Academy Charity Tasting 2019 – It started with a tweet…..

It started with a tweet. A regular occurrence on my social media feed where I see a photo of someone posting a photograph of their latest bottle purchase. This one was a Single Cask bottle of Green Spot Marsala finish from The Whisky Exchange and the poster was none other than Barry Chandler from Stories and Sips. Unknown to me a conversation developed in the background with Dave O’Connell whom asked Barry to sell him a measure if he ever opened it. But Barry had a plan. He not only wanted to open it, but he wanted to open it and enjoy it sitting around with friends. I know, shock horror eh! As the conversation continued on Twitter Barry messaged me if I was up to join him in a friendly get together when he was in Cork again to sample this Single Cask beast. Obviously, I was game on.

As the weeks went by and we all chatted I pitched the idea of a charity tasting to be held in Cork. I had previously done one with Stephen Magennis and Ger Garland in 2018 in Bow Street in aid of Pieta house so it was apt to continue it this year! Barry dived at the idea. And I mean dived. The chance to give back to a charity was so great, he said he would donate his bottle for a charity tasting night! The charities we decided upon? Childline and Bumbleance, two fantastic children’s charities that are deserving of help. Next up was the master of ceremonies, Ger Garland. Icon of Whisky. Legend of Irish Whiskey. Gate keeper of Single Pot Still. I rang Ger and pitched him my idea. A similar format to our Bow Street tasting, I pitched an after hours tasting in Midleton. Ger loved the idea and immediately went to work on it. Over the following two months, I must have driven him crazy with phone calls…..but it was worth it! Ger delivered and was able to have a Method & Madness 28 year old Ruby Port included in the tasting at no cost. Legend.

The line up was the next problem. We wanted this to be a special tasting so we went for some special whiskeys. Kevin O’Gorman, Midleton’s Master of Maturation was kind enough to provide a cask sample bottle of Single Pot Still Marsala cask, a component of Red Spot at a whopping 57.9%.

Method and Madness 28 yo Ruby Port

We then went on the hunt for some of the stand out Irish Distillers whiskeys of the last 12 months. The Palace Bar Redbreast Single Cask was on the target list. A surprisingly quick call to Willie Aherne secured one with the biggest surprise yet to come…..Willie kindly donated the bottle to the tasting night! Next up was a Powers and what better to target than the Garavans Powers Single Cask! An email to owner Paul Garavan and manager Darren Green and hey presto, they too donated a bottle for the tasting! Another email to Tim O’Connor, the Retail, online and stock manager in Midleton secured not one but TWO bottles of the Jameson Black Barrel Cask Strength which is only available at both the Midleton and Bow Street visitor centers as a pour your own bottle experience. And so we had 6 TREMENDOUS whiskeys for our tasting. Next up was the guest list. This was the hardest part of the tasting. We all had people we wanted to invite and so we each unfortunately had to pick people which has resulted in some very disappointed people. For that, I am genuinely sorry. 30 was our strict number to attend due to available space and 31 is how many attended. I sat at the bar! As a lot of the attendees were traveling and staying overnight, we settled on a ticket price of €65. Extremely reasonable if I do say so myself!

One windowsill out of 5 packed with spot prizes!

Next we decided to make some extra money for charity with some spot prizes on the night! So we made contact with John from Whiskey Craft, Ireland premier whiskey gift site. As with the 2018 tasting John was amazingly generous providing an absolute amount of prizes for the raffle from still models to a beautiful Single Pot Still wooden barrel end clock. Rosi from Tuath Glass provided a beautiful flight with 4 of her distinct Irish Whiskey Tuath Glasses. Bill Linnane provided some amazing whiskey prizes from his personal stash which must be vast! Serg from the Irish Whiskey Magazine kindly gave a years subscription to the magazine as a prize. Peter White kindly organised an Irish Whiskey Society hoodie and a Dick Macs bar starter set of clothing! Barry organised some Redbreast swag from the US team and Dave was able to swipe some whiskey miniatures and a bottle. All counted, we had 32 spot prizes. One for everyone in the audience including the MC! Some feat.

As we approached the event itself generosity continued. Chris Hennessy from The Dylan Bar in Kilkenny and one of the attendees of the event contacted me out of the blue that he had made 40 individually sealed Powers Old Fashioned cocktails! One per person yet again! And the day before the event my wife, Rose, waltzed into the sunroom and announced she was making whiskey fudge for everyone….”get up and pick a whiskey” was her command and so I did. A special night deserved a special whiskey fudge…..Redbreast 15 it was! And off she went to make two batches of #DramGoodFudge!

