Tag Archives: Ireland

INTERVIEW: Graham Coull

MASTER DISTILLER – DINGLE DISTILLERY

Well it has been a while, the past 18 months have been pretty crazy for us all, and like most people, juggling work, home schooling, children and navigating this unfamiliar Covid landscape has been somewhat challenging.  However, as things start to settle down, as we start to see what life post covid pandemic could be like, what the new “normal” may well be, we thought it was time to dust off the laptop and return to your screens, and what better way than with a brand spanking new interview, with none other than Dingle’s very own Graham Coull.  You may recognise the name but not the distillery, and as one of Ireland’s relatively new start ups that can be forgiven. Graham spent 14 years as Master Distiller with Glen Moray, and with Ireland having a real resurgence in their whiskey industry, with several new distilleries springing up, he is a safe pair of hands for Dingle.

Take a seat, pour a dram if you wish and let’s talk all things, whiskey, Covid-19, pros and cons of collectible bottles, oh and elephants!

Graham Coull

Morning Graham, so sorry that arranging this interview turned into a total technological fail (I somehow managed to block Ireland from being able to take part in my Zoom meetings, no idea how and it was not deliberate, honest), in fact this was the interview that almost never was when we were hit by even more technical difficulties and the entire recording was lost.  Still we got there in the end.

I’m going to take you back a little bit now, where did your whisky journey being and what got you started?

Well I grew up in Elgin, my mother and father both worked as teachers, and my father was a chemistry teacher who had a real interest in whisky and in fact wrote a course on whisky production, so it was always a point of interest and influence.  When I finished my studies there were no positions in the whisky field, it was a case of go into brewing or go into nuclear power, I chose brewing and that set me on the path to whisky.  I started a job with Webster’s Brewing, and it was through there that I really got a taste for the whisky industry, as I oversaw the bottling process, I would also see the whisky bottling and it really piqued my interest.  I was fortunate enough to land a position with William Grant back in 1994 on the bottling side of things.  I was so lucky to be in with a company which had such a chance of progression.  I worked hard, really hard, often taking on the jobs nobody else wanted to do and doing it with a smile.  Hard work pays off, and the more I took on the more people noticed me and the work I was producing.  I became the process leader in Dufftown, which gave me distillation responsibilities for Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie.  I was then offered to join the Glen Moray team back in 2005.

You were Distillery Manager/Master Distillery at Glen Moray for 14 years, in that time you put out many different expressions and built up a loyal fan base, why did you decide to leave and take a chance with a new Irish distillery?

I had a fantastic time at Glen Moray and put out many whiskies that I am really proud of, sometimes though you just need to challenge yourself.  The opportunity came up and I was really at the stage where if I was going to make a change to my career it was really now or never.  I felt I was ready for another challenge, I was happy that I had left Glen Moray in a great place, ready for a new pair of hands and another perspective.  I wanted to see for myself what I could do, and it’s always exciting to have a brand new project to work with.  I wasn’t there quite from the start, but it is still early enough in the journey to really make it my own.

So, Graham, you joined Dingle in 2019, it will have no doubt been a busy time, and then Covid-19 hit, how much of an impact did that have and how has the journey been?

Its certainly been strange, there is always the excitement and nerves which come with starting any new job.  There’s always a risk and a challenge, and that excitement spurs you on, then Covid hit the world and everything looked different.  The peace, tranquillity and isolation (Dingle is very remote indeed, once you cross the Dingle Peninsular you really are quite cut off) which seemed quite a bonus suddenly seemed to almost trap you.  Luckily it meant we could really get out and about and meet the locals.  It let Fay and I really fall in love with our surroundings, we didn’t feel as much of the pressure from Covid as we maybe would have felt elsewhere, as that remoteness really kept everyone here safe.  Obviously though we have family and loved ones back home and suddenly you couldn’t see them, you couldn’t just pop home and that was a source of worry.  The people here in Dingle and especially the distillery team really helped to keep things as “normal” as possible and there was still plenty of work to be done.

