*A sincere thanks to JH, JJY, and SK at Single Cask Nation for the sample.
Today, April 24th, marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland. Up to that point, the Rising was the largest act of rebellion against British rule in over 100 years, and is typically viewed as the event that set in motion the eventual end of British tyranny and the beginning of the Irish Republic. Though it’s undeniably a moment of historical import, in many ways, the Rising was a bit of a failure. Despite hopes that this would be a widely participated-in event, most of the activity and fighting happened in Dublin with relatively few other skirmishes elsewhere on the island. There were several reasons for this, not least of which was basically a lack of a definite plan and a lack of committed leaders (and supporters) to carry out that lack of definite plan. Along with that, an arranged shipment of arms bound from Germany to County Kerry was thwarted rather easily by the British. Reportedly, the shipment arrived earlier that expected so the only ones there to greet it was the Royal Navy. This denied the few organized supporters there any sort of real weaponry with which to fight the much more well-armed soldiers of the realm. On top of it all, there just was not enough strong public support of Irish independence to lend any kind of strength in numbers.
In the days preceding Easter Sunday of 1916, the disorganization of the leadership shone through with a bit of shady propaganda and a deliberate lack of communication being seen as the best ways to rally the insurgents. One of the more powerful moderates of the leadership council, Eoin MacNeill, was more or less against the Rising, and was able to stall the start until the Monday after Easter Sunday (that’s right, the Easter Rising happened the day after Easter, but you know, the Day-After-Easter Rising just does not have the same ring to it.)
That morning, the military-style council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood gathered the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, and the Cumann na mBan (the Irish women’s Council), in different locations of the central part of Dublin. The plan was to take strategic points throughout the city to slow the British. Among the important locations seized were the Dublin City Hall, General Post Office, St. Stephen’s Green, the South Dublin Union, and the armory in Phoenix Park. The William Jameson & Co. Distillery on Marrowbone Lane was also taken. A large flour mill called Boland’s Mill was secured by a battalion under the command of Éamon de Valera, the future first president of the Republic and influential Irish politician until his death in 1975.
Over the next five days, the superior British forces wore down the smaller, less well-armed Irish insurgents. At some locations, the British incurred relatively heavy casualties (such as the Marrowbone Lane distillery,) in others, they were able to simply out gun the Irish with much heavier artillery. By Saturday, a general surrender was called.
The aftermath of the Rising perhaps contributed more to the march towards Irish independence than the Rising itself. The British quickly and illegally tried 187 people, sentencing 90 of those to death. The executions started on May 3rd, the day after the trials. Over the next nine days, 15 leaders of the Rising were executed, but with each one, pressure mounted from within the British leadership to commute the remaining sentences to prison instead. By May 12 the executions were halted, but the damage was done. The Irish public was increasingly aware and angered by the harsh, swift judgement by the British. and the surfacing reports of British atrocities committed during the Rising.
The Rising was not a widely praised event by the Irish public, and immediately after the surrender, public opinion was rather negative towards it all. But the vindictive, violent reaction of the British army quickly changed the public’s opinion, and galvanized the vast majority of Irish who before did not have such a strong opinion about being subject to the Crown. Just under a year later, the Sinn Féin party swelled in political power. In the December elections of 1918, a majority of Sinn Féin politicians were elected. A month later, they formed the Dáil Éireann and declared their independence, more or less starting The Irish War of Independence right then and there.
Recognizing the anniversary of the Easter Rising deserves better than a less than thoroughly researched post on a whisky blog. There are several fascinating aspects of the Rising including the conflicted leadership, the lack of public support, the strong presence of women in the leadership council and the Rising itself, and the role World War I played in the timing. The republicans courted the support of Germany, knowing that helping to force England to deal with an Irish crisis would sound appealing the Germans. The US cast a bit of a shadow over it all as well. Éamon de Valera was actually an American citizen, having been born in New York City. The timid reluctance by the British to harshly penalize a US citizen did not help their cause, allowing De Valera to become a pivotal figure in coming years.
So, in honor of this day 100 years ago, what better whiskey to look at than a great Irish single malt, bottled by independent bottlers, made at what was recently once a great independent Irish distillery. The Single Cask Nation 2002 Cooley Single Malt 13 Year Old was matured completely in a refill oloroso sherry butt, and bottled at cask strength. This bottling is still available, but only to the members of the Single Cask Nation, which you can find out more about, here.
The Nose: Deep, complex sweetness filled with both fruit and grain. Floral honey drizzled over tart, crisp apples. Under-ripe Anjou pears, and stewed raisins and prunes. Honeyed (yes again) cereal grain and vanilla malted milk shake along with a little baked fruit cobbler. Polished oak, and earthy, spices; vanilla bean, mild cinnamon, dried clove, and subtle, almost mineral-esque hints of copper pennies and wet hay. Adding a bit of water calms the sweet fruit a bit and brings the oak and spice to forward a bit.
The Palate: Wow. A thinnish mouthfeel that bursts surprisingly across the palate. Lots of continued honey sweetness with blood orange citrus and a hint of passion fruit on top of continued baked apple notes. More grain joined by malted chocolate and fresh-baked cookies of some kind. Sturdy tannic oak with more vanilla, cinnamon, mild white pepper, and candied ginger. A little water adds some lushness to the mouthfeel, and adding a little more grain and depth.
The Finish: Medium-ish, with more honey, fruit -fresh and baked, oak, pepper, and a pleasant, lingering, flinty-ness.
Thoughts: So good. That complex sweetness made up equally of fruit, honey, and grain moves effortlessly from start to finish and is tempered by balanced oak, spice, and that beguiling hint of minerality. While the nose is certainly pleasant, it’s the very forward, expressive palate that really grabbed my attention. While water is not necessarily necessary, it does play up the grain notes a bit, and gives the palate a little bit of room to breath. The influence of the refill sherry butt is subtle, but there, adding another layer of richness to a whisky that waited just the right amount of time for the Single Cask Nation guys to bottle it up. Definitely Recommended.