Nov
01
2011

Wandering Traveler

The wild beauty of Ring of Kerry on the Western coast of Ireland

AT HOME in COUNTY CORK, IRELAND

Black pudding in the town of Clonakilty

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

West Cork is known, according to an article in Bon Appetit back in May 2008, as “the California of Ireland,” due in part to its striking coastline and artisan foods. Though I see a far wider range of produce in Northern California than I did throughout County Cork, it’s clear Cork leads the way in Ireland.

The wealth of produce showing up in Irish restaurants surpassed what I saw in London just prior, despite the fact that London has grown by leaps and bounds in dining. In Ireland, I beheld more than a mere couple types of greens, and was offered fresh vegetables and fish, locally-made meats, cheeses and products on almost every menu. Going back a few decades, they have their own pioneers of farmers markets, Slow Food cooking, and organic farming, like Darina Allen (head of the famed Ballymaloe Cooking School), who is their equivalent to Alice Waters. Not dissimilar to home.

Greenes’ waterfall entrance

Whether dining on the cheeses of Ardrahan, Ardsallagh, Knockalara, Gubbeen (also love their sausages), or Clonakilty’s legendary black pudding (yes, made of thick, dried blood mixed with meats, grains and vegetables), all is made in County Cork. Each are examples of the artisan quality of the region, products one finds on menus from Dublin and beyond (see my article on Dublin last issue).

Driving on the Western side of Ireland, the touristy town of Killarney nevertheless enchanted me with its quirky Irish spirit, cobblestone streets, and prime location as a gateway to the stunning Ring of Kerry. Often celebrated as Ireland’s finest coastline, a (long – allow a few hours) drive around this Peninsula is full of visual thrills and should be done at least once in a lifetime.

CORK

Inside Counihan’s pub

The city of Cork itself can feel a tad dingy. It has evolved since its more industrial days, with a few welcome pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets, marked by food destinations, like the English Market. After a few days here, I suspect I’d have been happier staying in the countryside or along the coast. The entire county is packed with goodness and Cork is a base from which to take it all in, with plenty of celebrated restaurants and pubs for when the day’s explorations wane. The more I explored its streets, the more I came to appreciate its blue collar charms. There’s gourmet finds, like dark chocolates and hot chocolates at O’Conaill’s, creative fish ‘n chips at the Fish Hatch, or a glass of wine by a plunging waterfall in the alley entrance of Greenes Restaurant.

Along the ever moody Ring of Kerry

New Midleton Distillery (where Jameson, Redbreast, Powers, and key Irish whiskies are produced), is barely a 20 minute drive away, as are darling coastal fishing towns like Kinsale. The highlight of Cork was hearing Ricky Lynch, local music legend who evokes more than just a bit of the spirit of the Highwaymen, covering everything from Johnny Cash to the Beatles with a voice that is iconic on its own.

Lynch plays every Monday night at atmospheric Counihan’s, my most memorable pub experience in Cork. As elsewhere in Ireland, locals, particularly older gentleman, struck up a conversation with us, eager first and foremost to talk music. As one of the great loves of my life, I can talk endlessly on the subject. These Irishmen spoke with glistening eyes of Bob Dylan’s upcoming concert that week right there in Cork.

Ricky Lynch plays Monday nights at Counihan’s

The manager at New Midleton Distillery excitedly told us the same thing earlier. It seemed every Cork man over a certain age had tickets, eager to finally see their hero live. Having seen Dylan a couple times since the mid-90’s, I hope they weren’t disappointed. I’ve no doubt his shows were once unforgettable, but in recent decades he comes across a garbled mess. Dy;an could easily be playing to no audience for as little as he acknowledges (or engages) them. But for these heartfelt, rugged men of Cork, I pray that every word out of Dylan’s mouth, distinguishable or not, was a revelation. They deserve at least that.

ENGLISH MARKET – FARMGATE CAFE

Delightful Farmgate Cafe

After what I’d heard about the English Market, I must admit I was ever so slightly disappointed. Yes, it’s loaded with excellent local cheeses, meats, breads, juices and chocolates that reflect the talent and heart of the county. But when one has visited many of the world’s best markets and food cities, the range and scope wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. After the initial letdown, I reset my expectations and made way for my usual excitement for the best in local foods. Upstairs, Farmgate Café could not be a more appealing respite for a relaxing breakfast, lunch or pastries.