Although you undoubtedly have joined Dingle very early on in their journey you were not quite there from the start.  Is there anything you would have liked to have carried out differently if you had have been there since the off?

Actually I am very fortunate that the new make is exactly what I would want it to be, it has character, it is strong enough to stand up to be being bottled at a spritely age, the barley and yeast is perfect, and the runs and triple distillation give it so much body and character.  There is nothing I would change there.  I guess the only thing that I would have done differently relates to cask management.  When you are starting up these can be such a huge part of your budget and obviously that can force your hand.  I would have liked to have more of a hand in bringing the casks in and selecting what I wanted in advance.  That said I am now able to have control of this area, but if I were to change anything at all, it would be that.

Was it a risk leaving not only a position that you had held for 14 years, but also to pack up and leave your home behind?

Well any new job involves an element of risk and for me the stakes were higher still as it wasn’t just a change of company/distillery, it was a change of scenery, of packing everything up and moving to another country (albeit one that is fairly close).  It wasn’t just a change for me, it was a change for my wife Fay too, and had she not been on board, or not been as supportive as she always has been, I could never have taken the opportunity.  Even though I was fairly sure that I had made the right decision with Dingle there is always those nerves in the pit of your stomach, and you just hope you hadn’t made a big mistake.  I just looked at it and thought, well if it does go horrible wrong, I can just retire. *laughing* I don’t think Graham is made for retiring, he is far too passionate about his craft

Are there any similarities between the whisky you produced at Glen Moray and the whiskey you are producing with Dingle?

There are definitely similarities between Irish and Scotch.  The history of distilling is rich and reaches back through the years, the roots are steeped in history and community much like it is in Scotland, those things are so important even now.  You need the people of the community to believe in you, in your story and the same is true of Scotch.  In terms of flavour profile, both are a light spirit, but with Dingle the triple distillations and short runs really make a huge difference to the spirit that we can put out.  Very true, it’s often the history of whisky and the distillery area that gets me hooked before I’ve even tried the whisky.  What about the “E”, some people feel very passionate about Ireland’s spelling of whiskey, others don’t even notice, how do you feel about it?  Honestly, I cant say I am bothered either way, in fact, does it even need to be there?  It’s the style and the history of Irish whisk(e)y that makes the difference and sets it apart, not the e.  We can have an “E” amnesty then?  *chuckles*Definitely!

I have had the pleasure of “speaking” to your lovely wife Fay over social media quite often regarding Dingle and Fay seems deeply involved and passionate about the Distillery was that always going to be the case and how important was it to have Fay involved?

Obviously Fay was taking a massive leap of faith alongside me, and throughout my career, no matter how busy Fay was with her own career (*Fay worked as a nurse previously, so a real hero*) she always supported me 100% and was always interested in the whole whisky process and loved the sense of community and family a distillery brings.  Being able to take that experience and have her on the payroll is a wonderful thing, although technically I am her boss, but when I pointed that out it didn’t go down so well.  *We had a good laugh about this, with far too many jokes then I could type, this was the kind of interview that you genuinely felt as though you were chatting to a friend*

What’s a typical day like for you at Dingle?

Well the day can be so varied, you have you day to day jobs which will always be there, you have to keep an eye on how the distillery is running, we have two shifts a day, 7 days a week and everything is done by hand.  That’s really important to us, we want this to be a team effort, not a machine effort, if you do everything by hand you can make small changes as you go along, you can play around with the runs and the cuts if you want/need to.  It’s a much more organic product that way.  I need to keep an eye on the stock levels, think about the direction I want to go in, I am a great believer in cask management, it is so important to a distillery to know what it has, to know what it needs for the future and how it is going to achieve that.  I am big fan of forecasts, and will often be found running these reports, changing them slightly and rerunning them.  I know for many that may sound dull, but for me it is so exciting, you are predicting the future before it happens and the decisions I make now have massive implications 20/30 years down the line.  There are often meetings to be had about anything from cask shipment/procurement, to financial, marketing and everything in between.  I need to ensure that we have everything we need to run the distillery.  Everything happens here at Dingle, we use Irish malted barley, we distill, we mature, and we bottle, we even have our own well for our water source.  Everything happens here at the distillery.  So, there is plenty to keep me busy.

