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Simon Majumdar Interviews Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey Brand Ambassador, John Cashman

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John Cashman Interview Notes

On a recent visit to the Republic of Ireland, our host, Simon Majumdar, took a bus from Dublin to the town of Kilbeggan to visit its historic distillery and to speak with the Brand Ambassador of Kilbeggan Whiskey, John Cashman. In an interview that was accompanied by some very delicious whiskey, they chatted not only about the unique history of this distillery, but about the joys of Irish whiskey in general.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know About Food

SIMON MAJUMDAR INTERVIEWS KILBEGGAN WHISKEY BRAND AMBASSADOR JOHN CASHMAN ABOUT

THE HISTORY OF IRISH WHISKEY

[DISCLOSURE: Simon received a gift of bottles of Kilbeggan Whiskey before his trip, and Simon and Sybil tasted complimentary 

Kilbeggan Whiskies while visiting and touring the distillery. No other compensation was made for this interview.

Simon's company, It's Not Much But It's Ours, paid for Simon and Sybil's travel and accommodations to/from Kilbeggan Distillery in Ireland.]

SIMON:
Five, four, three, two, one. My father's car is a Jaguar. Hi April. This is us in Ireland.

 

INTRO MUSIC

 

SIMON:

Hey everybody and welcome to a very special episode of Eat My Globe. A podcast about things you didn't know you didn't know about food. And this is a very, very special episode because this is our first outside broadcast. Now we've left the sunshine of LA and the studio in Phoenix and we are out and about doing an interview. So I am very, very fortunate to be in Kilbeggan in Ireland, at possibly the oldest distillery in Ireland. And we'll have that little argument in a moment. And I'm very pleased to be able to introduce to you the brand ambassador for Kilbeggan whiskey. I'm going to ask him to introduce himself. Who, who the heck are you?

 

JOHN:

Hey Simon. My name's, uh, John Cashman. I'm the global brand ambassador for the Kilbeggan distilling company, which is owned by Beam Suntory worldwide.

SIMON:
And tell us, for those who don't know, what the heck is a brand ambassador? It sounds like a fantastic job, particularly when the word whiskey is involved.

 

JOHN:

Yeah.

 

SIMON:

But tell us what it involves.

JOHN:

Um, well, firstly, yes, it is a fantastic job. Uh, anyone who I, when I introduce myself and say what I do for a living, they kind of go, gee, how can I get that job, you know?

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]
 

JOHN:
No, uh, it's, um, my role is essentially to be the voice and the face of our brands worldwide. So, um, that goes across a few different areas in so far as I will educate people, um, consumers, um, um, Irish Whiskey in general on our brands and specific, but also, um, internally within an organization like Beam Suntory, which is the third largest spirits company in the world. Um, I'm, I suppose you could call me, I'm Mr. Irish Whiskey for Beam Suntory. Um, so I will educate internally, um, tell people about Irish Whiskey, ensure that we're doing the right thing, that we are, um, honest to our heritage, that we're honest to the 262 years of history that we have within this distillery within some of our brands. Um, I'm also involved in a little bit of a hybrid role in coming up with some new ideas, uh, new whiskeys. But I like to innovate through heritage. I like to look at what we were doing in the past, what we were doing a hundred years ago, and try to bring that back into, into the fore. So advise our distilling team or advise our blending team. Um, I'll also then help out in the commercial side of the business. Um, go into key accounts, help sell the stuff I feel I'm, I'm at heart, I'm a sales guy. Um, I started in this business. I'm uh, selling whiskey. Um, I didn't come from a bartending background, which a lot of prominent masters tends to these days. People go for established, uh, bar, um, you know, superstars and get them as a Brand Ambassador. I've been working with whiskey my entire career since I left college. Um, so I'm not, I, I, it's very, very little on whiskey I don't, I don't know at this stage, thankfully. And as a result, I'm, I'm a judge with the IWFC. I'm evolved in different competitions. I help out around the world as a, as a, as a touch point for Irish Whiskey. So it's quite a varied role. Um, I absolutely love it. Um, but I'm also very conscious of the, again, those generations of history, um, on my shoulders. Every time I come into this distillery, um, which has been here in one form or another since 1757, I feel that. I feel walking through those doors that someone was doing this 150 years ago, if not 200 years ago, coming in, getting whiskey, going out around the world, promoting it, selling it, and a very proud, yeah.

SIMON:

Well let's, I mean let's talk about that because for those of you who haven't yet listened to last week's episode, which is a more general talk about the history of whisky – and if you haven't, go and listen to that now and we'll be here sipping on something rather good while you are coming back. We'll give you a few moments. I touched on Irish Whiskey in that episode, but as I was coming to Ireland, I really wanted to talk to an expert. And as you've just showed us, you really are an expert. So tell us about what makes Irish Whiskey so special. And then we'll go on and talk about Kilbeggan, which I know has a unique history, even within Irish history.

