Continuing on with our Irish Whiskey phase, I had the opportunity to interview Managing Director, Bernard Walsh of Walsh Whiskey – producers of Writer’s Tears and The Irishman. Competing in the premium category, Walsh Whiskey is a family owned distillery with values in farming, terroir, grains and distillate types.
The Toronto Whisky Society got to sit down with him and sample 7 whiskies coming to the LCBO this month.
- The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Copper Pot (40% ABV)
- The Irishman Single Malt (40% ABV)
- The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Caribbean Cask Finish (46% ABV)
- The Irishman Cask Strength (54% ABV)
- Writers’ Tears Red Head (46% ABV)
- Writers’ Tears Copper Pot Deau XO Cognac Finish (46% ABV)
- Writers’ Tears Cask Strength 2018 (53% ABV)
Personally, I was a huge fan of the Writers’ Tears Cognac Finish the most. After spending 9 months in Deau XO Cognac casks, the whiskey took on a rich, sweet and very balanced profile. This one is also a very limited release as only 12 casks were created. Ontario was able to get one full cask so if you spot any at LCBO, I would high recommend sagging a bottle!
Grayce: Good morning, Bernard. Thank you for chatting with us today! Before we begin, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? From looking into your background, you started out in computer science which is on the opposite spectrum of distilling. What made you change career paths?
Bernard: Looking back is always helpful before you move forward. So looking back even further I am a farmers son and spent my early years on the farm. I always longed to get back to the Irish Country Side , and while not envisaging a career in farming I did want to be involved in something connect to the land….and barley is that connection. While I had a fantastic career in the Software Industry I got the opportunity to come back home after 16 years in IT. Getting back home was all about moving to the country side and getting involve
Grayce: Did having a background in computer science benefit your current career in any way?
Bernard: Honestly I’m not sure but what I can say is that I approached the whiskey business with a slightly different focus. In software it was all about the brand. While getting involved in the whiskey business satisfied my desire to be back close to the land, I fully understood that to be successful in whiskey we needed to build a successful brand.Producing or laying down whiskey is only the start of the job…building brand is where a lot of effort has to be focused and my career in Software ensured I had that discipline.
Grayce: What is your go-to whiskey after a long day of work?
Bernard: My go to depends on the day of the week 😊 but I can honestly say Monday to Friday its Writers Tears Copper Pot.
Grayce: How did you come up with the name Writer’s Tears?
Bernard: Like all good Irish tales, it’s a long story. 19th and early 20th century Ireland was a golden era both for Irish whiskey and, perhaps coincidentally, for great Irish novelists, poets and playwrights. Ireland was then the leading whiskey producing nation in the world and the birthplace of literary giants of the era including writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wild, W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker, to name but a few. Many of these great writers, on occasion would take refuge in their local public house, where they could draw inspiration from their daily observations of life while enjoying the comfort of their favourite dram of whiskey.
Away from the writers’ enjoyment of a dram, the Irish whiskey barons were rebelling against the emergence of what they saw as inferior grain from Coffee Stills. The barons were protective of the traditions that had made their success possible and at that time, one whiskey blend was held high above all others. Known as ‘the champagne of Irish whiskey’ it was a master blend of pot still and malt whiskies, both distilled in copper pots. It was enjoyed by many of the great Irish writers of the day… of course less for its inspirational qualities that its full bodied, flavoursome taste and creamy texture! It was said that they enjoyed it so much, that when they cried their tears were of whiskey. So hence the name Writers Tears.
Little did anyone consider back then, that the partnership between scribe and whiskey was to fade away almost entirely over the century that followed as the whiskey barons battled the perceived ills of technological, trade and other wars… that is, until now.
Walsh Whiskey’s Writers’ Tears is a critically acclaimed, award-winning recreation of the fabled 19th century whiskey. A truly unique expression that is embedded in history. We hope you enjoy it… literally!
Grayce: Would Walsh Whiskey ever consider making a rye whiskey?
Bernard: Maybe put it another way … I would not rule it out. While Irish Whiskey is tightly controlled in what can and cannot be used in the making of this great spirit, The permutations for innovation are almost endless…
Grayce: What would you say differentiates Walsh Whiskies from the other Irish whiskeys out there (such as Red Breast, Dublin Liberties, Bushmills etc…)?
Bernard: The focus for our whiskies in both Writers Tears and The Irishman is that we are entirely working with the 2 distinct and flavoursome distillates produced in the Copper Pot. That is Single Pot Still and Single Malt. We do not have Grain(corn) whiskey in any of our whiskies. Grain whiskey is used predominantly in the creation of affordable blends. Our blends are a marriage of Single Pot Still and Single Malt, you could say a deluxe blend, there is nothing out there in the market like this.
Grayce: Where do you see Irish whiskey going in the future?
Bernard: While there will always be ups and downs in the whiskey industry (just look at history!) the long term future of Irish Whiskey is very bright. It has been the fastest growing Whiskey category for the past 10 years with current 5 year CAGR growing at approx. 10% per annum and Premium Irish Whiskey growing at 18% CAGR. While this is phenomenal growth, we are only playing catch up. 10 years ago there was only 4 whiskey distilleries on the island now there are 20 with another 10 in planning. Currently there is not enough Irish Whiskey stocks available. Most ot the Irish effort is focused on supplying North America and Europe. Whiel we are ‘trading’ in Asia / South America We will not be in a strong position to go after Asia & South America until supplies improve further.
Grayce: If you could release your dream whiskey, (using any grain, cooperage and distillation method) without having to consider pricing and weather, what would that release look like?
Bernard: Sustainability is important for me. We have to work hand in glove with the farming community to ensure our cereals are produced in a responsible way. To that end my dream dram would be an organic Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Grayce: With Irish whiskey making methods slowly migrating into the small batch whiskey scene in North America, how do you feel about the rise of copper pot whiskey-making?
Bernard: I am super excited about the rise of ‘Copper Pot’ distilled whiskey. Writers Tears & The Irishman whiskies are entirely distilled in the copper pot. Most of all the new distilleries in Ireland are equally installing Pots
Grayce: Which of your current whiskies is your proudest accomplishment?
Bernard: That’s like asking me to pick my favourite child (and I have 4), so the answer is I’m proud of all our whiskey expressions from Writers Tears & The Irishman
Grayce: Out of all of the drams we’ll be tasting today, do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes about the whiskies?
Bernard: Writers’ Tears Deau XO Cognac Cask Finish is close to my heart as it’s a collaboration of 2 small family business’s. I have known the Legaret Family (Roland) in cognac for many years and have always wanted to collaborate with them. Writers’ Tears Cognac Cask Finish is the result of 2 families from 2 different countries/languages/cultures coming together to deliver a truly delectable dram.
* Because we tried so many drams this round, tasting notes will be posted in a separate post to come.