Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Northern Ireland - Part 2

Context: This was in May of 2002.

Bushmills is not my first choice of Irish whiskey (I am a Jamesons drinker), but I am fascinated by any process of manufacturing – especially brewing and distilling. Every time I order a pint of something bubbly I can't help but think on all the pieces that went into creating it.

After being split into several groups, it is announced that there will be no pictures on the inside. After the initial disappointment, it’s clarified that the spark from the flash is dangerous in an area with fumes that are flammable. Everyone looks around to make sure that no one is thinking of turning us into a ball of flame because they want to add a memento to their photo album.

The guide takes us through the process (the barrels, the mash, the bottling) and this is where I learn that during the aging phase some of the whiskey evaporates. This has been called “the angels’ share” for a long time and I envision an explanation many years ago with someone being called to account for missing whiskey and saying “Don’t look at me, I have no idea. Maybe some angels drank it.”

At the end of the tour there is a tasting and an opportunity to buy a bottle that is specially aged and has a label with your name printed on it – I pass and head back to the bus. (Ten years later, in hindsight, it would be awesome to have it on my shelf.)

Our final stop for the day is the “Giant’s Causeway”, which is a field of hexagonal rocks sticking out varying heights. They were created by the famous Irish giant Finn McCool. He heard there was an even bigger, tougher giant living over in Scotland so he started building a rock bridge to connect to the neighboring coast. When he got close, he saw that there was, indeed, a massive giant so Finn hightails it back the way he came, ripping up the bridge behind him. (This is the shortest variation on the tale. Scientists say that it was actually caused by a volcano erupting underwater a long time ago, causing the instant cooling and shaping magma into hexagons, but what do they know.)

Our finale was a visit to Newgrange - which is a subject for a whole other post. It's an ancient limestone tomb older than the Pyramids at Giza and deserve more than a couple paragraphs.

Getting back to our hotel, we ask the staff for suggestions on where to go the following day (our train doesn’t leave until late afternoon) Over dinner, we decide to take a bus tour of Belfast itself. I knew Belfast’s reputation, but so far it seemed like a normal European city. Nothing different had jumped out at us and the tour supposedly takes you through the “real” Belfast.

Next up, the “troubles”, the colors and a mad dog.


Len Brennan said...

Deadly! I'm thinking of changing my surname to McCool - it's right up there with Max Payne, McGyver and McLovin....

Sabrina said...

Len McCool sounds stellar..right up there with Matthew McAllen...that's how our hotel bills were always addressed when we stayed in Ireland. I miss that sometimes...