It’s been an exciting few years for the whisky industry, prices are driven ever higher and whereas new distilleries would struggle to sell their first offering, they now sell out in seconds at crazy prices, many flipped straight away at auction, or kept on a shelf somewhere.  What do you think about this, does it have an impact on distilleries or the industry, is it a good thing?

In terms of being able to produce whisky as a new distillery and still sell it out, well that is fantastic, with prices at auction climbing so high then as a distillery we are able to ride those good times and take a piece of the pie for ourselves.  It’s vital, as a new distillery, that we are able to recoup our costs and bring money back into the distillery and of course to our funders.  So much money is tied up in time, and although the industry is now accepting younger whisky now and most whisky drinkers realise that whisky does not have to necessarily be old to be good, we still want to have the ability to produce aged stock.  I still think that a standard distillery release of around 10/12 years is a good thing and something I personally would like to produce, therefore it’s not hard to see the need to bring as much funding in as possible. 

That said, it is so important to get whisky out there into the industry and to have it being opened and drank.  To have it shared around so that people know that you exist and what you can produce.   Obviously when we started, we have put out several small batch releases.  These sold out very quickly and we are grateful to all who brought them, but you will often see lovely pictures on social media, with all of the releases, and these are all closed, and you know that they aren’t ever going to get opened and see the light of day, they will just sit of shelf gathering dust, coming out for photo opportunities and then going away again.  I love to see that passion and commitment but as any distiller will tell you, they make whisky to be drank, or to make memories, to tell stories, not to sit in a bottle.  Now with the release of our core Dingle Single Malt (read my review here) which will be widely available, we hope that people will now buy a bottle and open it and really get to know what we can do.   It can become a stable in homes and in bars, and people know that when they run out they can replace it, and lose the fear of opening the bottles.

What’s next for Dingle?

We hope to keep building upon our success so far and for that the people really are instrumental.  We had so many of the local people buying a cask, becoming one of Founding Fathers and taking that leap of faith.  Whether they work in the distillery, or local shops or farms or support us by drinking any of our line (Dingle also produce Vodka and Gin), their support means the world and we couldn’t have done any of this without them.  We are planning on having a complete fit out of the distillery, we have a lot of space that we can use so it’s time to start using it.  We would like a larger visitor centre.  Usually in the summer, I am told that we have a lot of tourists visiting Dingle.  There are a lot of Americans who have roots here and we can get 30,000 tourists in summer alone.  We would like to make the Dingle Distillery a real experience for them, have it as its own journey.  

I want to play around with different casks and finishes, also we produced a small amount of peated Dingle, and that is something I would be really keen to produce again but on a larger scale.  We want to see Dingle hit the global markets too. 

Interesting, so big plans.  You mention different casks types/finishes, any plans to use rum casks (we love a rum cask here at Whisky Corner).

Actually I do have plans to experiment with rum casks, it’s really important that you get really good casks for that and keep a really close eye on the finishing process, ideally I’d be looking at 18 months maybe 24 months but that can be tricky, once you have all the rum influence out of the cask, the casks themselves are usually pretty old tired casks, so they don’t have anything to give themselves, its purely the influence of the rum we want to use.  I think sometimes people think finishing can be seen as easy or lazy, but it really isn’t, you have to watch the casks so carefully to ensure you don’t over finish it and then lose all the work you have already put it.

Let’s talk packaging.  I really love the quality of the bottle on the new Dingle release.  It’s a very heavy chunky bottle with heavy duty cork, the tin is very simple, but seems in perfect keeping with the overall look and feel.  It would have been easy to pick a much simpler bottle I am sure, certainly cheaper, how important is the look of the finished bottle for you?