Chester Cake from Alternative Bread Co.

English Market is the heartbeat of County Cork’s culinary spirit, a place from which to sample many of the county’s best. The artisan breads of Alternative Bread Co. please, though I found the highlight their dense Chester Cake, an almost forgotten Cork tradition revived. A clever use of stale bread leftovers, it’s sweet, spiced and heavy with a lemon sugar icing. I ordered fresh fruit juices daily from Fruit Boost, and snagged black and white pudding from Ashley O’Neil. One needn’t go hungry at the English Market.

JACQUES

Castletownbere crab and apple salad

Jacques is an established Cork classic, around for 30 years, with a distinctly Irish take on French dining, utilizing local ingredients.

A light, vibrant Castletownbere crab and apple salad (€13.90) packs much flavor. Coriander, coconut, and lime perk up locally-revered crab. Piedmont peppers are stuffed with Knockalara cheese & Gubbeen salami (€9.90), harkening to Spain by way of County Cork.

Piedmont peppers

A cornmeal pancake entrée is topped with red onion, courgette (zucchini), Ardsallagh goat cheese, tomato and baby caper salsa (€21.90). Rack of free range pork is perfected in a mustard Parmesan crust, atop spring cabbage and Granny Smith apple puree (€22.90).

The real deal is a €25 prix fixe before 7pm on Friday and Saturday, and all night Monday-Thursdays. A mellow retreat off an alley, Jacques’ white walls are lined with black and white photography taken by a family member in decades past, adding a vintage spirit to the modern, peaceful dining room.

CAFE PARADISO

Dish of the night: hazelnut crepe topped with lentils

Cork’s vegetarian destination, Café Paradiso, has cookbooks from its famed chef. The simple, casual space belies somewhat pricey dishes, although wine and a three-course €35 prix fixe is the dinner deal. Disappointment came in lackluster service from a French waitress who acted above her customers. She got our order wrong once, but did so twice with the poor table next to us, bringing out the wrong starter and entrée. The diner said she would deal with the wrong dish so as not to watch her companion eat alone. Atrocious service soured an already rainy, gloomy night.

Feta, pistachio, couscous cake

This was even more off-putting when dishes were less exciting than hype had intimated. Potato watercress soup (€10 a la carte) with sweet pepper and walnut sounded delightful but was bland and forgettable. The same goes for a gingered sweet potato spring roll (€13) stuffed with sesame green beans, vermicilli, pickled cucumbers. A side of coconut chili dip promised flavor but did not deliver. Another lackluster dish was a feta, pistachio, couscous cake (€24) in sweet & hot pepper jam. Reading so well on the menu made each bite even more of a letdown. The winner was a hazelnut crepe stuffed with asparagus and Ardrahan cheese (€25). Topped with balsamic beetroot and lentils, hints of mustard and tarragon butter solidify the dish’s lush spirit. If it weren’t for the above-it-all, incompetent waitress, we might have considered dessert.

Charming seaside town of Kinsale

KINSALE

FISHY FISHY

A welcome coastal respite for fresh seafood: Fishy Fishy

The opposite of Cork’s dingy greys, Kinsale is a bright seaside village, Irish in spirit, evoking fishing villages the world over. Fishy Fishy is the celebrated town restaurant serving a menu of local seafood. It is particularly interesting to note the turning point for the chef/owner was coming to San Francisco years ago.

Fishy Fishy’s breezy dining room

In his book and menu, he waxes eloquent about the freshness of the seafood in San Francisco and the international influences that keep its food dynamic. He talks of bringing back techniques and ideas he gathered working in SF. One sees hints of this in dishes like a salad of sauteed monkfish topped in a sweet chili sauce.

Asian ingredients and fresh salads pop up, confirming a California stamp. It was touching to find influences from my home across the world in this tiny seaside town. This is the restaurant to visit within miles and is a comfortable, cheery respite for lunch or dinner near the Irish coast.

