River Slaney in Co. Wexford.. He became involved in an argument: which
was the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the grouse?
That evening at Castlebridge House, he realized that it was impossible
to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe's
fastest game bird. Beaver thought that there must be numerous other questions
debated nightly in the 81,400 pubs in Britain and Ireland, but there was
no book with which to settle arguments about records. He realized then
that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove
popular. One thousand copies were printed and given away.
The first 198-page edition was bound in 1955 and went to the top of
the British best seller lists by Christmas. "It was a marketing give away;
it wasn't supposed to be a money-maker," said Beaver. The following year
it was launched in the U.S. and sold 70,000 copies. After the book became
a surprise hit, many further editions were printed, eventually settling
into a pattern of one revision a year.
The Welsh have their own saint and saint's day, March 1, and their own
whisky. But ironically, Penderyn single malt is named after Saint David
or Dewi Sant, the patron saint of Wales who drank nothing but water. And
in fact Dewi is known in Welsh as David the water drinker.
Dewi died in the sixth century, so nearly 500 years elapsed between
his death and the first manuscripts recording his life. Dewi is said to
have been of royal lineage. His father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig. The
latter was Ddyfrwr, prince of Ceredigion, a region in Southwest Wales.
His mother, Non, was the daughter of a local chieftain. Legend has it that
Non was also a niece of King Arthur.
Sometimes, Dewi, as a self-imposed penance, would stand up to his neck
in a lake of cold water, reciting Scripture. Little wonder, then, that
some authors have seen Dewi as an early Puritan!