“I am going, I am going/Where streams of whiskey are flowing.” –The Pogues, “Streams of Whiskey”
Celebrity-backed booze is by no means a revolutionary idea.
Clooney’s Casamigos tequila? Solid, classy. Yao Ming’s wines? Interesting, bold. Trump Vodka? Short-lived.
But a whiskey from The Pogues? There are times when the universe perfectly aligns.
Fittingly, The Pogues Irish Whiskey debuts just in time for St. Paddy’s Day. It’s a fantastic spirit perfect for celebrating great music and Irish heritage.
The eponymous spirit from was released last year in Europe and is just now hitting our shores.
Crafted at West Cork Distillers, one of Ireland’s two remaining independently owned distilleries, it’s an Irish Whiskey blended from 50% 10-year single malt and 50% 5-to-7-year grain, using spring water from the River Ilen.
This is no vanity project. For Master Blenders, the band enlisted two former Lifetime Achievement winners crowned by Whisky Magazine.
The result? A surprising amount of maltiness and smoke for an Irish whiskey, almost like a Scotch. Subtle hints of wine and honey as well. It’s a nice step up from the "big bottle" stuff — think the Irish whiskey you'd pour at the wake of a guy you actually really liked.
Very smooth but intense, with a clean finish.
We spoke with James Fearnley, the accordion player for The Pogues, who eloquently gave some perspective to his — and our — new drink of choice.
InsideHook: What inspired you to do your own Irish Whiskey?
James Fearnley: The idea came to us as long ago as 1984, when we drank our way through Ireland on a tour supporting Elvis Costello. The songs we listened to, for a start: “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” “Finnegan’s Wake,” “Johnny McEldoo,” “Whiskey in the Jar.” And the songs we were playing: “Streams of Whiskey,” “Wild Rover,” for instance. If there was ever a kind of music that inspired drinking, it was Irish music — from the Bothy Band through Seamus Ennis to Brendan Shine. On a day off, we borrowed the minivan and went on a pilgrimage from Belfast up to the Bushmills distillery, stopping off at a pub in pretty much every village between Belfast and County Antrim, drinking, well, Paddy, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Jameson, Tyrconnell — a double of each with a glass of Guinness on the side. We never made it to Bushmills. Maybe the seed of the idea started then, but we were too busy drinking it to think about making it. We drove our audience to drink. Now we’re driving drink to our audience.
IH: I found this to be exceptionally smooth ... how would you describe the flavor and nose?
JF: I’m not a whiskey connoisseur, though, from the previous response, you’d be forgiven for thinking I am. I wrote a memoir about my life in the Pogues during the time I talk about above, called Here Comes Everybody, where I struggled to describe Irish music in terms of landscapes — how uilleann pipes conjured up fens and riversides, for example. I don’t think it was too fanciful. I don’t think it’s too fanciful, either, to describe our whiskey in the same way, by means of landscape — by which I mean to say that the taste, for me, widens out in a very satisfying way, like a horizon. It doesn’t gouge like a ravine, it doesn’t run through the mouth the way a glacier might carve out a valley — it’s more of an alluvial delta, somehow. Not sure if that makes sense. But, yes, it makes sense to me.
IH: Was using an independent distillery important to you?
JF: I’d say very important. First of all, independence has been a touchstone for the Pogues for as long as we’ve been playing. It’s reflected in our music. Independent enterprises, these days, need all the support they can get, whether they’re bookstores or distilleries — and by support, I mean, relationships with like-minded others, whether in the production or consumption. It’s the relationships that are important. How else do you think the Pogues could have stayed together, as centrifugal as we sometimes were, for as long as we did?
IH: How much trial and error went into this before you got to the final product?
JF: We were privileged to work with two of the finest blenders in Ireland and Scotland, Frank McHardy and Barry Walsh. Samples of their blends were presented to various panels put together by each member of the band independently, and those of close and trusted friends who we knew to have discerning palates and experience in whiskey, both Scotch and Irish. Each sample was subjected to rigorous assessment and our findings collated. As long at the spirit seemed to have, well, spirit — the spirit we were looking for, the spirit redolent of those early days of touring in Ireland in the minivan — and as long as it had the ability to conjure up those feelings which Seamus Ennis, the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers — not to mention the culture and the countryside — conjured up in us, it moved to the next stage in the process.
IH: What’s the best Pogues drinking song to pair with your whiskey?
JF: I was going to say, straightaway, “Streams of Whiskey,” but a line from “The Broad Majestic Shannon” occurred to me: “There’ll be whiskey on Sunday and tears on our cheeks,” which, while it lacks the hilarity and reckless joie de vivre of “Streams of Whiskey,” has a depth which might be more suited to the whiskey we’ve brought out ... Unless I’m getting old, which I am. I suppose it’d then be a matter of how I’m feeling: if I want to regain my youth and recklessness, then “Streams of Whiskey” would be the song; if I find myself in a reflective state of mind, then it’d be “The Broad Majestic Shannon.”
IH: And finally, how do you drink your whiskey? Neat, rocks, cocktail…?
JF: I’m told that the whiskey “opens out nicely” with a bit of water, but I don’t drink whiskey like that and never have. For me, I drink it straight, with, as I’ve already described, a glass of Guinness on the side. And preferably with a view of an alluvial plain in front of me, though that’s not entirely necessary. Gently rolling hills will work.
Nota bene: We also discovered five other new Irish whiskeys worth your time.