KILLARNEY

MURPHY’S ICE CREAM

My top treat in Ireland (I went to their shops in Dublin and Killarney, with a third in Dingle), is Murphy’s Ice Cream, lush with ingredients representing the country, from Kerry Cream to Dingle Sea Salt. I went crazy over Brown Bread ice cream: it captures the dense heft of brown bread yet with creamy texture. And they make a killer dark, rich drinking chocolate, too (chili optional).

Taking in the countryside along the Southern coast of Ireland near Kinsale

Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Oct
15
2011

Wandering Traveler

THE ENCHANTMENT OF DUBLIN

I could have stayed for hours at O'Donoghue's jam session (see "Pubs" below)

Dublin surprises me. I expect the charm of a European city, particularly that certain appeal the Irish hold, but there’s indescribably more. Despite gray days and even incessant rain one day in Summer (plus one glorious, clear night), I fell under Dublin’s eclectic, literary spell cast by Joyce, Shaw, Yeats, and the many figures who came from or made their name in these streets.

Statue in St. Stephen's Green

Record shops, vintage style, peaceful St. Stephen’s Green, chic shops, literature, eclectic markets, music, and most of all, the people… this city’s cobblestone streets and squares, medieval churches and cozy pubs, welcomed me in. It may not be the prettiest city (though it is by no means an eyesore), or the biggest, but it holds world class charms with a funky edge I did not expect. All this with that incomparable Irish welcome.

The Renaissance Man and I made friends everywhere, chatting with fellow diners, in pubs, and at churches,  engaging, intelligent locals blessed with a wicked sense of humor. The people are Ireland’s biggest asset and worth experiencing in their home country at least once in your life.
___________________________

Buildings off of St. Stephen's Green

I had a little preview of Ireland when wandering cobblestone, pedestrian-only lanes in London just days before, stumbling upon a singer and a pianist practicing for their evening concert in (the small) St. Bride’s Church near (the massive) St. Paul’s Cathedral. An Irish lad, Dean Power, his concert was part of Irish Heritage, a preservation organization. He sang Irish folk songs and English ballads in a clear, heartbreaking tenor. I stopped in my tracks to linger and listen. This snapshot moment captured the sadness and longing, the straightforward beauty of Ireland.

Inside the famous Temple Bar in the pedestrian-only Temple Bar district

Dublin’s charms are many, some of its churches dating all the way back to the 11th and 12th centuries. I was particularly haunted by St. Audoen’s Church, receiving a personal tour from the church’s sweet staff, who take such care with this ancient space. I spent a happy hour out of the rain in the Winding Stair, with its excellent selection of local culinary and cook books. Live music at an out-of-the-way pub (see O’Donoghue’s below) is an unforgettable  must in Ireland.

Yet another surprise was how good Dublin’s restaurants were. Having just come from London, I’d had a range of good to excellent meals. Dublin not only kept pace, but in the case of produce and fresh, experimental cooking, Dublin surpassed a number of experiences I had over nine days in London. Whereas vegetables remain limited in London, Dublin was the first I saw even a few types of lettuce or greens in my couple weeks in England and Ireland. I was not remotely ready to leave Dublin and have a list of restaurants still to visit next time.

Last issue I wrote about my visit to New Midleton Distillery where Jameson, Redbreast and many Irish Whiskeys are made. Next issue, I’ll share food favorites from the incredible foodie county of Cork.

Restaurants

RUSTIC STONE

Iced cucumber soup poured over avocado sorbet and veggies

Dublin native Dylan McGrath, worked at and helmed his own Michelin-starred restaurant prior to opening Rustic Stone in the heart of Dublin. Their philosophy reminds me of home in Northern California: in homegrown ingredients, creative experimentation, with health in mind. I left here feeling invigorated, with culinary cravings satiated.

Blessedly, the menu offers half and full portions so I was able to try a wide range. It’s a menu where vegetarian, wheat and gluten free dishes are noted, as are the chef’s health notes. Yet the food does not feel hippie or even green, rather smart and fun )one can only be so “healthy” when equally known for juicy, rare steaks cooked on the stone – hence the name). Just head down to the basement where the air is thick with smoke of steaks roasting tableside.

