Do writers ever shed tears? Of course: when they’re writing, when they’re not writing and when they’re stuck. Which makes this Irish whiskey a dreamer’s dram.
The big difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky, is that the former is distilled three times, while the latter is usually distilled only twice. This leads to a smoother drink. The Irish version can be made from any combination of cereal grains whereas Scotch is made only from malted barley. And, of course, they’re spelled differently—truly, no one knows why.
One of my favourite single malts is Auchentoshan, which uses the triple distillation process, and is a rare Lowland Scotch. The distillery in Glasgow pipes its water in from a nearby loch and stores it in a pond formed during World War II by a bomb crater, neatly making a rare benefit out of the Blitz. I’m not sure how that affects the taste, but it makes it remarkable similar to the Irish whiskey I’m enjoying one chilly winter’s day.
The Walsh Distillery has introduced a very smooth libation called Writer’s Tears as a tribute to some of the great Irish writers (and drinkers) of the 19th century—George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker, for example. Sitting only a few hundred yards from the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake in one direction and a statue of GBS on the main street in the other, it seemed like a good opportunity to partake of a few drams, enjoyed with a dash of inspiration and a thirst for curiosity. Imagination fired up again, I was able to return to my writing room in splendid spirits, where a new screenplay was demanding work.
I’m intrigued to discover another link to NOTL in this Irish whiskey: a limited edition finished in Inniskillin icewine casks. Inniskillin is one of Niagara’s original estate wineries and a leading producer of icewine. I’ve yet to track down a bottle of this expression, but when I do, I’ll add my experience to this story.
Another day, I’m delighted to find Writer’s Tears in the local liquor store and take a bottle home. A few days later, my eldest daughter comes for a visit to our new home in NOTL, and brings me several welcome gifts. One is a fake book, which contains not one but three miniatures of three different expressions of Writer’s Tears. I hesitate to open the little dears, for one sip and they’ll be gone for ever.
The irony of the miniatures in the fake book is not lost on me. The plot of my screenplay Key to Love, which was filmed in the Calgary area last Spring and is to be streamed on Superchannel in 2023, involves a mysterious key found in a fake book. The fake book that inspired the story sits in my library bookshelves, where it guards some treasures. Once the new fake book is emptied of its own treasures, it will join its companion on the shelves.
A reunion with an old friend, with whom I’ve long debated the merits of Scotch blends versus single malts, seems like a good occasion to have a serious taste testing session. The Double Oak Writer’s Tears comes out and we first check its background. It’s a triple distilled blend of single pot still and single malt Irish whiskey, aged in American oak bourbon barrels from Kentucky and finished in French oak cognac casks. We are to look for dashes of sweet vanilla, notes of cinnamon, plum and poached pear on the nose and the taste of citrus, with chocolate undertones and a lingering spice. Usually, I flunk these complex taste tests, but today we are in fine form.
My companion finds notes of toffee; I detect honey and vanilla. I don’t care much. It’s just a fine drink. After a few we say to heck with tasting notes and open one of the miniatures to share. The Pot Still disappoints compared with the Double Oak, but it was only an ounce and I don’t have much to regret.
I finish off the session with a few fingers of Auchentoshan. It’s remarkably similar, but dare I say a touch more tasty. Don’t tell the Irish I said so.
UPDATE: I should have know that The Irish Harp, one of my two favourite pubs in Niagara-on-the-Lake would not only stock Writers’ Tears, but would have the Inniskillin expression. After testing several glasses, I decided I really liked it. The flavour of its stay in the icewine casks had transferred itself to the whiskey, more as a subtle hint than a full on assault, but made for a very pleasant after dinner accompaniment.
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