Cork Whiskey Walk

I’ve always been interested in history. Actually…..interested is the wrong word. Fascinated is probably a better word! I’ve always been fascinated about history. The story of where we were and how we got to where we are today. I’m a firm believer that the subject of history should be mandatory in school so that our past is not forgotten. Martin Luther King once said, “we are not the makers of history, we are made by history”. Our very existence is influenced by history, be it family history or the history of an area. Within my own job I try to preserve any old or obsolete items I come across to ensure that this history is preserved. I cannot fathom when people show indifference to where we, as a society, came from.  So with all that in mind, its easy to understand why I jumped at the chance to take part in the Cork Whiskey Walk this week.

To be honest I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the day as I left home after taking a half days annual leave to attend. I knew Eric Ryan, the creator of Cork Whiskey Walk, from his involvement in the Cork Whiskey Society of which he is secretary and one of the most regular attendees. From this I had a fair idea that it wouldn’t disappoint too much!

Eric Ryan opening the first Cork Whiskey Walk of 2018
Eric and the Chieftain…..

So I arrived at 2pm at our designated location, the wonderful Franciscan Well Brewery and Pub on the North Mall. Meeting with some friends we obviously had to partake in a small drop of Chieftain IPA before we started. Once the full compliment arrived, 11 in total, we headed outside where Eric began to fill us with knowledge. We received an in-depth history of the Franciscan Well, from the 1200AD Franciscan Monastery and its holy well in the sandstone cliffs, which was said to have healing properties, right through to the original 1920s public house where its owner, Seamus Coleman met his grisly demise, and on to present day and Shane Long’s vision to create a brewery at the site.

From here we moved upstairs where we were told the story of how Caskmates came about in that very room. Some of that story can be read in my Jameson Caskmates IPA blog here. And so the first official tasting began with a pairing of Jameson Caskmates Stout edition and the Fran Well Shandon Stout. Here Eric’s background together with a Masters in Brewing and Distilling shone through. The pairing, as expected, is perfect and Eric took us through the tasting with ease pointing out the aromas and tastes we experienced.

We then went for a short walk up to Wyse Hill to have a building I have passed hundreds of times pointed out to us. Founded in 1779 by the Wyse brothers at the site of another holy well, it became the biggest distillery in Cork. As the story goes, the holy well was closed up after pilgrims were stopped by Excise officials carrying buckets of Whiskey instead of holy water! My kind of pilgrims! The site of the holy well is now marked by a Limestone marker built into the wall.

From here we dropped back down the hill to a building owned by UCC, and aptly named Distillery house, at the entrance to what was Wyse distillery.

Eric outside Distillery house

Wyse’s history was fully explained here from being a noted miser who created a false rear to his home to make it appear most imposing, to the fact he left 3 million pounds when he died (a pretty penny back then). In 1867 the distillery was sold to Cork Distillers who continued to produce whiskey there until 1920 when a fire destroyed several buildings and the distilleries waterwheel. Distilling operations then moved to Midleton Distillery. The walk continued into the UCC complex at North Mall where we were shown a building built in 1964 by Cork Distillers as a bottling plant which remained as such until 2004 when Irish Distillers LTD moved bottling to the Fox & Geese plant. I had been in this building many times and never knew the history that surrounded it!

It was over the bridge where the Tyndell Institute building was pointed out as originally being a malting house for the distillery.

The Tyndall ins

Onwards to the Mardyke complex we went and into the Porterhouse. Once owned by Woodford-Bourne and built in 1875, it was their bonded warehouse. The original curved roof can still be seen today. Out of Eric’s bag of tricks a 1950s bottle of Jamesons “The Jubliee Whiskey” was produced. Alas….Eric could not be persuaded to open it! He did however pour a generous helping of Method and Madness Single Pot Still. While it is a whiskey that needs no introduction for most of us, Eric once again delivered an in-depth breakdown on the tasting of it.

From here it was onto Arthur Mayne’s via the English market.

Meats and cheese plate (someone had robbed the spiced beef before I took the photo

With each passing building we were given a history of it and its connection to the trade. It was surprising to see just how many buildings had a whiskey related history in the city. In fact one of the social centres of Cork, Reardens Pub, featured with a small whiskey crock being produced on show.

Arriving at Arthur Mayne’s we were lead upstairs for a spread of bread, oils, meats and cheeses. Of course what would this lunch be without a pairing of whiskey! Here we sampled the terrific Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy. The upstairs of Arthur Mayne’s is a fantastic little whiskey bar and while it was my first time in there… shall not be my last!!

The final walk lead us up to the Welcome Inn where the history of one of Corks oldest pubs, and one of only two operating early houses, was given by Padraig, the present owner. On conclusion a bottle of Paddy Centenary was produced, copitas were filled and the story of Paddy O’ Flaherty was given. A character he most surely was, such that people started asking for Paddy’s whiskey in such numbers, that Cork Distillers decided to put his signature on the bottle to mark it as a true bottle of their whiskey. It eventually was labeled “Paddy” as we know today.