Burger w/ polenta fries

Their most popular “bites” item are enticing chicken wings, tossed in sticky soy, roasted sesame seeds, lime zest, garlic chips, red sprouts and coriander. Salads are worthwhile, like Luscious Lime (€9.25 / €6.25) with four types of lettuce, cucumber, pickled ginger, mango, coriander and watermelon. A lime-roasted coconut, dill seed and lime dressing perfects it.

“Soups” or broths are a revelation. I’d like to see this type of presentation more, even in my own city. Poured over vegetables, each was packed with flavor. Carrot broth infused with star anise & tarragon (€5.25) is bold over fresh peas, grated carrot, mint, chervil and olive oil. Iced cucumber soup (€5.75) is poured over avocado sorbet, cucumber and tomato. Gorgeous.

Carrot broth infused w/ star anise & tarragon

A range of steaks appeal, cooked on the stone tableside, while even a chargrilled hamburger (€16.90) is playfully good, using a range of cow cuts. Herb mayonnaise, tomato lemon chutney, crispy onions and Irish smoked cheddar seal the deal inside a brioche bun with polenta chips (or fries) as a side.

Dessert was the one misstep in my meal. Though Exotic Fruit Sushi (€7.50), a roll of sticky rice, wasabi and ginger, sounded delightful, it was cold, sticky and bland. Only caramel passion fruit dipping sauce held substantive flavor.

COPPINGER ROW

Spiced Cocoa

Coppinger Row may be my top Dublin restaurant. Inviting, convivial and contemporary, the restaurant felt “of the moment” yet not trendy. Service was relaxed yet attentive, and both sets of tables next to us ended up striking up heartwarming conversations with us. I’ll never forget the darling and inspiring older Irish couple we chatted with at length.

Food is the main draw. Garlic & chili prawns a la plancha (€9/12) are plump, juicy shrimps with the right amount of spice. Local crab & crayfish (€12.50)  are tossed with basil and lemon in a salad tasting of Ireland, while grilled and stuffed aubergine (eggplant; €6/9) over lentils and roasted peppers is a vegetarian winner.

Crab & Crayfish Salad

My favorite dish was black pudding (blood sausage) and fig rocket salad (€11.50) with blue cheese. Hearty yet with a delicate hand, it’s a gourmet version of the beloved spiced sausage recipe originating in Clonakilty in County Cork. I adore the cinnamon and clove type spices that make blood sausages so rich and layered… of course, the blood helps do that, too.

Coppinger Row is the one place in Ireland I had actual creative, current cocktails. Guavage (€13) is a recipe of guava, Hendricks gin, and fresh sage. Seemingly simple, its flavor profile melds beautifully, robust yet seamless. They also served a Pegu Club cocktail and lovely Red Currant & Rose Daiquiri.

Dessert was another highlight at Coppinger Row. With various shots of dark, hot drinking chocolate spiked with liqueurs available, I chose the Spiced Cacao (€7). It was tiny and shot-sized, but elegantly packed a punch with cacao powder, brown sugar, spiced rum, cream, and a ginger crumble on top.

JAIPUR

Scallops starter at Jaipur

Indian food is solid in Ireland, if not as exceptional as in London. A place like Jaipur seems to take a few cues from London, fusing authentic dishes with creative flair. However, Jaipur is an Irish standard, having grown to multiple locations over the years.

While I can’t say the meal was as good as some upscale Indian restaurants I visited in London (my favorites here), and as locals tell me there are worthy, more casual Indian spots in town, I found service attentive and enjoyed dishes like Duck Chettiyar (free range Barbary duck breast in southern spiced coconut tamarind marinade) or Samundari Ratan (pan-seared five spice Irish scallops with cumin coconut cauliflower).

EDEN

Minted pea risotto

Dublin immediately revealed what it was made of in the food realm with my first meal at Eden. In an open and bustling space, the first bite minted pea risotto ( €9.00 for a generous small plate/€15.00 large) made me sigh. Creamy and hearty, it’s laden with grilled courgettes (zucchini), asparagus, wilted rocket (arugula), topped with Parmesan shavings.