I think it is really important, it makes a statement, and gives you an idea as to what you can expect.  It really is hats off to the team here, as they could definitely have gone for a less expensive, less luxurious style, especially as a new distillery with so many costs, this was one of the places the costs could be shaved a little, but to scrimp on the packaging would feel like cheapening, or underselling the whiskey we produce.  It deserves the nice bottle.  We want people to feel as though they are getting something special right from our special releases down to our new core range.  There really is so much competition at the moment you need to ensure you can stand out from the crowd right from the off.

Whilst on the subject of packaging I noticed that there are no tasting notes on the bottle or the tin, is this deliberate?

It was very much deliberate, a lot of people find that they don’t necessarily know how to explain what they are tasting, they may not have the words or are able to recognise individual notes, and although there are many who are really into tasting and tasting notes, we wanted to make this as accessible as possible.  There is no pressure to see if you can find the notes we have printed on the bottle, or no preconceived ideas, it’s not up to us to tell the customers what they taste, let them find out for themselves.  Obviously for those who are interested in notes they can read reviews, such as yours or others out there and enjoy those.

Find out what i think of it, here!

The Dingle Dude (as I call him) features very prominently in the design, and I must admit I find him both cool and terrifying in equal measures.  Who is he?

Ah that would be the Wren Boy or Wren Man.  This is a local tradition still popular today in many parts of Ireland, and especially so here in Dingle.  We wanted to ensure that it was very clear how important location and local community are to making Dingle Distillery a success, most of our Founding Fathers are from here in the local community and it’s important they know how much we appreciate them.  *Having researched this a little it’s a fascinating mythical figure concerning, as you may expect, a wren.  Legend has it that there was a parliament upon the birds (others say that it was god who wanted an answer to the question) and it was asked which of the birds would be king of the birds, in order to find this out it was decided that whomever could fly the highest would be king the birds, one by one the birds dropped out of the running until the Eagle who was soaring highest, tired and dropped lower in the sky, at this point the Wren emerged from under the Eagle’s wing and soared higher still, thus becoming the king of all the birds.  There are also claims that the Wren stands for treachery and it is said that a Wren betrayed the Irish soldiers fighting the Norse by beating its wings upon their shields. On 26 December parades are held, and people dress up in straw and historically call house to house to collect money which is then donated to charity.   No Wrens are harmed during the making of this parade and in fact now days a fake Wren is used, but even before the Wren was not to be killed.  If you want to know more Google has all the information you need*

What is your greatest whisky achievement to date?

That is a difficult question, I think for me I would have to say it is my cask management skills.  It might not sound much but it is so important for me to be able to manage stock levels so that we can continue to manage stocks.  I have always been interested in numbers and forecasts and these are instrumental in being able to futureproof your stock.  I would hate to go into a place, use all their whisky and leave them with nothing and then just walk away.  Poor cask management/stock management can destroy a distillery.  It’s a real source of pride for me that for a good many years, people purchasing Glen Moray expressions will still be drinking my whisky.

When you get a chance to sit down and relax with a dram, what do you reach for (other than Dingle of course)?

There are some really great whiskies out there.  I am not a fan of very sherried offerings, mostly I will turn to something bourbon matured or a mix of bourbon/sherry.  I find the strong sulphurous notes just too overpowering.  I have to say I am a huge fan of the Caol Ila 18, it is a fantastic drop, it has those Islay notes which are so unforgettable, you can really just wile away the time with a glass of this.  You don’t have to try and pick it apart, although that’s not to say that it isn’t complex, but you aren’t forced to explore it unless you want to, you can just sit back and enjoy it.  That’s really what I have tried to do with our Dingle expressions, they are complex enough if you want to try and pick out the individual layers and notes, but you don’t have to, you can just sit and relax and enjoy it.  When Scapa 16 was still available I would have a bottle of that on the go.  It is unmistakable in its style, the apple notes work so well with the coastal elements.  Clynelish 14 is another go to for me, its waxiness is so appealing, its always perfectly balanced and deeply enjoyable *we then wax lyrical (see what I did there) about Clynelish for a long time*

For nothing other than a bit of fun: you have been given an elephant, you can’t sell it or give it away, what are you going to do with it?