 

JOHN:

We need to begin at the beginning, which is how it’s a good place to start. And what a lot of people don't actually realize is whiskey was invented in Ireland. Um, the idea of distillation of course, wasn't. Distilling began somewhere around the Middle East – Mesopotamia, modern day Iran, Iraq. The word alcohol comes from the Arab language – al kohl. Distilling originated in the Middle East for two purposes. One is medicinal, one as a base for the perfume industry as it still is to this day. Um, and it was Irish missionary monks who were spreading the word of Christianity following the fall of the Roman Empire throughout Southern Europe came across distillation. Cause remember the Arab people came to North Africa and then following the fall of the Roman empire, that became known as the Moors of the Moorish people. And they came into Southern Europe bringing distillation with them, using the primitive alembic still.

 

So Irish monks came across this and brought it back to Ireland and started distilling in Ireland and Ireland in the seventh, eighth, ninth century, civilization revolved around the monasteries. The monasteries were not just holy bases, they were places of learning. There were monastic settlements. They were essentially cities, modern day cities before the Vikings establish towns and cities in Ireland. So people would flock to the monasteries. Why? Place of safety. But also it was, um, places to get educated. And as a parent, I look at my three children, what do I deep down really want for them -- apart from lots of things -- on a basic level, to be safe, to be healthy, to be educated. In order to achieve that a thousand years ago you went to a monastery. So the monks were the educators, they were the brewers, the bakers, the farmers, the teachers, the distillers. They were distilling primarily for medicinal purposes. The product they distilled, they needed to call it something.

 

They didn't speak Arabic, so they didn't use the word, al kohl. They did speak Latin.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

They also spelled the Gaelic language, the Irish language, and in the Irish language, the liquid that they produced, they called “Uisce Beatha.” “Usice” is the Irish word for water. “Beatha” is the Irish word for life. The same word exists in Latin – aqua vitae.

 

SIMON:

Um-hm.

 

JOHN:

French – eau de vie; Scandinavia – Aquavit – meaning the same thing. The water of life. Why? Well, spirit, alcohol when distilled, whiskey doesn't come off as still brown. Whiskey comes off colorless. It looks like a water. This water when given to an ill person, a person who was sick, a person who might have had food poisoning, it cured them. It gave them their life back. It was the water that gave life – the water of life. So Uisce Beatha was being produced in Ireland.

 

When the Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century invading force from Britain. French originally came to Britain and came over to Ireland, invaded Ireland. They integrated themselves into Irish community. They all struggled with the Irish language. They drank Uisce Beatha couldn't pronounce it correctly.

 

So took that first word – Uisce. I looked at it and phonetically, if you don't know how to pronounce it, and you look at the word – U. I. S. C. E. – you might pronounce it “iski.” They started drinking and consuming “iski” and as the English language evolved from early Anglo-Norman, “iski” became whiskey, which then became the modern word whiskey. So even the word originated in the Irish language.

 

SIMON:

Huh.

 

JOHN:

Now there's no doubt the idea of travel to Scotland. I was close to the point where 17 miles apart and Irish monks traveled to Scotland establishing monasteries during what they would've done in Ireland, including distilling. But Irish Whiskey, had a jump on everyone else. We were producing it a lot longer. To to go back to your original question, what is the difference between Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey and other whiskeys?

It's really the location. It's the climate. Irish Whiskey is produced in Ireland. Scottish Whisky is produced in Scotland. Scottish Whisky is generally double distilled. Some are triple distilled. Scottish Whisky, some use peat, some don't use peat. Irish Whiskeys. Generally, triple distilled, some are double distilled, some used peat, some don’t use peat. It’s very similar, but they taste very different. Why? Because of location.

 

The Irish climate is that little bit more mild than Scotland. Scotland does that bit more northerly. So the winters are that little bit harsher. Their summers are just as bad as our summers.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

. . . and our winters are that little bit harsher.

 

Ireland is, um, is surrounded and enveloped on hold by what is known as the, um, the Gulf stream or the North Atlantic drift, which is a warm water coming from the Gulf of Mexico – strangely enough – on a diagonal northeasterly loop comes up around Ireland, surrounds Ireland, goes around Islay, then around the coast of Scotland and then on up.

So the Irish climate tends to be, yes, very wet, but no, not very cold. The coldest that winter falls below freezing one or two occasions, three o'clock in the morning, second week of January.

 

The flip side, summer, in fahrenheit, so I suppose you're looking at mid seventies on a really good day. 80, if we're very lucky, we have a national holiday. Okay? So the difference between the warmest and the coldest is quite. . . is . . . is quite a small amount of temperature change. That equivalent can happen overnight somewhere like in Kentucky or somewhere in Ontario. . .