Crab salad

I was equally delighted with Castletownbere crab salad (€11.50). The crab is from the County Cork coastal town of Castletownbere, is tossed in curry aioli, and carefully molded over slices of beetroot, with toasts and greens atop the mound. Fresh and invigorating,

Food & Coffee

Oysters at Temple Bar Food Market, Saturdays

I recommend the Temple Bar Food Market held on Saturdays. Here you can taste local cheeses, oysters, breads, meats, juices, excellent coffee like Ariosa from County Meath, and so on. It is a memorable outing and snapshot of just what hardcore foodies the Irish are.

Fallon & Byrne is a foodie’s dream grocery and should not be missed (wine fans head to the underground cellar for tastings). The striking Powerscourt Centre is an architectural beauty, particularly inside it’s open atrium. It’s worth at least a peek, and is filled with food and drink options as it is with antiques and fashion.

Murphy's ice cream

My top treat in Ireland (I went to their shops in Dublin and Killarney, with a third in Dingle), is Murphy’s Ice Cream, lush with ingredients representing the country, from Kerry Cream to Dingle Sea Salt. I went crazy over Brown Bread ice cream: it captures the dense heft of brown bread yet with creamy texture. And they make a killer dark, rich drinking chocolate, too.

Cocoa Atelier

Cocoa Atelier is the best chocolate I had in Ireland, a chic outpost of drinking chocolate and elegant truffles filled with local specialties, like pot still Irish whiskey (smile from me).

Fixx Coffee is a fun locals hangout for coffee, not as third wave and robust as Ariosa, but still good with friendly, flirty staff. Bewley’s is far more touristy being actually on chain store-ridden Grafton Street, but is still a decent option for Italian-style coffees/espresso.

Fixx Coffeehouse

Being a lifelong U2 fan, I had to visit the Tea Room in their hotel, The Clarence. It was certainly less (or not at all) edgy as I’d anticipated but it’s a peaceful respite for afternoon tea, lunch, breakfast.

Queen of Tarts

I was pretty disappointed in Queen of Tarts. The atmosphere is as darling and cozy inside as it appears from the outside, but mediocre tarts and dishes from breakfast menu (even the ok coffee) leave a lot to be desired. Pastries and tarts tended towards the bland and did not taste as if they were straight out of the oven. I find this interesting as it has been praised by the New York Times and beyond.

Bars

One of many elaborate corners of Cafe en Seine

CAFE EN SEINE
Cafe en Seine is like falling down the rabbit hole into a wonderland of a Paris that doesn’t really exist except inside your dreams. It’s fanciful, over the top, and must be seen to be believed. One doesn’t go here for quality drinks per se, but even if you just walk through or stop in for coffee or tea (it operates as cafe, bar and restaurant), you’ll be impressed with this space. There is sometimes live jazz… even better.

BAR WITH NO NAME
This place has many names: The Secret Bar, 3 Fade Street (the address), or the Snail Bar (as a little snail hangs outside the entrance), and is upstairs in the boutique Kelly Hotel.

Bar with No Name's snail

Its got that secretive feel getting in, but once inside, it’s clear the secret’s out. The place is mobbed and it is tough getting a drink. They do actually serve cocktails (€10-12.50), from classic Negronis or South Sides, to refreshers like a Lemon Basil Smash or Lavender Margarita.

The space is one big party in an 1800′s home: massively high ceilings, multiple drawing rooms, and a patio-like area covered by a red and white striped tent. The tent lends an old-fashioned carnival air to the patio. As they’re open every day from 1pm on with free wifi, I’d go back next time for a mellow afternoon respite, skipping the vibrant nighttime crowds.

FITZWILLIAMS HOTEL BAR

Cocktails at the Fitzwilliams Hotel

The Fitzwilliams Hotel off St. Stephen’s Green looks like any other hotel bar. But a trusted industry source recommended I go and ask for Alex. Alex served us a classic daiquiri and a spicy, off-menu tequila cocktail, all while talking cocktails the world round with us. It’s always heartening to meet craftsmen and women around the globe, and Alex is one at the Fitzwilliams.

LIBRARY BAR
A comfortable rainy day respite is the Library Bar (upstairs in Central Hotel). It is mellow, except for the occasional flurry of families and children. Cozy couches and a living room feel beg for a book and a coffee.

