Peat smoke is one of the few defining features of the regional nuances of Scottish Whisky versus its Irish counterpart. Call it terroir, or call it an acquired taste, it is one feature which dramatically affects the flavour in our whisk(e)y.Piles of turfOnly 28 miles separate Bushmills from Laphraoig, yet few liquid categories are as different in their flavour profile. This blog has mentioned already how this defining difference of peat is...
Read This Post
In Martin Martin’s 1695 trip through the Scottish Hebrides, he discovered on the Isle of Lewis the practice of “dessil”, whereby a group would sit in a “fiery circle” and drink a bottle of spirit in succession. It was a mark of respect for the host that the bottle was finished before the circle broke. If a member had to leave the circle, it was customary for him on his return to rhyme his apology, known as a “beanichy-bard”.O...
Read This Post
When English writer Samuel Johnson was asked was it worth seeing the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Ireland, he is said to have replied, “Worth seeing, yes, but not worth going to see.” Despite his dismissal, however, the Causeway has long been a visitor attraction, whether for geological, mythological or Game‘o’Thronological reasons.It seems Dr Johnson never grew tired of London life and therefore found little reason to ...
Read This Post

Waves of Dal Radio

By Sam MacDonald on Fri 24th Mar 2017

Here in the ancient Kingdom Dal Riada, two Italian family names ring clear today – Morelli (ice-cream makers) and Marconi (telecommunication innovators). There’s only so much I can tell you about the former because it’s essentially a matter of taste. However, research into the latter family opens a treasure trove of information that suggests genealogy is a consistent indicator of destiny for greatness.Guglielmo Marconi, Vanity FairBe...
Read This Post
Say what you like about the role of religion in modern day Ireland, St Patrick’s Day has been a very successful marketing tool for the global industry of Irish Drinking Culture.The patron saint picked a great day to die on 17 March which acts as a very convenient mid-term break from Lent, a good excuse to drink enough stout, whiskey and poitín over the course of one day to make up for the other thirty-nine days without.Though I would do...
Read This Post
The ‘Hard Blow’ was a popular drink in the north of Ireland in the 19th century. It consisted of illicit distillate mixed with very strong, stewed black tea. The obvious benefit of the concoction was inebriation, the less obvious was avoiding detection.The drink was popularised in the wake of Ireland’s Great Famine and the rush of evangelicalism which swept across Ulster during the 1850s. That effectively stamped out the drinking cul...
Read This Post
In 2011 Joe ‘Paul’ Doherty from Inishowen in Donegal was finally convicted of running an after-hours venue for those who were still thirsty in the wee hours. Known locally as the ‘Hooley at the Barn’, the events offered late-night entertainment for only €5.The case had gone on for years based on Doherty’s defence that he was not running an illegal liquor premises since the money received was a cloakroom charge, and there were n...
Read This Post

A Cup of Coffey

By Sam MacDonald on Sat 25th Feb 2017

The stylish release of Midleton's’ ‘Method & Madness’ range – including the 31-year-old grain – makes the subject of Irish grain whiskey relevant after almost 200 years of conscientious objection.The term ‘grain spirit’ is a misleading one since the grain itself, whether corn, wheat or even barley, has little impact on the resulting spirit. In this spirit, it is instrument of distillation and not the ingredient which defines ...
Read This Post

Measure by Measure

By Sam MacDonald on Fri 17th Feb 2017

If the creation of whisk(e)y from base ingredients involves science and it began here in Dal Riada, then it stands to reason that there must be some sense of precision inherent in our character. So contrary to popular conceptions of ‘streams of whiskey flowing’, measurement has always been a key practise in the work of distillation. In order to define the spirit of our region and therefore the original flavour and other properties of ...
Read This Post
In a week when the origins of human speech were revealedthrough sounds made by East African primates, we also saw the world’s celebration of the ‘Scotch’ drink reduced to a single day. Academics from the University of Michigan claim the key to human speech lies not in vowels but in consonants. One might argue, therefore, that the globe’s preference for the word ‘Scotch’ may be related to its phonetics, rather than to its histor...
Read This Post

Turf or Peat?

By Sam MacDonald on Fri 3rd Feb 2017

The whisk(e)y of Dal Riada, I believe, is not distinguished by national borders but rather by ‘terroir’. For this small but powerful region encompassing the north coast of Ireland and the western isles of Scotland pre-dated the concept of nation states and was bonded together by a common language (Gaelic), family and other social links, trade, cultural practices, and tastes.To determine the flavour of Dal Riada’s spirit and thus leg...
Read This Post

What Comes Naturally

By Sam MacDonald on Fri 27th Jan 2017

“No matter what anyone tells you about the fine old drop of mountain dew, it stands to sense that a few old men sitting up in the back haggard in the mountains with milk churns and all matter of improvised apparatus cannot hope to make decent spirit.”Brendan BehanIt is true that the oldest records of distilling (for the purposes of drink) in this part of the world, belong to Ireland. Bushmills is the world’s oldest licensed distiller...
Read This Post

Our Manifesto

By Sam MacDonald on Wed 25th Jan 2017

At High Sea Spirits we are committed to promoting the world’s most historically accurate whisk(e)y-producing region, the Kingdom of Dal Riada. Incorporating the northern coastal area of Ireland and the western isles and highlands of Scotland, this is a small geographical area. Yet historically it was the home of the powerful Lordship of the Isles, the medieval centre of the Gaelic civilisation in Scotland and Ireland. Today it incorpora...
Read This Post