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

JOHN:

. . . in Canada. So in Ireland, we have a longer maturation year. If the temperature falls below four degrees centigrade, maturation stops. It's too cold for maturation to occur. The amount of time in Ireland, it's like four degrees in saturate compared to Scotland. It's almost three months of a difference. So we nearly get three months more maturation.

So an Irish four-year-old whiskey might take a Scottish Whisky five years to taste as mature as an Irish four-year-old. So it's the climate in Ireland that makes our whiskey so special and so different. But it's also that history. It's that heritage. It's that, that fact that we began it. We are, we're the biggest in the world until the 20th century. Our whiskey was the most popular by far worldwide. It even overtook Brandy and Cognac in the late 1880s, when the disease phylloxera destroyed all the vineyards of France. And our whiskey was drank by, you know, by rich people or by paupers. Everyone enjoyed Irish Whiskey. Um, from Queen Elizabeth I to Czar Peter the Great to, uh, people all over the world.

 

What people often forget is Ireland was an integral part of the British empire and as the British empire expanded, Irish people went with it. Irish people were, some of the great soldiers. The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin who defeated Napoleon, for example. To probably hundreds of thousands of foot shops, foot soldiers.

 

As they traveled, they brought with them their love of home, their taste of home. If they wanted the taste of home, the only thing that would survive was whether – if it wasn't IPA beers, which gets, you know, a, that's a different thing.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

JOHN:

I'm sure you've touched on the obvious.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

JOHN:

. . . but um, it was whiskey. It could travel. So Irish Whiskey spreads throughout the entire world and became the most popular style of whiskey in the world. You then have the mid 1800s in Ireland and you have the famine in Ireland where the population went from 8 million to 4 million. One million people are physically, unfortunately, passed away. But 3 million emigrated, immigrated all over the world. A lot to the United States of America and brought the love of Irish Whiskey with them. Before prohibition, it's estimated 60% of all whiskey consumed in the United States was Irish – it was that big – and Irish Whiskey was big all over the world.

 

SIMON:

Wow.

 

JOHN:

So, you know, for us, um, we have this history, we have that heritage, we have the perfect climate, we have, um, great cereals with pure water. We have, uh, we just make – I’m biased – perfect whiskey.

SIMON:

Well, I am a huge fan of Irish Whiskey, which is one of the reasons why I was so determined to come here. And I'm a big fan of Kilbeggan anyway. So let's, let's talk about Kilbeggan because we've just been fortunate enough to have you, the brand ambassador, give us a tour of not only the currently operating boutique distillery, which makes a small amount of really beautiful whiskey, but also your old whiskey kind of distillery experience where you're showing things happening from, you know, the 18th and 19th centuries. So really ancient whiskey making. And then tell us a little bit about Kilbeggan because it's a distillery that I know kind of disappeared and was revived. And I . . . I feel that's kind of, uh, an analogy kind of of how Irish Whiskey is anyway, cause it seems to be going through a boom anyway. So let's talk about Kilbeggan and then we'll talk about some more about the kind of styles of whiskey.

JOHN:
So the Kilbeggan distillery was, um, first licensed in 1757. We've got a license to distill under a family called the McManus family. And there's no doubt distilling was happening here before that. In fact, Kilbeggan was covered by 1608, um, um, uh, Graham's whereby people here, landowners collect tax off anyone who was producing alcohol on their land. But even predates . . . . Kilbeggan gets its name, the little church of St. Becan. And St. Becan, this monk, who established a monastery here in this village before it was a village, more than likely was distilling. But we did in fact, and the fact is in 1757, Mathias or Matthew McManus applied and received a license to distill, um, alcohol or distilled whiskey.

 

The McManus family run the distillery until 1798 when, uh, Tudor revolution in Ireland, the two eldest sons of the McManus family were implicated in the rising, uh, were tried for treason and were hung as traitors to the British crown. The McManus family were heartbroken. They got rid of the distillery and sold it to a family called Codd family – around for a number of years until the 1840s, when it was purchased by the Locke family.

