Another weekend away:
In my month and a half in Ireland, I have traveled a little South to Kilkenny, a little North to Howth, far West to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, and way up North to the Giants Causeway and Belfast.
This weekend a group of us traveled very far south to Cork city. Late Saturday morning we arrived in the Ireland’s third city, Corcaigh, which is Irish for marsh; the city center of Cork began as an island in the swampy estuary of the River Lee.
After trudging up a few hills with our bags in the unusually high heat, we finally arrived at Sheila’s hostel. I would recommend this hostel for anyone visiting cork. We only paid 16 euros for the night and the staff and accommodations were very friendly and clean.
In search of sustenance, we set off towards city center to visit the famed English Market of Cork’s shopping area. The market is several stalls and counters indoors.
One could compare it to Faneuil Hall in Boston or more likely to Pike Place Market in Seattle. The English Market offered an incredible array of fresh produce: fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, jams, cordials, pickled items, pastries, as well as many cooked options like paninis or sausages.
The air was busy and lively, filled with determined regulars pushing their way around gawking tourists such as ourselves. Sweet scents of baked goods pulled at our noses, mingling with the salty twinge of cured meats and olives soaking in oil.
We walked quickly around the market taking in the sites, unfortunately not lingering enough for my taste. My companions were hungry and hung over, a bad combination that could not be swayed by rows of colorful jellies and jams or by the temptingly yellow blocks of cheese.
After a short lunch at a Italian cafe, we set off towards St. Patrick’s Quay, the supposed destination of the free shuttle to the Jameson distillery. I had researched online that included in our ticket purchase, was a free shuttle that would take us directly from Cork to Midleton, a town slightly outside of Cork. Despite the re-assurance of the front desk man at our hostel, as well as the posted shuttle pick up times online, this shuttle did not seem to exist. The 1:45 pick-up time quickly slipped by as we were forced to accept the shuttle wasn’t coming. A tourist office nearby informed us that that shuttle was no longer in service.
Although I still blame the stupid website for advertising an out of date service, I felt horribly responsible for leading our group to this point and on the wild goose chase that was to follow for next few hours. Sorry guys!
After this disappointing discovery we quickly shuffled to the nearest bus station to see if any buses could take us to Midleton. The soonest one was an hour away. So we were forced to find our way to the train station about a 20 min walk from where we were. We had reserved tickets for 2:30 at the distillery. As we trekked to the mysteriously placed train station, the time was around 2:10. The horrible sun and heat of the day left us with little hope, yet as we finally entered the train station, we learned there was a train to Midleton leaving in three minutes. We had made it in time! Or some of us had.. Four of us got onto the train, soon realizing that last three in our party were not right behind us. As the countdown of the closing doors beeped around us we anxiously looked down at the station, expecting to see our friends rushing towards the train. Instead the doors closed and our train began to move away. Oops.
Quickly, one of us called our missing group members, as I called the Jameson distillery to ask of we could go on a later tour. Apparently the tours run every 15 minutes, which is another inconsistency of the website! (Not happy with you jamesonwhiskey.com)
Long story short, about an hour or more later we were all finally in Midleton at the Jameson gates.
I had heard mixed reviews of the tour of this distillery but being an alcohol enthusiast, I found the tour to be informative and well done. We walked around the many old buildings of the former distillery, learning of the unique process that goes into making Jameson Whiskey.
This is a view of the building in which the barley is dried. There are many red windows because in the summer months it was possible for the barley to get so hot that it would spontaneously catch fire. Hence the many windows to prevent this from happening.
Jameson Whiskey is distinct for its process of triple distillation. This is why the whiskey has such a smooth taste, comparatively to American or Scottish whiskey, which are only distilled once or twice, respectively.
After the three distillations, the result is a clear spirit that is 80%! In the past, to test the proof of the spirit, the workers would hold it over gunpowder. If there was no reaction, it was underproof. If the flame turned blue it was perfect, and if there was a small explosion, it was over proof. The workers would listen for this sound, because the explosion meant the whiskey could not be used and was therefore given to the workers. Good day for them.These casks show a progression of the aging process for Jameson Whiskey. The clear spirit starts its aging process in two separate casks, one previously used for bourbon, one for sherry. The two casks are then mixed together to continue aging. Using these recycled casks adds to Jameson’s distinctive flavor with notes of vanilla and oak wood.
In Ireland whiskey has to be aged for three years for it to be legal. The progression shows whiskey that has been aged for much longer, up to 18 years. The longer the whiskey is aged, the darker it’s color will become, absorbed from the casks it is in. The longer aging process also leads to evaporation and absorption of the liquid, which results in less whiskey. This is why longer aged whiskeys are so much more expensive, because there is much less of it to sell after so many years.
At the final stop on our tour, the guide (Sarah, who was great), asked for volunteers for the opportunity of a special whiskey tasting. I knew of this opportunity beforehand, but had thought everyone would volunteer and I wouldn’t have a chance to be picked. When Sarah asked for four women to volunteer however, only three did. Even more strangely, when she asked for four men, only two put up their hands. After another pause for volunteers, no one came forward, I though to myself that they were crazy and my hand shot up. As most of the people in my group don’t really drink whiskey, I hadn’t wanted to volunteer and make them wait for me. But the fact that no one else was volunteering for the three empty spots seemed ridiculous to me, so had to do it. Thankfully John from our group , fellow Connect123 intern, volunteered as well.
At the volunteer table we were able to sample three different whiskeys. Jameson, of course in the middle, a Scotch Whisky to the left and an American whiskey, Jack Daniels to the right. I found the Jameson to be the smoothest and most satisfying taste of the three.
I also really enjoy the smokey quality of the Scotch Whisky. On our tour I learned that the barley used for Scotch Whisky is dried using peat, which is what gives it it’s smokey flavor, whereas Irish whiskey is dried with a smokeless fuel.
After the tasting we were awarded with certificates as qualified Irish Whiskey tasters, as well a complimentary Jameson drink with ginger ale and lime!
Later that night we all went out, sun-burnt and exhausted, to see the Cork night life. We only went to one pub, Oliver Plunckett, but it ended up being a very cool place to drink at. A cover band came on and we were entertained by them, as well as by a ridiculously drunk man who insisted on dancing in front of the band the entire time.