It’s no secret – and perhaps no coincidence, either – that literature and whiskey often go hand in hand. Just think of how many famous literary works feature characters who enjoy a good drink, or two… or three. Moreover, a quick Google search will produce a vast list of quotes from notable authors singing the praises of “liquid sunshine”, to quote George Bernard Shaw as just one example. If all of that isn’t proof enough that writing and whiskey are classic companions for each other, Walsh Distillery in County Carlow has also produced and released an excellent whiskey collection by the name of “Writers’ Tears” (link).
Using the profound and unquestionable Irish Spirit logic, we have concluded that just as great writing and great whiskey go together, a fine dram can add a whole other level of enjoyment to reading, much in the same way that the right choice of wine can enhance the enjoyment of a good meal. To that end, we are proud to introduce our new whiskey/book pairings series: Words, Wisdom and Whiskey. Each article in the series will focus on a specific genre of literature, a list of Irish whiskey recommendations, and a few suggestions of recommended reading to accompany each whiskey. Not all of the authors and books suggested will be Irish, but nor will they be entirely absent from the lists; after all, Ireland’s storytelling heritage is every bit as rich as its whiskey!
For our first instalment, we are delving into the often weird, often wonderful world of fantasy – a genre most commonly associated with worlds beyond our own, filled with magic, monsters and mysteries. Celebrated authors within the fantasy genre include George RR Martin, JK Rowling, Ursula K LeGuin, Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones, among many others. The worlds, people and cultures that fantasy authors create are brilliantly diverse, with some mirroring (and sometimes satirising) our own, as in the case of the late, great Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and others bringing the fantastical and supernatural into close co-existence with the real world, as in the Harry Potter books. As with the diversity of fantasy literature, the Irish whiskey revival has brought about a varied and intriguing new range of bottlings. What could be more perfect, then, for those with a love of adventure and new horizons in their reading lists, to explore the ever-expanding horizon of Irish spirits?
Without further ado, let us turn from the preface to the main event: our top Irish whiskey/fantasy literature pairings.
The number 13 is considered unlucky in some cultures, but the founders of Glendalough distillery, five friends on a mission to bring something new and exciting to the Irish whiskey scene, are determined to turn that particular superstition on its head. Their signature single malt is left to mature for 13 years, instead of the standard 12, and it’s safe to say that the end result is worth the extra year’s wait. The delicate notes of creamy vanilla and subtle spice, along with the storybook-like labelling of the Glendalough 13 Year Old depicting an iconic Irish saint, make this whiskey a suitable accompaniment for old Irish fairy and folk tales, such as WB Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight, a celebrated collection of tales rooted in Irish folklore.
This whisky is an intriguing, independent bottling from Nectar of the Daily Drams, ideal for enjoying alongside stories of the strange and supernatural. Distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2016, it offers a smooth, well-balanced dram, and pairs well with modern classics of fantasy, for example The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter. The sweet, comforting notes of candied fruit provide a welcome balance against the suspense and surprises within this gripping 1967 novel.
Lord of Ireland is a whiskey that can speak great volumes for itself, and so should of course be enjoyed with great volumes of literature. Matured in sherry hogshead casks, it possesses gorgeous aromas of rich fruits and oak, perfectly complementing tales of great feasts, epic battles and the fearsome fury of dragon fire. Recommended reading includes JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, to allow the warming flavours of Lord of Ireland to enhance the sense of settling by the fire in a cosy Hobbit hole. Alternatively, enjoy the majesty of Lord of Ireland from the comfort of your Iron Throne while perusing George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire collection.
With a name like that, how could we not mention this spectacular whiskey in our fantasy genre list? While the title refers to a 15th century French tapestry of the same name, great visions of myth and magic are immediately brought to mind. What’s more, the whiskey itself, laid down 30 years ago, was bottled in a batch of just 179 bottles, giving it a rare, mythical value all of its own. Enjoy a dram of this beautiful, deep golden whiskey with Neil Gaiman’s epic American Gods, a showcase of the world’s myths and religions in the modern day, or for those with more classical preferences, The Lady and the Unicorn goes very well with the dark and dramatic collection of tales from the Brothers Grimm.
A revered treasure of Irish whiskey, Knappogue Castle 1951 came from the final Tullamore distillery casks taken to mature at the eponymous castle in 1954. Bottled in 1987, after a staggering 36 years of maturing, it is a highly-prized whiskey among collectors, particularly for the great complexity of flavour that it offers: bitter hints of liquorice, a deep sweetness of vanilla, and a fascinating, almost coppery texture on the palate. Such a complex whiskey demands to be paired with fantasy novels of complex worlds and stories, and therefore ideal accompaniments include any instalment of the Discworld series, and a dive into the uncharted waters of Ursula K LeGuin’s Earthsea novels.
With such a wonderfully wide array of Irish whiskey and fantasy fiction available to choose from, these suggestions are merely a drop in the ocean, but may they be a welcome introduction into a brave new world of whiskey and reading adventures.