 

It was under the guidance and the stewardship of the Locke family that Kilbeggan grew to become one of the largest distilleries in Ireland at that one of the largest distilleries in the world. Um, it was a time of great growth for Irish Whiskey when Irish Whiskey, um, really was riding a wave of popularity. The British empire was one third of the world. Irish Whiskey was spreading all over the world, um, and Kilbeggan, saw the benefit of that. The Kilbeggan that we walked around today. The, uh, old historical side of the distillery is a classic example of the Victorian era distillery, harnessing the power of the land, harnessing the power of the water, um, fueled by peat that was, um, was harvested only a few miles down the road. Um, as the industrial revolution happened, they were able to use a water wheel to power the entire distillery. Um, if the water level was too high or indeed too low. Um, but in Ireland being Ireland was more than likely too high from time to time. Um, they had a war, they had a steam engine. A steam engine that would then power the distillery on those occasions to keep things operating. So what we see here is a classic example of Victorian era engineering. Um, um, um, mashed tons from, from the 1880s, 1890s, um, millstones from the 1870s a steam engine from the 1880s. It's a real step back in time. It's something that you just do not see anymore in any distillery anywhere around the world. Um, then side by side to what we have, that historical side of it. We also have the modern boutique distillery and that boutique distillery, we didn't want a new modern shiny stainless steel distillery. We wanted something that would reflect the size, style and scale of a distillery from the 1840s. So we have, you know, wooden, um, uh, mashed on, um, gravity feed. We have wooden fermentation vats.

SIMON:

You actually have the oldest pot still still operating, is that right?

 

JOHN:

That is correct.

 

SIMON:

. . . in the world.

 

JOHN:

Yeah. The oldest, the oldest copper pot stills still producing whiskey in the world. I believe that might be an old wooden pot still producing rum that might predate it. Um, but, uh, copper pots, so producing whiskey, it is the oldest. We believe it's over 185 years of age, uh, from the early 19th century.

 

SIMON:

Wow.

 

JOHN:

. . . and uh, uh, on, on, on, um, on commission that would have distilled only for a small number of years to distill alcohol. And then it was replaced by much larger stills and it spent the rest of its career – if it still can have a career – um, distilling water. Um, just basically like a big kettle and that water was used to water down, a water down that whiskey for blending or for bottling or, or, or even for, for, for maturing. Uh, so hence it survived.

 

If it was distilling the whole time, it would not have survived. There was absolutely no doubt, no doubt about that because the copper would get so thin, the alcohol would erode at so much that it would just leak. Now, how much longer are we going to have it? I don't know. It could pack in tomorrow. A massive hole might appear.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

We don't know. It is, it's a hundred, over 185 years of age. It's not going to be around forever. But why do we have it? We're very proud to say we're using the world's oldest copper pot still to make it.

SIMON:

And the whiskey that comes out of it, I know is, is really remarkable having been lucky enough to taste it. But let's, let's talk about that in terms of, um, the styles. When you, when you sample an Irish Whiskey, when you sample a Kilbeggan whiskey, particularly, as we're here. Wshat are people going to find? What, what's going to be unique about an Irish Whiskey? What are we going to taste? What are we going to, what are we going to smell? What are we going to get as an aftertaste? What is it, when you're talking about that in it from tasting notes, what are people going to get in an Irish Whiskey that they're not necessarily going to get in other fantastic whiskies, but just with a different flavor profile?

 

JOHN:

I suppose when it comes to Irish Whiskey, there's a few lazy adjectives. But, but they, you know, some of them do, do come true. There's all these adjectives a lot of companies will use to describe Irish Whiskey – smooth, mild, mellow, easy drinking, soft, white. All of these. Um, and yeah, to a large degree, s. . ., yeah, as a general term you could describe Irish Whiskeys out. But Irish Whiskey is a lot more complex than just that. But in general, an Irish Whiskey compared to other styles of whiskey and Irish Whiskey will tend to be lighter and a little bit softer. It should retain the flavor of the cereal from which it is distilled. So therefore, uh, if it is a, a, a mulch whiskey, it should have that distinctive malty, that sweet spicy element of the malt. If it's a pot still whiskey, which is the traditional style of whiskey to Ireland, which is generally, um, malted barley on malted barley and up to 5% of some other cereal, you will have an oily, more viscous, more a chew, a chewy mouthfeel. Quite a creamy mouthfeel to, to that side of whiskey.

 

If it's a blended whiskey, could be a mix of all of those. Blended whiskies by nature tend to be quite light. You're going to have predominantly grain whiskey and a blend.

 

SIMON:

Uh-huh.

 

JOHN:

So a lot of maybe corn or wheat based whiskey, which is going to be sweet to begin with. You're then gonna have the spine, which will be that malt element or maybe parts of it coming through. Or of course you could have a single grain Irish Whiskey, which will be lighter. It will be soft, it will be quite fragrant. Um, quite sweet because the majority, and certainly our Kilbeggan single grain is 90, uh, over 94% corn with 6% malted barley. And it's distilled in a column still. So it's going to be distilled to a higher proof, um, but it will still retain that corn and will still retain that sweet element.