Hmm this is tricky, which type is it, African or Indian *I don’t know, which would you like it to be* which one has the biggest ears?  *no idea* we were then reliable informed that the African Elephant has the biggest ears.  ok I think that I would use it wash out the mash tuns and also I’d ride it down Dingle high street.  It would be quite a tourist attraction and actually we had a dolphin here in Dingle called Fungie, who was very playful and friendly.  It was well known for interacting with the boats and the tourists.  It became something of a celebrity actually although it’s not been spotted since.  *I looked this up on google, and Fungie was first spotted at Dingle in 1983, and a news report published a few months ago has confirmed that Fungie is alive and well and has merely moved to a new spot.  Whether this is temporary or not, they cant say, but fingers crossed Fungie will return back to Dingle again.

And that concludes our interview, thanks so much for your time Graham we managed to rack up a two hour chat and none of it felt like work (well not for me anyway, hopefully it wasn’t too hard going for you), it was a really great chat and here’s hoping we can get a dram in person at some stage.  Hope to speak again soon.

Keep your eyes peeled for Dingle Distillery is you have not tried their products yet you will want to.  For my review of the new Dingle Distillery Single Malt read here.   You can check Dingle’s website here and take a look at the gin and vodka too. 

We have an exciting competition to give away a bottle of Dingle Single Malt to not one but two lucky winners.  How do you enter our competition, click here to find out.

TASTING NOTES: DINGLE

DINGLE SINGLE MALT

They say – DINGLE SINGLE MALT

Dingle Distillery’s hugely anticipated Core Single Malt release is finally upon us and is here to stay.

This Core Single Malt release has been years in the making and comprises of malt whiskey that has been matured in ex-Bourbon, and PX sherry casks. 39% Bourbon, 61% PX Sherry.

Bottled at 46.3% and non-chill filtered. This is a very interesting whiskey in which the component casks come to the fore at different stages. RRP €55.00

I say:

Nose:

Lashings of vanilla clotted cream sandwiched between freshly baked buttery scones.  Powdered lemon, not as sharp as sherbet, softer reminiscent of the powdered sugar you would find atop of Lemon Bon Bon sweets.  There’s a spicy pink peppercorn prickle with sweeter, (yet still fiery) cinnamon and cloves and an earthy undertone.  It’s the earthiness you would find when washing freshly dug root vegetables.  It’s slightly musty the more it opens, and there’s a touch of fresh garden mint and juicy pears.  There is a distinctly “wine” note, slightly astringent, a lively pinot grigio, fresh, youthful, almost effervescent.

Palate:

The vanilla from the nose steps on to the palate straight away, it deliciously creamy.  There are hints of orange blossom water and a touch of something floral, crystallised rose petals.  The spice makes a sudden appearance almost catching me off guard, it’s hot and fiery, drying, hitting the roof of your mouth.  It’s a dry spice heat, think piri-piri rub and mace as the spices from the oak and the youthful spirit meet.  Quite a meaty note also as the spice stays very forward.  Before it becomes too overpowering there are plump dried apricots, rich juicy raisins and toffee apples.  This is timed to perfection and really lifts the more drying, spices.  The slightly curious, acidic wine note from the nose starts to run parallel to the spice and the fruits, making your mouth water inviting you to take another sip. 

Finish:

Long, very long indeed, there’s hot fresh ginger root and dried crush leaves and oak branches.  There is another brief nod to the apricots and the raisins, rich and mouth-watering, before it bows out in a soft toffee and chocolate gooeyness, like a rolo melted in your pocket.

Conclusion:

This is a very interesting expression, its rich, fresh, fruity at times, drying and oaky at others.  Despite the complexity of the notes it is actually very easy to drink indeed.  The finish is so long it really urges you to return for another pour.  The price point is very fair and you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck.  I would definitely recommend picking this up and giving it a try and watch this space as Dingle are going to around for the long haul.

