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The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

Category Archives: Ireland

The Whiskey:  Teeling Single Malt

www.teelingwhiskey.com

The Book:  The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

A few years ago I met Anne Enright at a literary festival. I have since regretted not asking her if she drank whiskey, and if indeed she had a favourite. I’m thinking a yes on both counts. And given she was born in Dublin, and, now lives just south of the city, that Teeling (the “Spirit of Dublin”) would be a sound guess.

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THE WHISKEY

A golden light glow in the glass. A subtle nose of fruit and oak. Fresh and inviting. It shines on the palate — dark fruit compote in balance with warm, rich spice, yet open and airy. Pleasingly integrated, with thinly oiled mouth feel. A tasteful burn lingers to a slow spicy fade. Strikingly good. (46% abv, non-chillfiltered, natural colour)

Teeling Distillery comes with a wealth of family history. The Teeling name can be traced to whiskey production as far back as 1782, when Walter Teeling established a distillery on Marrowbone Lane in Dublin. It is not far from Newmarket Square, where, in 2015, two brothers, Jack and Stephen Teeling, opened the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years. It is the sole distillery in a city that could once boast more than three dozen, the last of which closed 40 years ago.

Whiskey distilling is in the Teeling blood. Their father, John, founded the Cooley Distillery (known for such  brands as Connemara and The Tyrconnell) in 1987, eventually selling it in 2011 to Beam International (now Bean Suntory). Son Jack retained 16,000 barrels of aged whiskey as part of the sale agreement and with it the Teeling Whiskey Company was launched. (Hence, the choice of a phoenix rising from a pot still as the company logo.)

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With the new distillate maturing, Teeling worked with its aged stock to release several whiskies, all at an impressive 46% abv and aiming for the premium market. Among the core range of three is Teeling Single Malt, blended from whiskey (including some distilled in 1991) that has been finished in five different wine casks — Sherry, Port, Madeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and White Burgundy. The bold experiment works wonderfully well.

It’s indicative of the brothers’ philosophy of respecting the heritage of Irish whiskey while confidently taking a new path to produce whiskies that are clearly their own. They have turned a few heads in the process. They are part of a new wave of Irish whiskey that has drawn kudos worldwide. The phoenix flies high.

THE BOOK

At the literary festival Anne Enright read the opening pages of The Forgotten Waltz. It was as fascinating an author reading as I’ve witnessed.

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The thorny wit of Gina, the novel’s narrator, is scattered throughout an unrepentant account of her adulterous affair with Seán, a fellow Gina first spies in those opening pages. She catches sight of him from across her sister’s back garden, in the evening light of a summer barbecue, “at the moment the day begins to turn.” Gina’s take on her subsequent adultery is wry and guiltless. In tone it’s a distinct shift away from what we have come to expect of most novelists.

But it is the early years of the 21st century after all. Ireland is booming, though the prick of the bubble is not far off. Gina works in IT (“sort of”) and observes, through her skeptic’s lens, the over-extended lifestyles that have implanted themselves around her. She is ill-content with her marriage to Conner, and willing to lead herself out of it, working through the new scenario without much of a plan. “I can’t be too bothered here with chronology. The idea that if you tell it, one thing after another, then everything will make sense. It doesn’t make sense.” It never does, and that’s what’s likeable, and honest about the novel. We’re never quite sure if Gina is capable of overriding perceptions of what’s going on in her life.

If there are down-to-earth moments in the whole tangle of relationships they belong to Evie, Seán’s daughter by his first wife. It is Evie that Gina comes to terms with, in the end, in a way she can’t seem to with the others. Perhaps it is because she is what Gina once was — a young woman with a whole uncertain life ahead of her.

CroppedImage680680-Enright-Anne-Credit-Hugh-Chaloner-webAnne Enright was the 2007 Booker Prize winner for The Gathering, a novel about a woman trying to come to terms with her brother’s suicide. Four years later came The Forgotten Waltz. Her most recent is The Green Road, a story of family spanning thirty years. Her subjects are diverse, unpredictable, with writing that is sharp and original, and with characters that ring deeply true. She is not to be missed.

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The Whiskey:  PowersJohn’s Lane 12 years

http://www.powerswhiskey.com

The Books:  Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas and The Dubliners by James Joyce

Literary Dublin of a century ago calls for a dram to which James Joyce himself would give the nod.

THE WHISKEY

Bright gold, with a darkened orange glow and looking very smart in the glass. A dried fruit-filled nose — sweetish, dense and lively. On the palate, smooth yet chewy, sun-dried spice and caramel. Warm, intense, purposeful, an altogether superior dram. Lingers long, and with the best of intentions. (non-chillfiltered, 46% abv)

Powers whiskey dates to 1791, when innkeeper James Power opened the John’s Lane Distillery on St. Thomas Street in Dublin. Over time it prospered, and by 1871, rebuilt in a grand Victorian style, it occupied seven acres, employed 300 people, and distilled nearly a million gallons a year. It was a Dublin landmark, renowned for its pot still whiskies.