SIMON:
Let's, let's talk about those different types of stills, if we can just for a moment. Because you've mentioned two or three of them and people may not know the different styles that you're going to get, and you've talked a little bit about it there. Out of the main still. So tell us about the kind of, the main types of still that you're likely to see in spirit and, I mean, and particularly whiskey producing?

JOHN:
Yeah. In Irish Whiskey, there are two main stills used. Um, there is a traditional pot still and they use column still. So traditional pot still really is the modern version of that original Alembic used by the Arabs thousands of years ago. It's a copper pot. It looks like an old school kettle that you might put on a campfire with a net coming at the top as opposed to a spout out the front of the kettle. The concept is the same. You put a mash of beer, or we call it in the whiskey making wash, into it. You light a fire underneath it. In the old days, on alcohol will come off, because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. So you can separate alcohol from water. The downside to this method is it is a batch method. You batch by batch, put in the mixture or that up, separated out, empty it out, clean it out, put the next batch in.

So in the 1830s, an Irish man called Aeneas Coffey, was an excise man by trade. Uh, so his day job is collecting taxes from distilleries around Ireland. He was almost killed twice. He was bayoneted.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

. . . and he nearly, nearly totally . . .

 

SIMON:

People take their taxes very seriously in the whiskey business, obviously.

 

JOHN:

Yes, and quite a dangerous occupation.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

But it's a classic example of um, poacher turned gang keeper or gang keeper turned poacher, whatever you want about it. And he would see how people were distilling using that traditional method. And he patented a new method of distilling, which originally was known as the Patent still or then after him, the Coffey still, but then became known as the Column still or the Continuous still.

 

On how it operated was it's a large column, much like a can of beans. But within that can of beans, although we're talking about a can of beans that's probably about four foot wide by about three stories tall. Um, there were different plates, round plates running all the way down through it. Each one of those plates is perforated with little holes, maybe no larger than your baby finger.

 

And the concept is, if you have a mixture that wash that beer coming in the top, flowing across and down through the plates with steam rising from the bottle, when it hits the boiling point of alcohol, alcohol can be collected out continuously. Once you continually have wash or beer coming in and continually have steam rising up through these plates, you can have alcohol 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

 

The plus efficiency cost costs far less time than the pot still. The downside efficiency, it's too efficient. It will distill to a much higher percent, a much higher strength, which often can result in the loss of flavor. You're almost making neutral grain spirit. It's perfect for making vodka or making neutral grain spirit that you might put botanicals into to make a gin down the line. Not so great for whiskey.

However, if you have a good still with copper plates, you can still retain some of the flavors, one of those great. . .

 

I'm in this industry a very long time and I still don't understand what copper does to produce flavor. It just does. I know it takes that sulfur. I know it takes out some of the nastier elements in flavor. But what does it add to it? I can't . . . I've never read anything where anyone can explain to me properly why it does. Well it does. Well like, yeah, great. It just does. Okay. So, you use a Column still. You're going to produce a whiskey to a much higher alcohol volume and probably less flavor.

 

So in Ireland, why Aeneas Coffey came up with this? The majority of Irish distilleries refuse to use a . . . not all, some did of course . . . but a lot didn't because they said it was producing a silent spirit. That it was a silent still. Silent because when you tasted it, it didn't tell you anything.

It couldn't tell you anything of its heritage, of its provenance. You couldn't taste a flavor. And they went, no, we prefer our pot still, our big oily or more viscous, more flavorsome whiskeys, which are popular around the world anyway.

 

So in Scotland, they looked at it. Their pot still whiskey was that little bit not as light as an Irish Whiskey and didn't have the same reputation and they realized, well, we're losing out here, but if we continue to make our malt whiskey in the traditional method, but then add some of this new Column still whiskey into it, we're going to have a lighter style of product. The idea of blending began over in Scotland. All of a sudden, they started making a lot of whiskey, which was closer in style to Irish Whiskey and then true –all the other elements of Irish Whiskey, us breaking away from Britain at the turn of the 20th century, losing that single biggest market for whiskey worldwide.

SIMON:
Yes.

 

JOHN:

Irish Whiskey was thrown out when we gained independence. You know what its replaced with? Scotch whisky.

 

Scotch whisky had that market all to itself. Same time, of course, you had prohibition in the United States. And we lost that market. We were at war with Britain at the time. We weren’t thinking about trying to get Irish Whiskey over the U.S. We lost that to Scotch and Canadian whisky during the years of prohibition. So Irish Whiskey went from an area where it was dominating the world due to this pot still method. True, by the end of WWII, practically being destroyed. Gone. On people having more of a flavor of blended whiskey, the influence of the Column still really coming to the fore.  

SIMON:
So, that's a fascinating point because of the historical impact of independence, prohibition, all of these major landmarks and in history around the world having an impact on one industry. And I know that Irish Whiskey went into a decline where people might know one or two of the volume producers . . .