Kirsty

To find out more about Dingle, then why not check out our interview with Master Distiller Graham Coull

MIDLETON VERY RARE 2020 TASTING NOTES

Kirsty’s Notes

Nose:  A crunch sugared note is the first I notice, think sugared martini glasses and Hubba Bubba strawberry gum, it’s mouth-wateringly sweet, made sweeter still by notes of orange sherbet and fresh satsumas, tinned peaches and dried apricots and fresh cantaloupe melons.  There are effervescent notes being carried to the fore with lots of lime zest.  The fruitiness of the nose just swirls round and round, the fruits ducking and diving taking centre stage before being rudely pushed aside.  Given a little while longer, there is a waxiness, akin to crayons held in the pudgy, warm, chocolate coated hands of a small child, waxy, yet still sweet.  Given yet more time still those crayons become more grown up, it’s less crayon wax and now definitively beeswax being rubbed into an antique pine dresser.  As this still continues to open up in the glass the orange notes return but softer this time, more orange water and orange barley sugars.  There is a delicious fudge like quality to it, artisan fudge drizzled in white chocolate, creamy and sweet. There’s a rich vanilla note, think Farley’s rusks dipped into warm milk, comforting and inviting, the familiarity of childhood scents drawing you in, demanding you take a sip. 

Palate: There is an initial rush of sweetness that the nose suggested, the orange note breaks away from the more gentle, soft, orange barley sugars becomes more concentrated and astringent, comparable more to a chewable vitamin C tablet or drinking the dregs of a Berocca tablet.  It’s tangy and sour.  There is drying bitterness rushing on the to the tongue and instantly taking away any hint of the tangy, zesty orange.  The interplay between the oak and the spirit has imparted a heavy touch of wood spice, both dusty and brittle, evoking memories of Autumn forest walks with fallen oak trees littering the forest floor like sleeping giants.  There is a savoury note on the palate in complete contrast to the fruity gentleness of the nose.  Think Cajun spice rub, heavy on the mace, rubbed into well aged steaks cooked on a hot griddle pan over a fire of charred, dry, old oak branches.  Occasionally, through the abundance of rich, dark wood spices, and prickly cracked black and green peppercorn heat there are fleeting hints of sun ripened orchards, with ripening apples and fruit laden pear trees. The scent of honeysuckle and pollen heavy in the air, with fluffy bumblebees buzzing lazily around the flowering fruit trees.  This gives this rather rich, bitter dram a much-welcomed lift.

Finish:  Long, very, very long indeed.  Initially starting out very dry, with all of the damp oak notes, and heat from mace, cracked black and green peppercorns and savoury steak rub which featured so prominently on the palate, however as these notes start to slowly recede the orchard fruits, quietly and subtly appear bringing an much needed influx of sweetness before fading out leaving a creamy yet spicy mouthfeel to the very end.

Conclusion:  This is a very interesting whisky indeed.  One that you just cannot figure out.  The nose is so very different to the palate, a complete opposite if you will.  This demands you spend time on it, almost as though it were a small child shouting continually to its parents to watch it.  One of the great qualities about whisky, for me, is just how different they can be, not just to one another, but also from person to person.  Notes that I may love, you may hate, or vice versa.  Some whiskies are gentle, soft, a crowd pleaser, others come along and are decisive, like Marmite, you may love it or you may hate it but you are never going to describe it as merely ok.

This, I feel, is going to be one of those expression.  This will divide opinion, split households, split families and have you fighting to the death….too far?  Ok, it may not be quite that decisive, but this is definitely the dram that gets you talking.  If you love this, then you will love it entirely.  If it is not for you, then it does not matter how much someone may extol the virtues of the cask interplay, or of how much this expression show cases the excellent cask used, it will quite simply not be for you.  There will also be those who can appreciate the difference, the complexity and enjoy the surprise of a palate and nose, that are just so different.  That is where I sit. 

