"That's me," said Bill Dowling, a retired San Francisco attorney-turned-bartender. ("I finally don't have to apologize for my profession," he said.) Dowling had just finished a tasting, but I got the impression that he didn't need the education.
My friends and I volunteered again to be tasters. Only a few members of each distillery tour group get to be tasters, so we learned quickly to raise our hands immediately and waved them frantically when the tour guide asked for volunteers.
We were chosen, and magically, five more glasses of spirits and beakers of water appeared in front of us. We repeated the sip-and-savor tests we'd first tried at Bushmills, this time focusing on Jameson, Paddy and Power's Gold Label.
This is a great way to spend a vacation, I thought to myself. And two more chances to be volunteer tasters still lay ahead.
Next on our list was Locke's Distillery Museum, and we headed north to visit it. Established in 1757, Locke's is now part of the Cooley Distillery family and offers the last remaining example of a small pot still distillery in Ireland. The facility is smaller than some of the others but wins points for its charm. And it has some perks not found at its bigger competitors. Visitors can see some things done the old-fashioned way: a cooperage operates daily, for instance, with cask hoops hammered by hand.
The brands available here include Connemara, Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell. The new Michael Collins also comes from the Cooley distillery
Last on our list was the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin. Well organized and easily accessible to tourists, it has the most polished presentation. Tour guide jokes rank high here.
"We're serious in whiskey making," said guide Niall Stewart, "but not in whiskey drinking. You can drink it with water, cranberry juice, Coke, anyway you want it. Just make sure you buy Jameson, not something else."
And about those angels. Stewart has a theory. "All great whiskeys have magic to them. Who's to say that's not what the angels provide?"
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