Writers Tears

I believe in the social benefits of taxation. It’s how those of us who are lucky enough to find jobs can still hold up our heads in a Canada that is being split increasingly cynically into the haves and the have-nots by the Harper government’s divisive policies. Taxation is also responsible for a delicious Irish whiskey I tasted this week. It’s called Writers Tears (the link with the far right’s disdain for the liberal arts is another curious coincidence) and it will be launched at the LCBO on March 3rd, so dip your quills into your bottle of emerald-coloured ink and scratch a shamrock onto that particular square of your calendar. There was a time in the 19th century when Irish malt whiskey ruled the world, accounting for 90 percent of the whiskey or whisky exported from the British Isles. The Westminster government noticed and decided to tax Irish malt whiskey. The response of the Irish distillers was to add lots of unmalted barley into the mash that would end up in their pot stills, to be distilled three times in the labour-intensive way that distinguishes Irish from almost every Scotch.

In 1831, a much more efficient kind of still (the Coffey or patent still) was invented by an Irish excise man called Aeneas Coffey. It produced cleaner, lighter, more insipid spirits and these grain spirits were welcomed by the Scots as a way of lightening single malt Scotch into blended Scotch. There was an outcry in Ireland both from the malt whiskey aficionados and those who enjoyed the recent whiskeys made from malt and unmalted barley. For the rest of the century, the major distillers refused to use the Coffey spirits, remaining loyal to the whiskeys now known as Pure Pot Still. But the world moved on. Especially the world of export commerce. Accountants and auditors had no time for character and loyalty. Gradually Coffey-still whiskeys began to encroach into the old-school Irish spirits. The poets – and Ireland is nothing if not a land of poets – called out in favour of the old ways, but the sons of Fomor prevailed. Blended whiskeys and malt whiskeys supplanted all but a very few examples of the Pure Pot Still style. (I had better add here that I love almost all Irish whiskey and have no personal objection to this lush and infinitely variable blending, except when wearing the tragedian’s mask required for this particular story).

Anyway, the point is that right now we have a lovely opportunity to taste an Irish whiskey that is free of those leavening grain spirits. Writers Tears is a rich and very unusual blend of Pure Pot Still whiskey and pure Irish single malt whiskey from the same company that makes a premixed Irish Coffee beverage and a single malt Irish whiskey called the Irishman, though you won’t find that name on this bottle. Go to the web site however, and you’ll see a picture of Bernard Walsh, who founded and owns the company with his wife, Rosemary. Walsh has access to some fabulous spirits produced by Irish distillers which he purchases and vats into his own blends. Irishman 70, Walsh’s creation from a few years back, was a similar spirit to Writers Tears, that is to say a blend of Pure Pot Still and malt whiskey but with a considerably higher proportion (70 percent) of malt.

            The first thing you notice about Writers Tears is the lovely round body and full rich flavour. Not only is this uncut by cleaner, lighter spirits, it is also allowed to go into the bottle without being chill-filtered. So if it sometimes shows a haze under cool conditions, it has lost none of its original nuances. The aroma reminds me of honey and marmalade streaking the fruity barley. There’s a hint of citrus in the flavour too and an initial flourish of spicy, malty sweetness that quickly leaves the stage to drier, firmer characters. The honey-marmalade comes back as a pianissimo echo of the aroma to provide the final moments of a decently long finish.

            It’s lovely stuff, in other words, and a must-have bottle for anyone who collects Irish whiskeys. Look for it in the Vintages March 3rd release (VINTAGES 271106, 700 mL, $47.95).

  1. Redbreast is my usual poison. I’ve tried lots of other Irish whiskeys, but have yet to find any others that make me want to sip. How would you compare Writers Tears to Redbreast?

  2. It’s a very good question and hard to answer without both of them sitting before me. Thinking about Redbreast, I remember it as being a little more complex. There was always a hint of sherry there whereas the Writers Tears is aged in virtually inert old bourbon wood. Looking back at my notes now, I see I last tasted a 12 year old Redbreast about 4 years ago (never did catch up to the 15 year old) and it looks as though it had a longer, more complex finish than the WT. Then again, the malt whiskey middle in the WT is a delight! I shall have to invest in a bottle of Redbreast at some point and compare scientifically. And why not have a taste of Green Spot too? The orangey citrus in that might ring a few bells of recognition with the WT. Meanwhile, the ball in the hand is worth two in the Bush(mills). If you have a chance to taste the WT alongside the Redbreast, please let me know what you think!

  3. A little less complex is probably still worth a try. And I haven’t tried Green Spot, but the citrus notes in Redbreast are part of what I like about it, so I’ll add Green Spot to my list, too. Thanks for the info!

  4. what a shame your delightful critique of this fine whiskey is preceded by your nasty and incorrect comment on our finest ever prime minister.

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