I absolutely adored the nose, I could nose this for hours, it is everything I think of, when I think pot still whisky.  There is a gentle sweetness, the orchard fruits abound, the peaches and honeysuckle are mouth wateringly inviting.  There are creamy fudge notes, white chocolate and that delicious waxiness.  I could not wait to dive into this.  The I hit the palate, and I was so surprised, where oh where were those fruits I was so looking forward to, where had the waxiness gone?  Left in its wake was oak.  Lots of rich, dark, damp, brooding oak.  Without a doubt this highlights outstanding casks, but for me there was just a little too much cask influence, a touch too much spice.  The fruits from the nose do make themselves known, however it is very fleeting, it no less pleasant, and does raise the dram a little, but not quite enough for my personal taste.  Then we move on to the finish and it is so very long, its spicy yet toned down a little.  The heat becomes more akin to a sweet chilli jam and the wood spice is muted somewhat.  The orchard fruits come back and are juicy and sweet, its cheek coating velveteen in its softness as it tails off.  Quite simply the finish is delicious.

So, there you have it, a real dram of two halves.  There are elements I really enjoyed and ones that are not as much to my palate.  It is a grown up, complex, complete Chameleon of a whiskey and that makes it interesting.

Love it or hate it, its really will have you talking.  It is one you will want to give to all your friends to try to see what they think and to start the debate.  For those reasons alone it really is one you will want to try.  Find out whether or not it is the dram for you, or one you are not so sure on.  There are some really spectacular casks married together, and Brian Nation has left a curio of a whiskey as his parting gift. 

Give it a go, you will find something along the journey that you really love, and it will be a whiskey that you remember for quite some time.

Available from select retailers priced at approx. €180

Steve McCarthy, Designer, Illustrator & Designer 2017 Jameson Bottle

Steve firstly you appear a very private man, having carried out my research (like a good interviewer), there is surprisingly little about you out on the net, why so private?

Steve McCarthy

Illustrators tend to toil away in secret with very little contact to the outside world, but I’m definitely not a recluse, in fact I generally get a great deal of inspiration from the people I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by in Dublin.

It’s quite possible I’m hard to find online, but If you happen to pass Grogan’s pub on South William Street any time soon, ask anyone and they will know all my business.

Did you always have an artistic talent?

I’ve always been curious, and I’ve always been a bit inside my own head – drawing seemed an easier way to communicate when I was younger, as I was very dyslexic, so you could say it was how I adapted.

I don’t really believe in talent, you never question your ability to speak your native tongue, and it’s well understood that to learn another language it’s just a matter of studying. Artistic skill is the same, it’s just another language.

Did you know that you would work within the arts?

I knew from an early age that drawing was my favourite solution to problems and when I needed to earn some money I turned to art and I still love drawing today.

I’ve begun to appreciate the problem solving aspect of creative work much more. I like the practice of being presented with a creative puzzle and using whatever tools necessary to solve it. The pencil is still my favourite tool though.

Having had a look at your website I was really drawn to the slightly darker side (my interpretation) of your drawings.  Is there a dark side, or was it just my interpretation?

One of my favourite film directors is David Lynch, he is as comfortable with horror as he is with humour and he sees nothing wrong with walking a narrow line between the two, which is how I feel. I think comedy is much more vivid when its framed in tragedy, in the same way colours are so much brighter against the dark.

Are you a fan of whisk(e)y?

Yes absolutely, whiskey is such a big part of Irish culture especially around St. Patrick’s Day.

Do you remember your first whisk(e)y?

I don’t remember my first whiskey, probably because it was drowned in Diet Coke or some such mixer.  I do remember when I was in my 20s,  I’d just left my girlfriend’s house after spending the whole day breaking up,  I guess we were distracted so we hadn’t heard there was a riot taking place in Dublin at the time.

I passed a burning car and a couple of over turned bins before realising what was going on – it was absolute mayhem – and in a lot of ways the mood suited how I was feeling right then.

Along my route I ducked into an open door which happened to be a bar, I sat down probably looking really sorry for myself and the bar man – all joking aside – placed a neat whiskey in front of me, he didn’t even ask what I wanted.  The Barman just looked at me as if to say, “it could be worse”. It was the sweetest whiskey I ever tasted.

