The Menu: Whiskey galore, from festivals and tastings in Cork to new releases from distillers

Whiskey lovers are spolied for choice in this week's Menu
The Menu: Whiskey galore, from festivals and tastings in Cork to new releases from distillers

Uisce beatha on Leeside

The Menu is very partial to world-class Irish whiskey, so is especially delighted to bring tidings of the inaugural Cork Whiskey Fest (March 24-26), centred around MacCurtain St, in particular Philip Gillivan’s splendid Shelbourne Bar, a flagship on Leeside for finest Irish whiskeys and festival sponsors along with Irish Distillers and Irish Malts. The festival features 34 events in intimate venues over three days in Cork city, and includes masterclasses and special tastings with whiskey specialists hosting each event.

The brainchild of Laurie O’Dwyer, host of Whiskey Chats podcast, and wife Sonya, as festival organisers they hope it appeals equally to whiskey fanatics as to recent or potential converts.

Distillers featured include The Liberator, Lough Ree Distillery, Irish Distillers, Jameson Portfolio, Killowen Distillery, Kinsale Mead Co, Pearse Lyons Distillery, Dingle Distillery, Dunville’s, Rebel City Distillery, Thomond Gate, WD O’Connell Whiskey Merchants, Baoilleach Distillery, and Boann Distillery.

One event in particular catches The Menu’s eye, a Cork Whiskey Walk (March 25, 2pm) led by Eric Ryan, a senior distiller at Midleton Distillery and Irish whiskey history enthusiast with a special love for his native Cork, who is sure to set a cracking pace, in and out of the glass.


Nation once again

Believe it or not but Brian Nation’s pre-arranged demo (March 25) of his Keeper’s Heart Whiskeys, in one of Ireland’s finest drinks emporiums, Bradley’s, on North Main St, has no connection whatsoever with the excellent Cork Whiskey Fest programme — a coincidence that it should be arranged for the same weekend but The Menu views it as an extraneous jewel of an event that should prove fascinating to any whiskey and spirits afficionado. Brian Nation was barely installed as Master Distiller in Midleton Distillery, seen as one of the most prestigious gigs in world whiskey, he being only the third master distiller in almost 70 years, when he was lured away to Minneapolis in the US to become head distiller of O’Shaughnessy’s Distillery, founded by an Irish-American family. Nation will be unveiling two blended whiskeys, Irish & American, (Irish grain, Irish pot still and American rye), while Irish & Bourbon is … yes, you get the picture, the first two supplemented with American bourbon, and The Menu believes Nation is responsible for producing all four of the blended distillates, with both blends available for tasting. The Menu will also be very keen to hear more about the O’Shaughnessy Distillery; according to their website, it is built in an old potato factory! Is it possible that another Irishman, to rival Henry Ford, introduced automation to potato production in the new land of Amerikay?

Whiskeys galore

And sure, hung for a sheep as a lamb, let’s hope that over the Cork Whiskey Fest, some of the following fine new releases from Irish distilleries are poured.

Irish Distillers release Midleton Very Rare 2023, the third vintage crafted by Master Distiller Kevin O’Gorman and the 40th edition in the prestigious series, and it visits the spectrum of pot still whiskeys produced at Midleton, this year increased by O’Gorman. We may be celebrating Paddy’s Day, but Dingle Distillery’s second release from their Wheel of the Year series was put out in tandem with ‘Biddy’s Day’, the Lá le Bríde Single Malt Whiskey, marking the beginning of spring, St Brigid’s day and the Celtic festival of Lá le Bríde, Imbolc, a source of hope and joy for farmers. It is matured in first fill Rye casks and bottled at 50.5% ABV. The Menu is ever partial to the ‘Spot’ series and Green Spot Quail’s Gate is the third instalment of their Green Spot Wine Geese series, partnering with Quail’s Gate Winery in Canada to finish a limited-edition single pot still Irish whiskey finished in Pinot Noir casks.

A taste of Blás

It seems an appropriate weekend to open the gates for entries to this year’s Blás na hÉireann Irish Food Awards, presented annually in Dingle town and where The Menu hugely enjoyed his return last autumn after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic.

The largest blind-tasted food awards on the island of Ireland, it is designed to recognise and celebrate the very best Irish food and drinks.

Early bird entry opened yesterday, with a discounted entry rate until April 5, and closing date for receipt of final entries is on May 17.


For the weekend that’s in it, Lá Féile Pádraig and all that, The Menu is promoting the merits of a good old-fashioned ‘tin of biscuits’, Seymour’s Spirit of Ireland handcut Irish shortbread biscuits. The tin sports a stylised — though admittedly, also stylish — livery that appears tailor-made to catch the eye and tug the heartstrings of Irish-Americans returning to the ‘old country’ in search of their Celtic roots and not entirely closed off to the notion they might also capture a leprechaun while here.

But whatever your feelings about such marketing ploys – and The Menu salutes the canny marketing – there is no gainsaying the merits of yet another magnificent baked confectionery offering from Seymour’s, who produce a truly excellent range of biscuits in Bandon, in West Cork.

The Scottish strand of The Menu’s DNA confers all manner of authority on him when it comes to evaluating the merit of shortbread, for he remembers well in early childhood, sitting in his abstemious and parsimonious – no national stereotyping here! – Granny’s house in Glasgow, and how good shortbread was treated with the reverence and awe Parisians might afford to good mille feuilles, chouquettes or macarons.

And, take it from The Menu, this is exceptionally good shortbread, buttery, sweet but not too sweet, and sublimely poised on that border between crisp snap and gentle crumble.

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, indeed!

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