Redbreast 15 #DramGoodFudge from #MrsThatsDramGood

And so, on the 8th of July 2019, some seriously big hitters of Irish Whiskey descended on Midleton. Ivor from WhiskeyTalk2u, Marc from Whiskey or Whisky, Phil from Causeway Coast Reviews, Pot Still Will etc etc etc………the list was vast (yes, 31 is vast!). Even Bill Linnane showed up….to skulk around and take photos! Thanks Bill, all jokes aside!

Arriving before 6pm they were met by….themselves! We were busy making final arrangements in the Irish Whiskey Academy who had kindly allowed us use of their building (Thanks Maire and Tommy!) A quick jog back to the visitor centre, a quick head count and we were ready to rock. Gathered in the reception of the Midleton Distillery Visitor Centre we watched as people began to leave. Staff began to clean up. And here we were…..just getting started. With the welcome complete, Ger lead us off outside the distillery and onto the courtyard outside the distillers cottage for an overview of the original Midleton Distillery. From here it was to the Micro Distillery where our attendees got their first surprise. Here they met with Henry Donnelly, one of the distillers responsible for the Method and Madness Gin who took everyone through the purpose of the micro distillery, how Mickeys Belly, the still came to the micro distillery and how the M&M gin was created. Notes were taken. Questions were asked. Terrior was confirmed…….!! While Henry chatted to the group we were served a neat M&M gin. I love it neat as I’m not a big fan of tonic. Once finished we all then received a gin and tonic while people had the chance to chat to Henry.

With Gin and Tonic in hand, we up the square where we met a lone figure leaning against a barrel. Second surprise. Ger Buckley, Master Cooper for Midleton causally standing by a barrel in the summer sun. Naturally we crowded round. He made the circle bigger. He had plans. Ger chatted about wood and its influence. The significance of the char on barrels and why its done. How barrels can be revived by it. And then they lit the inside of the barrel to demonstrate the process. All the while, Eric Ryan and myself poured a decent measure of Jameson Black Barrel for everyone. With a higher level of char, the Black Barrel was the apt whiskey to sip while Ger Buckley did his thing. I’ve seen his demonstrations several times. It never gets old. The trade is fascinating with massive levels of skill involved. Barry stared at the fire. Bill Linnane hid behind trees. Paul Lynch decided to have a liquid picnic beneath a tree. It has to be noted now that Ger Buckley was on holidays for this event. The legend that he is meant he traveled in on his day off just to do this demo for us and not only that, he was suffering from manflu too so he couldn’t even join us for the tasting!! Fair play Ger, we owe you one!

Once complete we headed off again, up the short incline that reveals the Irish Whiskey Academy building. Behind it towers the imposing Barry Crockett Still house that houses some of the pot stills and the column stills for Midleton. First time for most to be entering the door, all were impressed by the fantastic decor, the bar and the amazing whiskey display…..locked away of course! This was also the first view most had of what we were actually tasting. While everyone knew about the headline act, the 28yo Method and Madness, very few knew the rest. Like children in a sweet shop they licked their lips as they saw what was on offer!

With everyone seated Ger began taking us through the tasting as we savored some truly special whiskeys. The first three consisted of the Green Spot Single Cask, the Garavan’s Powers Single Cask and the 20yo Marsala SPS. I didnt take notes. I enjoyed them instead!

As we stopped for the half way mark to allow our palates return to normality, we started the raffle. Entries collected, prizes numbered, names were drawn. A prize per person always brings a smile to peoples faces. Once completed we started up the tasting again. First off the bat was the M&M 28yo. This is one of the best whiskeys to hit the market in recent years. I don’t think anyone will convince me differently. It is a magnificent explosion of blackcurrant and stone fruits with a lovely pot still spice. Next up was the Palace Bar Redbreast Single Cask followed by the highest ABV of the night, the 60% Jameson Black Barrel Cask Strength. Barry Chandler wrapped up the night thanking all those who helped us make the evening what it was, a huge success.

As we finished the evening and with gift bags in hand, we left Midleton Distillery. We hadn’t finished through. It was on to JJ Coppingers bar on Main Street in Midleton. A fantastic whiskey bar, we were greeted warmly and provided with finger food. As closing time approached, it was out the door and home. Weeks of prep. A day of running around. It was all finished. As the remaining money came in the following day our total raised jumped from our estimate and landed at €3,300 raised for our chosen charities. A massive amount of money from one evenings whiskey tasting and something that Barry, Dave and I are very proud of. I could thank people all day for making the event possible but Ger Garland deserves a public thank you. He went above and beyond to make this event a success and to ensure it went off smoothly. Thanks Ger.

Personally I plan to continue this. Maybe not as big and grand but certainly the spirit of raising money for charity will continue. The next event will be made public and is already in planning. Watch. This. Space…….Slainte!

Slide show of photos taken by Bill Linanne.

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