Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Connemara Whiskey

Since I was in the relevant part of the world last week, what better time to honour a drink that parallels a location? Connemara Whiskey, can be seen as a sort of genius loci – spirit of the place – if you like. Peaty, rugged and uncompromising, the taste has a desolate beauty about it, somewhat like an Islay malt, but much more rugged.

There are caveats, mind. Tourists love the region for rugged beauty, the sense of being far from the world and at one with nature, and its this that the drink is playing on. But this only works because, in the age of electricity, heating and relative affluence we are sheltered from its worst excesses of nature untrammelled.
O Lady ! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live :
Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud !
And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
For there in the country's isolation there is true desolation: the ghosts of the poor loveless ever-anxious crowds of Irish history. When Cromwell offered those driven from the more fertile lands of Ireland the choice between hell and Connaught he wasn't - and this was pretty much true to form - joking. In the scrabby, peaty, poor lands of Connemara those with a few barren acres struggled to scratch a living. Potatoes were pretty much all that could be grown in sufficient quantities and, come the famine… quite.

The area's population collapsed after the famine and then, decades of poverty, emigration and the slow death of Gaelic Ireland took their toll. It's enough to turn one to drink and, if no drink is to hand, start writing maudlin and cloying ballads. So let us drink, then.

Only look at the place, bleak and beautiful, but a void into which the wind will ever blow over nothingness. If Galway city weren't within striking distance you wouldn't wish to be stuck there forever. There's nothing there – and bear in mind this was a picture taken on the first sunny day in those parts since Daniel O'Connell was a boy.

Along with the emptiness, of course, comes the unfortunate fact that there is no distillery in Connemara. For the whiskey is made in Co Louth – a proper old hole on the other side of Ireland into which tourists never venture.

You see, the drink is a distillation of a romantic Ireland that never existed. To use the marketing speak:

Named after one of the most famous regions in Ireland, Connemara is one of nature's masterpieces. The rugged Atlantic coastline and majestic mountains blend with the rain-soaked peated bog lands to create a landscape of unique natural beauty. Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey captures the beauty of this region while reviving its traditions.

If the otherwordly romanticisation of harsh reality and the creation of of myths for a place revive its traditions, then this drink does it. Consume enough and your imagination will be peopled with the demons - historic and otherworldly - of Irish history and culture. The Connemara is just the drink if you want to take a bellyful of it and then spill your guts out in the emotional sense (and possibly the literal one too).

I'm not saying this is a bad thing (albeit I prefer Laphroaig which is better tasting and lacks the misty eyed stuff; what do you expect? It's made by Scots who only want you to like it enough to hand over your cash, which is a good way of ensuring a better taste).

Still, we need myths and I should prefer them to be in liquid form rather than in the more troubling forms in which nations, cultures and histories have been been too often packaged. It's easier to sober up eventually, just so long as you always remember the danger of
looking for a genius loci – a spirit of the place – is that you'll start seeing things that you wish had been there.

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