 

JOHN:

Yeah.

 

SIMON:

. . . that have kept going. Um, but what we're seeing now is a revival. We've been spending a few days traveling around Ireland and every bar we go into it and there's been a few of them, I will admit . . .

 

JOHN:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

. . . um, every time we go in, there's a range of whiskeys and people are proud of the Irish Whiskeys and the range is big. So why has that happened? Why is Irish Whiskey suddenly, not only back in, uh, you know, back in fashion, but it's back with a bang.

 

JOHN:

Um-hm.

 

SIMON:

People really love it.

 

JOHN:

Um-hm.

 

SIMON:

So what is, what is it that's made that happen?

JOHN:
Um, there's a few things. I have a few theories.

 

One of my theories is what I call it, the Capri Sun effect. Okay. Capri Sun, that sweet, sugary . . .

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

JOHN:

. . . orange drink. Okay? Um, I look back at um, my parents' generation, uh, born in the forties growing up in the fifties and sixties. They were thirsty. They had two choices. They had milk or they had water. That was it. Okay? Um, people born in the seventies and eighties, there were more choices. If they were thirsty. . . Yes, generally your, your parents would say, yeah, you've milk or water. But if it was a special occasion, you might have a sugary sweet drink. And without thinking, all of a sudden, people born in the seventies and eighties, when they turned to alcohol, they, ingrained, have a sweet tooth. They don't realize, but they do have a sweet tooth. And they're looking and seeking out alcohol that is that little bit sweeter, and suits their palette.

 

Irish Whiskey is that. It suits that type of palette. So we see young people in their twenties, and thirties all over the world looking for Irish Whiskey. At the same time, you have this generational thing now, where young people today don't want to drink what their parents drank. So parents, in the sixties and seventies, were drinking white spirits. I'm drinking Scotch. Young people. Starting alcohol plus 21. Um, not looking for that. Wanting to drink something different. Irish Whiskey is that, um, along with the growth of bourbon as well, around the same period. Same profiles, sweet or softer, maybe not softer but sweeter, anyway, than traditional would say, Scotch Whiskys.

 

Um, at the same time you have my second theory, the Bono effect.

 

SYBIL:

Um-hm.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

Everyone has a Bono story.

 

SIMON:

Let’s thank Bono for everything.

 

JOHN:

[Laughter]

So what’s the Bono effect? Well, the 1980s, U2 became the biggest rock band in the world. And for a lot of people before the days of internet and being able to Google something, the first ever association for people with Ireland was through the music of U2 and Bono, and you get your music magazine and you read about U2. Oh an Irish band. Oh, Ireland, oh, right? Ireland. And then in 1980s, around the same time when U2 become the biggest rock band in the world, you have the explosion of Irish pubs. Every city in the world has an Irish pub.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

JOHN:

It doesn't mean it's Irish run.

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

Yes, it does.

 

JOHN:

It doesn't mean Irish people are there, but it's an Irish pub and people would flock to it for that Irish culture. You then later on, have the river dance phenomenon, river dance, you know, to be in Moscow, to be in Beijing, to be, you know, this intrinsically culturally Irish thing around the world. So you had this focus on Ireland.

 

Irish Whiskey is part of our culture and Irish Whiskey is there. Um, so we really see this in the past 15 to 20 years where young people in the U.S. started drinking Irish Whiskey. It took us by surprise. And today, you go into a bar in New York and you'll see a 21, 22, 23 year old guys and girls are drinking Irish Whiskey. More so than you see here in Ireland. More so than you'll see an Irish, Irish pubs. So Irish Whiskey has become popular. It's become cool due to the taste profile. Um, and also, and I have to tip the cup to, uh, one of our competitors, to Jameson. Um, having promoted that, having put money behind it, having targeted. . . And it's, it's, it's grown from, I worked on the brand years ago. I remember when it hit 1 million cases worldwide. I think it's at seven or 8 million cases now and in the U.S. expected to double every three years.

So there's Irish Whiskey is very, very popular right now. So, um, when I started in this industry, uh, just over 20 years ago, there were three working distilleries in Ireland. Bushmills distillery, the Middleton distillery, um, the Kill. . . ah, sorry, the Cooley distillery. Um, only seven, sorry, nine years ago. Um, that became four with Kilbeggan reopening as a distillery in 2010. Then, um, it stayed at four til about 2012 when a fifth distillery started and then a sixth distillery. Today, there are 24 operational distilleries in Ireland. Now, . . .

 

SIMON:

Wow.

 

JOHN:

. . . only maybe five or six actually have mature liquid, which shows how many have been in the past three years or more with an expected further 12 at different stages of planning process, expected to come on stream within the next three to four years, including back to everyone having a Bono story. Bono’s got a distillery. Um, um, he's involved in a partnership with a distillery Monasterevin.

