Whisk(e)y, the tipple of poets, rock stars and vagabonds

Whisk(e)y, the tipple of poets, rock stars and vagabonds
(Photo: Anthony Torres on Unsplash)

Spell it how you will, and choose to drink whichever you like, but whether it’s Scotch, Irish or bourbon, Saturday is the day to mark World Whisk(e)y Day with a dram or two.

Spare a thought for the Irish on World Whiskey (yes, with an “e”) Day tomorrow, who are famously sick and tired of hearing the term “Scotch whisky” (without an “e”). As many as 25 different countries, including South Africa, produce their own whisk(e)y, but it’s the Scottish one that rankles most with the proud nation we call the Irish, believing, not unreasonably, that they have as much of a right to “own” the beverage as their neighbours across the water.

And let’s not even mention the claim to it by their American brothers across the Atlantic to the West and their fondness for bourbon, their smoky equivalent.

Long having had to play second fiddle to “Scotch”, the whiskey scene in Ireland is fast changing, with boutique distilleries having cropped up all over the land, thanks to the boom in craft alcoholic drinks, a far cry from the handful of distilleries there were only a few years ago.

Whisk(e)y is my tipple. I drink wine too but I reserve that for dinner or eating out, or for those occasions when you’re invited to spend three hours at a table with nine perfect strangers making small talk while you nod at the waiter hoping for a replenishment. At a certain point, it’s hard not to give in to the urge to call for a double Pogues, my favourite current “Irish”.

If you’re unsure of who the Pogues are, think of Fairytale of New York, the irreverent Christmas song that is now found on every Christmas hits compilation despite its bawdy lyrics and theme, and of comedian Michael McIntyre’s skit on the song and how it is sung by band member Shane MacGowan rasping and grunting his way through the ballad. MacGowan is a true vagabond of rock n roll and despite its idiosyncrasies, it’s a fabulous piece of Christmas wit, and I think of it and the band with every sip I take.

The brand caught my attention this week in a release about how it is “disrupting” the market for Irish whiskey by aiming at a younger audience of 25- to 35-year-olds. It’s a collaboration between the Irish punk rock band and whiskey distillers Barry Walsh and Frank McHardy, and is a blend of 70% grain and 30% single malt whiskey. It’s produced by West Cork Distillers in the south of Ireland, one of only three independent whiskey distilleries in the country, and is lauded as the only premium Irish spirit that “celebrates the poetic rebelliousness of the Irish”, according to the marketers.

“So invested are the band members that they weighed in and approved everything from the grain and cask selection to the blend and maturation time: the blended golden liquid is left to mature in an oak barrel for exactly three years and one day.”

Whiskey and popular music go way back. Frank Sinatra was a proponent of Jack (Daniel’s) while his buddy in the Rat Pack, Dean Martin, was a Scotch man. The association with whiskey was continued by Stones guitarist “Kief” Richards’ penchant for a bottle of Jack Daniels, or of Rebel Yell, at different stages of his career in rock and whiskey. 

Metallica has its own whiskey brand too in Blackened, and Bob Dylan has his smoky Heaven’s Door, although the brand, whether Scotch or Irish, is most classically personified in the Thin Lizzy hit Whisky in the Jar. 

Halewood South Africa, the local distributors of the Pogues brand and Gelstons among other brands, tells us that whiskey “began as a vile tasting medicine aimed at treating various ailments from indigestion to colds and fevers…  The Water of Life as it was first known has developed into a global phenomenon with over 25 nations producing their own version and doing a pretty good job at it.” 

The global whiskey industry (yes with an “e”) is said to be worth $83.28-billion with the Irish whiskey market valued at $4.7-billion in 2022. Irish whiskey is still considered one of the best alcoholic beverages in the world and is one of the world’s top five whisky-producing countries along with Scotland, the US, Canada, and Japan, say the marketers.

South Africa’s sector of the drink is led by Three Ships and Bain’s, with a range of boutique whiskies having joined the fray, not least Boplaas and Toor. DM/TGIFood


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