As it does in Scotland, whiskey plays a massive part in Ireland’s heritage, right back through the ages, how important is it as a part of Ireland and its history?

Whiskey plays a huge role in Ireland’s heritage. St. Patrick’s Day, as everyone knows, is one of the most important cultural holidays in Ireland and it wouldn’t be the same without a small glass of Jameson.

More recently I have learnt the history of Jameson right back through the ages to when John Jameson started distilling in Dublin at Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery in 1780. Jameson has been making whiskey the same way ever since.

How did the collaboration with Jameson come to be?

Every year Jameson celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by commissioning an artist to create a piece of original art for its limited edition bottle. I was picked out because my bold, colourful style together with a certain level of humour and wit was a perfect match for Jameson.

I was honoured to be chosen considering the famous artists who have produced artwork for the limited edition bottle in the past including my good friends, street artist James Earley and illustrator Steve Simpson.

What was your biggest source of inspiration for your design?

Jameson Limited Edition St Patrick's Day Bottle
Jameson St Patrick’s Day 2017 bottle
Photo credit: Eoin Holland – http://www.eoinholland.com

The biggest source of inspiration for my design of the Jameson’s St. Patrick’s Day bottling was the legend behind the Irish phrase, “to chance your arm”. Legend has it that in 1492, ‘Black James’ Butler and his men found themselves barricaded behind the door to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

On the other side was Gearóid Fitzgerald who, tired of the constant fighting between the clans, decided it was time to make peace. Fitzgerald ordered his men to cut a hole in the door before extending his hand through the gap as a token of friendship. Rather than cut his arm off with a sword, Butler shook it and the long standing feud came to an end, giving Dublin one of its most famous sayings: “to chance your arm”.

I was also inspired by age old Dublin landmarks that are loved in equal measure by the people of Dublin, and by me. In the background of my design you can view Ha’Penny Bridge across the River Liffey, the surrounding Irish mountains and the Smithfield tower.

Were you familiar with the bottles, and designers that worked on the previous bottles? Is there a desire to work within their themes, or did you want to get away from that?

I’m good friends with Steve Simpson and James Early – they really made it difficult for me. It was tricky but at the very least I wanted my bottle to have its own personality.

Both James and Steve put a lot of time and thought into what they did and made things very personal to them – all I wanted to do was keep that attention to detail going.

What was the most challenging part of designing the packaging?

There’s a massive amount of constrictions with what you can and can’t put on a bottle and, on top of that, it has to feel and look very much like a Jameson bottle at a glance.

Even though there were all these hurdles Jameson initially gave me free reign to develop the concept and then they guided me through the challenge of making that concept work within the constrictions.

Did it take a long time to design?   

The whole project from being approached, to inspiration and crafting the design took 24 months.

Now that it’s in production, how does it feel to see all these bottles with your label on them?  I take it you have one or two stashed away? 

I do, but it’s funny, I haven’t had that moment yet, where you bump into your work when you’re not expecting it, I’ve had that happen with books and with smaller projects but nothing on this scale.

I almost want to book a flight to see how far away I could go and still spot my design – it often happens when you least expect it, that’s the best.

For people that maybe haven’t visited Ireland yet, what hidden gems would you recommend?

The Aran Islands, there’s just something unquantifiable about them, the communities are so full of creativity and ingenuity and they embody everything great about this little patch in the Atlantic.

What projects do you have planned next?

I’m illustrating a book, which is out in September. I’m also writing my own book that will hopefully be coming out the following year. Apart from that, I’ll be celebrating with my bottle – it’s been 24 months in the making, so I have a lot of time to make up for.

Thank you for that Steve, we will be sure to keep an eye out for your upcoming publications and enjoy your time with your bottle, you’ve earned it.

Jameson 2017 St Patrick’s Day release is now on sale, don’t miss out grab a bottle or two whilst you can as it will be very popular indeed.

Kirsty Clarke (@KirstyClarke29)