 

Um, so Irish Whiskey is very popular. Um, it's still the fastest growing brown spirit in the world and one of the fastest growing spirits worldwide. And I did some research recently with the Irish Whiskey Association and we picked 30 odd, uh, major markets around the world for Irish Whiskey. And just about every single one of those, it's still expected to have a double digit growth over the next four years. So Irish Whiskey really is on fire. . .

 

SIMON:

It is.

 

JOHN:

. . . popular. And, um, our whiskeys are very much part of that. Be it our, our Kilbeggan single grain or soft, lighter almost bourbon style, um, um, in inverted commas, without it being not of course it is, uh, it is, uh, 100% an Irish Whiskey, um, to our Kilbeggan blend, which is your typical Irish style on people wants. . . you know, you want an Irish style whiskey well, Kilbeggan and, and over 90% of Irish, all Irish Whiskey worldwide is blended. To our single malt whiskey. Our Tyrconnel – are light, fruity, easy drinking malt, whiskey.

 

SIMON:

Oooh.

 

JOHN:

Premium, uh, Tyrconnels, the finishes, the 10 year old Madeira, the poor of the Sherry finish or our new 16 year olds, um, Oloroso and Moscatel. . .

 

SIMON:

Oooh.

 

JOHN:

. . .finish. Or then we have Connemara, the peated single malt bringing back that lost tradition of drying the peated mal. . . or the malt over an open peat fire. Or, last year's release one very close to my heart. I was, uh, very much involved in the survival of this whiskey, which was our Kilbeggan small batch rye.

 

SIMON:

Which is my, I have to say my favorite.

 

JOHN:

Thank you very much.

 

SIMON:

It is a sensational whiskey and I do recommend to everyone who's listening to this go and try and find it. It's, it's a really terrific whiskey. And I, I think what's, what we're seeing is, as you've said, Irish Whiskey is, is obviously back with a bang. Kilbeggan is right at the center of that. And I think, you know, it's a wonderful thing. And if people get chance to come to Ireland and obviously, to come to Kilbeggan, they definitely should do that.

 

So John, I do have one other question that I get asked a lot by people. Is there a set rule for how you taste whiskey or what would you recommend people try?

JOHN:

There is no set rule.

It depends on what you're trying to get out of it. It depends on, I suppose the situation. If you're sitting with friends, it's a warm day. Is it a cold day or whatever. All I can say is when I am sampling a whiskey for professional reasons, i.e., I'm trying to write up tasting notes or I'm doing in a competition or . . .

 

[Clanging sound]

 

. . . something like that. Um, I will generally try it neat to begin with. Um, I just to get a sense of what the average consumer, well because there’s a lot . . . pretty much drink it straight up, um, to begin with. I'll then add water, um, to see does it change, does it open up anything? Water when added into whiskey and even you can see it happening when you add a drop of water into whiskey, um, you'll see little strata appearing. That's the alcohol molecules opening up allowing . . .

 

[Bottle being set on wood sound]

 

. . . oxygen in, allowing, releasing vapors, releasing flavor. Um, so water is good. If it's a warm summer’s day, I’m having a whiskey outside of the barbecue or something like that, I might have ice in it. but I won't put ice on it if I'm doing a tasting. If it's a professional reason because ice is the opposite. Ice closes it. Ice is cold. It makes the molecules contract. It closes up and you don't get as much flavor out of it. It's refreshing, yes. But you don't get as much flavor out of it. My friend and colleague Fred Noe from Jim Beam always says, just drink it any damn way you want . . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

Which I think is a perfect answer.

 

BREAK MUSIC

 

[SIMON ADVERTISING: Hi everybody, if you’re enjoying this podcast, you may want to check out a fun series of videos I did with my friends at Pureflix dot com. In “Simon Says,” I cook dishes from around the world and give a little bit of history about how they were made. It’s a lot of fun. So do go and check them out. Streaming exclusively on Pureflix dot com.]

 

SIMON:

Does whiskey because it's so distilled, does it have terroir?

 

And I've had every distiller I talked to, it gives me a different answer. Some say no, it's so distilled that basically nothing can appear in there. Uh, perhaps, uh, perhaps if you count the work of the distiller as an act of terroir, uh, or the blender as an act of terroir, then perhaps. Uh, well on the set. . . of other people say no, absolutely, it takes it from the area and the climate and the people. And just to explain to people listening terroir really is the impact on a product of the area and the people and the . . . the . . . the kind of region in which it's produced. So I'm going to ask you that question. Let's say if you could give me a, a relatively simple answer as to whether you think yes or no.

JOHN:
I believe it does.