When Alfred Barnard, author of the monumental “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom,” visited in 1886 he was more than impressed. Of the kilns he wrote: “. . .indeed elegant buildings. . .with open groined roofs, lined with wood and stained oak, like small English parish churches, in fact superior to many we have seen.” And so the spirit moved him. “The old make… was delicious and finer than anything we had hitherto tasted. It was as perfect in flavour, and as pronounced in the ancient aroma of Irish Whisky as dear to hearts of connoisseurs, as one could possible desire…”

In 1966 Powers, together with Jameson and Cork Distilleries, joined forces under the umbrella of Irish Distillers Ltd. Within a few years Powers’ Dublin operations had closed and was moved to County Cork. Over time the question arose as to what was the taste of the best spirit of the old John’s Lane Distillery. In other words, what had gotten Barnard so fired up?

Hence, the John’s Lane, first released in 2011. Whiskey in the style that made Powers famous —  a special mash of malted and unmalted barley that is triple-distilled in traditional copper single pot stills, aged for 12 years, mostly in first-fill American bourbon casks, with a small amount in Spanish oloroso butts.

The result is a fine, historic example of single pot still whiskey that feels like it could have come straight off the production line in 19th century Dublin.

THE BOOKS

Samuel Riba, the anxiety-driven Spaniard at the centre of Dublinesque, is obsessed with Dublin. Unfortunately for him he lives in Barcelona and speaks no English. A newly retired literary publisher, he’s sorely disillusioned with the state of literature, prone to continuously grieving that he had never published a writer of genius. In what he conceives as a grand gesture, Riba gathers a disparate group of male friends and plans a pilgrimage to the city of James Joyce’s Ulysses, to coincide with Bloomsday, June 16, the day Joyce’s novel unfolds. It will be a funeral for the printed page.

It does not go well. His cohorts are unpredictable and veer from what Riba has in mind. They are prone to drinking sprees while Riba has sworn off alcohol, having solemnly promised his wife he would under no circumstances slip off the wagon. More disconcerting is the roaming, mysterious figure of a thin, bespectacled young man in a trench coat, looking all to much like Joyce’s protégé, Samuel Beckett.

If all this resembles metafictional play with an underlying seriousness, then take comfort that you are in the hands of Enrique Vila-Matas. He is a contemporary master of the genre-bending novel, who long ago eschewed traditional plot and character development as outdated and no longer of any real service to the reader.

Other approaches achieve more interesting ends. To Vila-Matas the author is as much a part of what he has read as he is of personal experience. Literary references abound, far beyond Joyce and Beckett — to Philip Larkin, Nabokov, Paul Auster, Tom Waits, David Cronenberg, Coldplay. The list goes on. Dublinesque is a contorted travelogue, a narrative essay somewhat in the shape of a novel. It is also great fun.

In the end it is about one man coping with the world in which he has found himself, plowing through, oscillating between joy and despair, making what he can of a wife who has turned to Buddhism, parents he can never satisfy, and companions who seem one unspannable step from deeper friendship.

Vila-Matas has written, “We are amazed by writers who believe that the more empirical and prosaic they are, the closer they get to the truth, when in fact the more details you pile up, the further that takes you away from reality.”

In his view reality cannot be “trapped and narrated.” Writers should give up trying. Vila-Matas has written dozens of books, translated into some thirty languages, to support his argument.

Vila-Mantas returns again and again to James Joyce. He is a founding member of a group calling itself the Order of the Finnegans, whose members venerate Joyce’s Ulysses. He is likely less taken with Joyce’s first book and its multi-layered realism (or in Vila-Matas mind, what passes for realism).

The Dubliners, despite how far some authors, including Joyce himself, have veered from its approach to fiction, is a stunning collection of short stories, as memorable as any set to print in the hundred years since it was published. Again and again it sets language adrift from the story itself, universal in its simplicity and depth, taking the reader, as the sequence of the stories do, from childhood to old age.

“The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” (Araby)

“She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed: and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male.” (A Mother)

“One by one they were all becoming shades.” (The Dead)

To which I would add, “The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.” (Grace)

The book was written when Joyce was in his early 20s, about the Dublin that he knew, its streets and dwellings holding secrets only the most keen observer of human nature could capture with such unobtrusive insight. The stories give their characters space to be who they are without judgement, almost without authorial direction. They are who they are, our entry into their lives often cut abruptly, as if to say, you had your look, move on. Life goes on.

The manuscript of The Dubliners was rejected by a total of fifteen publishers. Some thought parts crude, sacrilegious, libellous, (twice it got as far as the printer, who refused to bring it to press). No one, however, would deny its mastery of language. By the time it was published, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was in print and Ulysses was already taking shape. The Dubliners sold a few hundred copies and fell out of view.

Only to come to light years later as the ground-breaking work that it is. Maybe for postmodernists, it can’t capture reality. But for the rest of us it connects to our own reality and that is meaningful and very good.

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