Our Irish Eyes are SmilingNovember 20, 2019
While Ireland may not be on the top of your travel list for those seeking a wine adventure, the local food and other alcoholic beverage scene there is worth a visit. From local microbrews (yes, there is more than just Guinness being served in bars) to craft distilleries (making not just whisky), Irish beverage innovators are making a new mark and disrupting the traditional drinking scene of the Emerald Isle. Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benzie recaps a handful of highlights of her highly anticipated, recent trip there with her husband, Certified Tasting Officer Kirk Baker.
Visiting Ireland has been on my bucket list for several years now as Kirk and I both have a bit of Irish heritage. After learning there are direct flights daily from Boston (taking less time than flying to California) and about the ease of completing Customs before departing Shannon (instead of upon arrival in Boston), we knew this trip would be a no-brainer for us. The problem was trying to map out all the things we wanted to accomplish while being there for only a week.
We arrived into Shannon after taking a red-eye flight from Boston and made the most of our first day on limited hours of sleep. Once Kirk got adjusted to driving on the other side of the road, mind you while the driver’s seat is also on the other side of the car!, we were on our way to Killarney. We made a quick stop to tour the town, have a bite to eat, and continued on through the Killarney National Park.
We arrived in Kenmare (pronounced similar to ‘been there”), our destination for the night, in time for a late lunch, visiting the ancient stone circle, and meeting the owner of the local wine store Alain & Christine’s.
We stayed at The Happy Pig Guest House, and that is exactly what we were with our experience there. The owner, Irma, was the former chef and owner of a restaurant in town. After selling her business many years ago, she spent some time in Mallorca and recently returned to the area to open this adorable, hospitable gem of accommodations. She recommended that we dine at Mulcahy’s for dinner and we were not disappointed. Kirk’s comment this next morning was that our first day in Ireland was going to be hard to beat!
GIN VS. WHISKEY
After taking our time to make our way around the Ring of Kerry (in a casual two days with an overnight stop along the way), we arrived at the Dingle Peninsula. Here we stayed at the lovely Greenmount House, run by the charming Gary Curran and his family.
We enjoyed dinner one night at Solas Tapas, a small plates restaurant where we met many a local, and another evening at Out of the Blue seafood restaurant. Here we thought we would be eating meat and potatoes all week only to be very impressed with the cod, hake, and other fresh off the boat fish offerings.
Our trip to Dingle would not have been complete without a tour and tasting at the local Dingle Distillery. Our witty host Dave was a wealth of knowledge about the not-so-long history of the establishment and how they creatively manage to make money in order to produce their Irish Whiskey that must be aged for years before release. At the end of the tour, you receive a taste of their prized whiskey, along with a sample of either their vodka or gin. Let’s just say that you can now purchase said Dingle Whiskey or Dingle Gin (Kirk’s new personal favorite) at Épernay!
DOUBLE SCOOP OF RAINBOWS
The day Kirk and I had planned to visit the stunning Cliffs of Moher in the Burren region of County Clare, the weather forecast was so wet and windy that we thought for sure the attraction would be closed. Think similar to Nor’Easter conditions where the boats are being cancelled coming and going from Nantucket and the planes are not flying either. We decided to brave the weather elements for this once in a lifetime opportunity and we were glad that we did. In between the fierce wind and chilling rain, a ray of sunshine came out along with not one, but two, rainbows cascading over the main wall of the Cliffs of Moher. We took as many pictures as we could, on our iPhones and in our minds, before heading back into the visitor’s center to have a warm beverage as the weather soon turned again and we were chilled to the bone. On the way to the car as we were leaving, we were pelted with small bits of hail as the wind pushed us closer to our vehicle. This would not be the only rain, wind, and set of double rainbows that we encountered along our trip!
En route to our final destination of Galway, it was recommended to us that we make a visit to Moran’s Oyster Cottage in The Weir of County Galway. They are known for specializing in local seafood and home of the native ‘Galway Flat’ oyster. This oyster takes up to five years to grow and has a briny sweet taste followed by a metallic finish. Being that we arrived at the end of lunch service and it was the shoulder season time of year (similar to Nantucket in late October, beginning of November), we had the place to ourselves as we cozied up to a table by the fireplace. Kirk ordered half a dozen of the local oysters and a bowl of seafood chowder, while I opted for the seafood platter of Organic Smoked Salmon, Prawns, Crab Meat & Claws with Marie Rose sauce (ketchup and mayonnaise) and a small side salad. Needless to say, we were both happy campers with our selections and were glad we made the stop.
We only saw a fraction of the beauty and splendor that Ireland has to offer. It is our hope to return someday and visit other parts of this warm welcoming, friendly country. Doubtful we will find a fine wine made in Ireland, but you never know!