While the tour ended at the Welcome Inn, we decided one more location was called for and off we popped to the Shelbourne Bar in McCurtain Street. With a tremendous selection of whiskey it is a pub that shouldn’t be bypassed if you are in Cork. World famous in Cork for their Irish Coffees that Stephen made us with tender loving care (yes……Cork is its own world…..hence world famous!!)

Stephen Hackett, Manager of the Shelbourne Bar creating some Irish Coffees

And with that our day was done. The walk was the first one that I have done, but I know it would be hard to beat it. Eric’s knowledge is mind blowing. No prompt cards on show, no notes were needed. He bounced from date to date with intricate detail. Explanation was offered where needed, questions were demanded from us. I myself thoroughly enjoyed the day and would recommend you to attend, especially if you are from Cork or in my case, adopted by the county! Obviously I haven’t given you the full details of the day. For details such as how Seamus Coleman was murdered, you’ll have to experience the walk yourself. You can get further information about Cork Whiskey Walk here.

With thanks to Cork Whiskey Walks for inviting the author on this walk.

How do you drink whiskey?


I have to say from the outset; I am no expert in drinking whiskey and I do not profess to be one. Not even close. But I know what I like and I know how I like to drink it so I may as well share it with you all. I’m hoping to take you through how I generally taste and appreciate a good glass of whiskey, or as I call it, a dram. There is no right way to drink whiskey and no wrong way. There is just experimenting and enjoyment! Whiskey tasting is an art, not a science. It takes a lot of practice to truly be able to distinguish one whiskey from the other. But that’s OK, because we enjoy practicing!

In a later blog I hope we will talk about the idea of adding water or ice to your dram, glassware to use along with much much more but today, we will discuss the three main parts of tasting. The nose, the palate and the finish. So we start with pouring anywhere from 20 to 35ml of spirit into your glass. Ideally it should be served at room temperature. Whiskey isn’t like brandy, it doesn’t need to be warmed in your hand. Hold the glass up to the light. Look at the colour. Is it dark or light? Is it clear or cloudy? All these will tell us different things about the whiskey. Give the glass a swirl and move the liquid around the sides of the glass. Of course, make sure not to spill any! Watch as the liquid forms “tears” down the inside of the glass when you stop swirling it. These tears are generally referred to as legs. The higher the alcohol content in the whiskey, the more legs and the slower they will form and fall. Now give it another swirl. Slowly raise the glass to your nose but ensure your nose doesn’t drop below the rim of the glass at first as you will be hit with ethanol that could give you nasty burning sensation in your nostrils!  What do you smell? You could find it woody, spicy, leathery. Smelling of fresh cut grass, peat or flowers. Smell, just like taste, is very subjective. Rarely will I have the same nose as someone else. As we try a dram in company, someone will tell me what they smell and its like a penny dropping and I can smell it too. So you can’t really be wrong! Take a breath of normal air and repeat the process with your nose going deeper into the glass this time. Your sense of smell truly does affect your taste so take your time with nosing. With a good whiskey, your mouth can often be watering with the prospect of the taste awaiting you in the glass.

Next up comes the palate. The first taste of the whiskey. A lot of people when drinking whiskey roll the liquid back the center of their tongue and down the hatch so to speak. Unfortunately this only activates the bitter portion of your tongue giving some people an unpleasant experience with drinking whiskey. To truly taste and enjoy a good whiskey, we need to change that way of drinking. After nosing, sip a few millilitres of the liquid. Keep it in your mouth and swirl it around. Coat your mouth with the whiskey. Ensure it covers your cheeks and the entire tongue. Let it linger in your mouth for 10 to 15 seconds. Are you able to taste anything? Or is it “just alcohol”. Don’t worry if this is all you got with the first sip, after all…..whiskey does have alcohol in it! Take another sip and repeat. Swirl and swosh the liquid again. What about now? Like drinking wine it can take time for your senses to get used to whiskey. But once it does, you should get a burst of flavours from the liquid. Once you swallow the whiskey more of the flavours should become apparent. Again, just liking nosing, it is totally subjective. What do YOU taste in the whiskey? As time goes on and as you taste more and take note of other peoples tasting notes, you will start identifying different flavours but as you start off  on your whiskey journey it should be all about you.

Once swallowed we have what’s known as the finish. The first thing you will note is the warm or burning sensation from the alcohol content. Is it pleasant or nasty? How long does it last? Does it go on forever allowing you to enjoy the warmth and flavours longer?? Once the burn has dissipated have other flavours now shone through? The more complex the finish generally indicates how good the whiskey is. By complex I mean does it release layers of flavour that you didn’t get with the spirit in your mouth.

For me drinking whiskey, good whiskey, is all about the enjoyment of tasting. All components are as important as the next. A nice dram of whiskey could take me 30 minutes to drink as I have a few more rituals thrown in such as adding a touch of water halfway through the dram. Its not all about getting the alcohol into you. For me it’s about the craic we have as a group tasting different whiskeys. Finding different tasting notes to the next person.  Until the next time, may your drams only be good ones!



This piece originally appeared in the IPA Ireland Journal in 2017 as part of a piece for the IPA Whiskey Forum.