 

SIMON:

Uh-huh.

 

JOHN:

. . . Um, I believe it . . . it. . . it can through, um, uh, through where barley is produced. Um, where, what the soil is like for the barley being produced, the yield of that year, the climate of that year, that year's harvest, how that can affect it. But I think more so where the maturation occurs. That's . . . that's the intangible element of whiskey production. Um, the ingredient, that fourth ingredient, um, that you just can't touch. Um, um, that's equally important.

 

Whiskey in a barrel is a living, breathing thing. And, if I had a barrel of my whiskey and I'm maturing it in a Bowmore number one vault or dis. . . or maturing it in our number one warehouse, they're going to be different whiskies after five years. Yet they’ve come off the same still and the same liquid, same cut, everything the same and why? It's got to do with what air surrounds it. It breathes air just like you or I. If we're by the coast, we're breathing sea air whiskey by the coast – has that natural sea salty element Bowmore, Laphroaig, as classic examples. And here in Kilbeggan, uh, we have, uh, we're far from the coast. We have, uh, beautiful, moderate temperature all year round and that's gonna reflect in our style of whiskey. So yes, I do believe terroir as a very important thing, place to play in Irish Whiskey.

SIMON:
An excellent answer. And the final one that I get asked most of all, and I usually make up an answer is why does some whiskey have an “E” in it, and other whiskeys don't have an “E” in it? And it appears to be fairly random.

 

JOHN:

A lot of it has to do with, um, you know, it is, it is very random. Some distilleries called are K, E, Y, some are K, Y. Even here within Ireland, some of the new distilleries are producing whiskey spelled K, Y. Um, within the technical file for Irish Whiskey, they, um, they, they recognize that and they say Irish Whiskey can be spelled K, Y or K, E, Y. And, um, back in the 1880s, a group of distilleries in Dublin came together, um, in order to differentiate themselves from the side of whiskey that has been produced in the country. They wrote an entire book about it. They call it “Truths About Whisky,” spelled K, Y. They, in the cities, called their whiskey, key, K, E, Y. So K, Y was outside of Dublin. K, E, Y was within Dublin.

 

Now Winston Churchill said, victors write history. I say survivors write history. To survivors of the Irish Whiskey industry or those within the big cities. And they were spelling it, K, E, Y. So that defacto became the way that Irish Whiskey was spelled.

 

Now you go to the United States of America, bourbon whiskeys, generally spelled K, E, Y. You have others like Maker’s Mark, it’s spelled K, Y.

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

JOHN:

Or in Canada, it's spelled K, Y. So, it does really differ. And you could say, well a lot of Scott's people immigrated to Canada. A lot of Irish people immigrated to the United States of America, and got involved in distilling. That might have something to do with it. But I think, in general, when it comes to Canada and the United States, it tends to be a little bit more uh, positive, tends to be just, I want to spell it this way, I want to spell it that way. Whereas in Ireland there is actual historical context as to why it was spelled K, E, Y as opposed to K, Y. But we can't spell it both ways.

 

SIMON and SYBIL:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:
But then I always say to a Scotch friend of mine, if you just take the word S, K, Y how'd you pronounce it? Up above our head, sky.

 

SYBIL:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

And if you put something into a drawer, it's spelled K, E, Y. That's a key.

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

So why didn't . . . they now not pronounce it “Whi-SKY”?

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

JOHN:

They pronounce it “Whis-KEY.”

 

SIMON:

Thank you. This has been an incredible morning with a great tour of a remarkable place. But if people want to find out more about Kilbeggan whiskey in particular, um, can they look on the website or so what's the website they should be looking at?

 

JOHN:

Yeah, KilbegganWhisky.com, um, on, on Twitter as well. @Kilbeggan or I'm on Twitter, @CooleyGBA, and you can follow my travels around the world and different things. Uh, so a lot of information out there on our whiskeys. We’re constantly coming out with new whiskeys. Okay. At first and then you go to liquor store, um, our liquid will be there and we're winning multitudes of medals and awards all over the world. Um, and we, we, you know, we're proud to be part of this new revolution of Irish Whiskey. This third golden age. First golden age, we invented it. Second golden age, we dominated the world. Third golden age, we're growing faster than any other type of spirit around the world. And we're proud to be part of that.

 

SIMON:

And I think the most important thing we've discovered today is whatever happens, it's all Bono’s fault.

 

JOHN:

It's all Bono’s fault.

 

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]


Thank you very much, John.
 

OUTRO MUSIC

 

SIMON:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.

And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us that all-important good rating on your favorite podcast provider. That really helps.

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.

 

CREDITS

 

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”

[Popping sound]

and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Nicole Gilhuis for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.

Published Date: November 4, 2019

 

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.