HORSESHOE BAR

Historic Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne

Inside the uber-elegant Shelbourne Hotel is the Horseshoe Bar, a classic, horseshoe-shaped bar with red-vinyl bench seats lining the walls. Cocktails aren’t generally excellent in Ireland, but you can get a decent one here. One goes mainly for the atmosphere. It holds a retro, cozy feel, while its history includes a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and a claim to being the bar where Ireland’s great band, The Chieftains, was formed.

No. 23 at the MERRION
No. 23 at the Merrion on the stately Upper Merrion Street in a row of high end hotels is a relaxing, if a bit stuffy, respite on a gray, Dublin afternoon. Old world, somewhat dated decor, a fireplace, couches and chairs and professional service are the backdrop for a French 75 that costs well over $20 (ouch!) But it was a quiet place from which to journal and collect my thoughts.

Pubs

Young girl spontaneously sings a haunting Irish ballad as the band joins in

O’DONOGHUE’S
Possibly the most magical moment in Dublin and of my entire trip was had at O’Donoghue’s. Just a block east of St. Stephen’s Green, this tiny pub is crammed with musicians in the front window jamming for hours, alternating between playing all together or in various configurations.

With a repertoire of traditional Irish music, every player is excellent, and one well over the age of 60 bought me a Scotch and started calling me Judy, saying I had Judy Garland’s soulful eyes. He flirted shamelessly with my husband right there, saying goodbye with a big kiss on my cheek.

The unreal moment came when a girl watching quietly from the cozy crowd inside the bar, began to sing a mournful Irish ballad a capella. She had the perfect voice for a ballad of love lost to death and the loneliness that ensues. Clear, angelic, sweet, she sang plaintively and humbly. I could not help but shed tears. This, my friends, is Ireland.

Narrow entrance to basement Dawson's

PORTERHOUSE
This Irish micro-brewery is actually a rarity: making truly small batch beers served around town (and in London), their multi-floored, wood-lined pub is packed with nooks and crannies in which to disappear with a pint and a book. The Porterhouse is known for their Plain Stout (which even beat out the mighty Guinness in the “Brewing Oscars“). I also like Porterhouse Red.

DAWSON’S LOUNGE
Dawson’s is billed as “the smallest pub in Ireland” with a max capacity of 24. Enter a narrow door, down even red, twisty stairs into a low-ceilinged, wood-paneled bar that evokes the 1970′s. It feels packed with far more than 24 people, yet not overwhelmingly so. A unique spot for a pint.

Historic Brazenhead since 1198

BRAZENHEAD
It may be touristy due to its claim as the oldest pub in Dublin since 1198 (!), but I find the Brazenhead worth a visit due to its magic atmosphere. It’s just what you want in a pub: stone walls, history, cozy, wood-lined rooms, an open air stone patio, sing-along sessions and convivial conversation. All can be had here and the setting is unbeatable. Far from the rowdy Temple Bar pubs and crowds, it’s mellow and welcoming.

Long Hall

LONG HALL PUB
When it’s not too packed (it can be annoyingly filled body-to-body), I enjoy Long Hall for its Victorian lamps, mahogany bar, and chandeliers reflecting off mirrors. It’s an elegant pub with over 100 years of history.

 

 

Colorful chandeliers in a glass ceilinged room of Cafe en Seine

Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Sep
15
2011

Wandering Traveler

At NEW MIDLETON DISTILLERY
County Cork, Ireland

Walls of the Old Midleton distillery, dating back to the 17th century (now housing tasting rooms & museum; distilling happens in newer buildings)

Ireland is a green land of rolling hills, sheep and craggy coastline, to be sure. The people enchanted even more… a generous, welcoming, hilarious lot. One of my favorite people in recent Ireland travels was Liam O’Leary, distillery operations manager at New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, near the southern coast of Ireland.

Massive, 75,000 liter copper pot stills

The name New Midleton may not mean  a lot to some, but if you follow Irish whiskey, you know there are merely three distilleries producing publicly-sold spirits in all of Ireland and this one’s the Mother. It’s most famous as home to Jameson (founded in 1780 by John Jameson, originally produced in Dublin at the Old Jameson Distillery, which I also visited). New Midleton also produces numerous Irish whiskies including Midleton, Powers Gold Label, Tullamore Dew, Paddy, and smaller pot still brands like my longtime favorite Irish whiskey Redbreast and still-not-available-in-the-US loves, Green Spot & 12 year Yellow Spot.

