The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2016

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Page 75 of 100

august 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  75 "We're a small independent distillery on the southwest coast of Ireland," explains co-founder John O'Connell, one of the three childhood friends who joined forces in 2003 to develop a distillery dedicated to protecting the craft of artisan Irish whiskey making. "With no external investment, we built our own stills, our own fermenters and grew bit-by-bit. We moved from Union Hall, a small fishing village of 120 people, to West Cork, a town of 2,000 people, which is quite big by Irish standards—maybe not by American standards," continued O'Connell with a smile. Today, West Cork distillers produces Irish whiskeys, poitín, gin and other spirits, distributed by U.S. partners M.S. Walker. But their release of The Pogues Irish Whiskey is an authentic collaboration the likes of which Ireland had never seen before. "We were looking to do something different, but we wanted it to be authentically Irish," recalls O'Connell. And on that quest for authenticity, West Cork landed on The Pogues, a popular Celtic punk band whose charismatic frontman Shane MacGowan has long been known for pushing the envelope. "They were always indepen- dently minded," says O'Connell, "in terms of the music they played and their general behavior. But they never sacrificed in terms of quality, and that's something we think is very important. We are all independents, slightly left of center," says O'Connell proudly. Independence affords West Cork the ability to source only premium ingredients and distill precise, pure Irish whiskey. "Partnerships aside, quality is the most important," continues O'Connell, who managed to find both with The Pogues. Made from a 50-percent blend of five-, seven- and ten-year old malt whiskies, mixed with four-, five- and seven-year old grain whiskeys, The Pogues also relies on the signature West Cork soft water, resulting in a complex, yet smooth, mellow blend. "We tweaked the release very closely with the band members, and they took a very active role in the development of the blend." While the Irish consumer has found a natural connection to this blend, given the band's 30-plus year roots in the country, the U.S. consumer isn't as familiar with the band, so we caught up with band member Spider Stacy to get a Pogues 101: "The Pogues started in November of 1982," begins Spider. "We are kind of an amalgam of Irish music and punk rock, filtered through Shane McGowan's extraordinary songwriting lens. It's the kind of music that hits a lot of people right in the heart, the stomach, the groin . . . It's rich, and dark and twisted, and human, and very much alive." Chimes in O'Connell, "The Pogues are the ultimate in Irish music. Whether you walk into an Irish pub in Boston or Budapest, the reaction is invariably positive." O'Connell recalls one account visit in particular in Boston: "There was an older lady and a younger lady working in this Italian restaurant, and the older woman knew The Pogues and got so emotional when the younger, hipster lady didn't. 'You don't know about The Pogues?' she said; 'You have to find out about these people!' It may sound corny, but there was an immediate symmetry there between her aspira- tions and beliefs and The Pogues." Bringing that spirit to life has been a rewarding journey for both the West Cork team and The Pogues. "This is not some sort of gimmick," says O'Connell. "We made sure that the quality of the product is the highest it can be, and we believe that there's a beautiful story here once told. We believe that The Pogues can become the Sailor Jerry of Irish whiskey." As for Spider and his bandmates? The whiskey business is treating them well: "The thing I always loved about whiskey is that it tastes of history. A sense of place and where the whiskey is from is crucial, so this is something we're very proud to have our name attached to." West Cork Distillers co-founders John O'Connell and Denis and Gerard McCarthy in front of the distillery's copper pot stills. PHOTO COURTESTY OF WEST CORK DISTILLERS

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