Liam hosted the Renaissance Man and I on a private tour of the grounds. Spending pleasurable hours  talking whiskey and of his 40 year history at Jameson (long before it was the huge company it is now),  we delved into a subject dear to my heart, and, it seems, to every local I spoke to: music. We watched mass distilling in action, and finished with a hearty Irish lunch in the distillery restaurant.

The New Midleton facility is to date the most colossal, high production I’ve yet seen: towering stills, control panels, endless storage buildings stacked with barrels, and the world’s largest pot still (able to hold up to 125,000 liters, or roughly 33,000 gallons), which is no longer in use but is viewable in the Old Midleton museum. Numerous copper pot stills operate simultaneously, holding a massive 75,000 liters each. The facility whirs and buzzes continuously, recalling Ireland’s past, creating its future.

Walls of barrels storing whiskey fill dozens of buildings

Tasting Jameson

Sampling stunning Jameson straight from the barrel using a whiskey thief (20yr from bourbon & 10yr from sherry barrels)

Exploring New Midleton, it’s only fitting we talk Jameson. Possibly the highlight of my trip to Ireland (and there were many), was tasting Jameson 20 year whiskey straight from bourbon barrels (of which the majority of Jameson is aged in), and alongside it, 10 year whiskey in sherry barrels, both of which are blended into higher-end final product.

Both were superb, the purest forms of Irish whiskey I’ve tasted, particularly the golden, 20 year in bourbon barrels. Its layers kept unfolding, warm, honeyed and bright, spicy, fresh with grain and fruit. Already perfection, this stuff should be bottled at cask strength on its own. The sherry cask whiskey adds round, dark notes, giving it fullness and sensual depth.

As I taste through the Jameson line at home, notes from those unforgettable barrels come back to me. I pick up various strains from the bourbon and sherry oak, all with that ever-present smoothness Irish whiskey is known for as it is generally triple-distilled. As the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world, Jameson has done much to advance the category, while I crave pot still beauties like Redbreast and Green Spot. For further reading, Paul Clarke wrote an article in this month’s issue of Imbibe that illumines Irish whiskey’s growth, history and current status in cocktail culture.

Here are my tasting notes from sipping (multiple times) through the Jameson line:

Old Midleton Distillery building welcomes visitors

Jameson Rarest Reserve, $279Rarest Reserve is the grandaddy of the line. Winning numerous awards (including this year’s Double Gold at the SF World Spirits Competition), it’s an expensive but truly special imbibement. After one explores the full-bodied aromas of ripe plum and spice, the taste impresses with toasted wood, dusty peach, dark chocolate, a hint of slate, leather and earth. Here I find encompassed the approachable yet elevated possibilities inherent in Irish whiskey.

Sampling single cask 20 & 10 yr whiskies straight from the barrel

Jameson 18yr Limited Reserve, $86.99 – The 18yr is another big award-winner, hitting my taste buds with an intense amount of peach. For me it evokes a golden summer freshness. Though I prefer it neat, it’s also lovely on the rocks. A couple drops of water allow other tastes to unfold, including orange marmalade, gentle spice, nuttiness, and biscuit. It’s soft yet bright, and could convert the non-whiskey drinker.

Historic, working water wheel on distillery grounds

Jameson Gold Reserve, $60.99Gold Reserve is a richer whiskey than the 12yr or Jameson Irish Whiskey. I get creamy apple on the nose, a gentle honey texture and a peppery finish.

Jameson 12yr Special Reserve, $39.99 – The 12yr won Gold this year at the SF World Spirits Competition), sweet and spicy with sherry, wood notes. Oddly enough, I find its astringency is softened and rounded out with food.

Giant copper pot stills from below

Jameson Irish Whiskey, $24.99 – The original Jameson has never been my Irish whiskey go-to. I find it a bit hot and thin, despite sweet fruit, vanilla and nuts. But this is the great global seller in Irish whiskey, often the first introduction many have to the category.

 

Common Irish cheer/toast on the walls of the old distillery

Classic John Jameson truck outside the walls of the Old Distillery

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