Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Ireland's The Wild Geese fly by James Leavey
Mr Guy Hancock, Ireland's tobacco ambassador, and I were enjoying a hoolie with a few nicotine companions in my favourite smokers' den in Dublin.
In between the reeling and whooping and renditions of 'Up Went Nelson', we considered, loudly, the best beverages to gargle while inhaling a fine cigar.
'As you know, Mr H,' I yelled, to the accompaniment of The Dubliners' lively version of Whiskey in the Jar, 'it all depends on the cigar you're smoking. What works well with a light Havana would probably be wasted on a medium-bodied Nicaraguan tube of premium hand-rolled tobacco, such as The Grafton corona. And, of course, a full-bodied cigar requires a full-bodied drink, preferably a single malt, cognac, or very fine aged rum, to keep the balance and not get lost in the process.
'Now, can somebody turn that fucking noise down so we can enjoy the craic in peace!'
The music was lowered, Mr H nodded agreement, sipped a dram, and fell off his stool.
'That's grand, James,' he muttered, from the safety of the smokeasy floor.
Lifting him up, in every sense of the word, I added, 'But there are some whiskies that I choose before I decide which cigar to smoke with them.'
'Jaysus,' said Mr H, now ensconced in his proper chair, 'that's the highest praise a man can give to any drink.'
We all raised our eyes and glasses to Heaven and clinked glasses: 'Slainte! May you get to Heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you're dead.'
Then I got back to the remembering. 'One of the best presents I ever received flattened the cat on the Fuck Off Non-Smokers mat just before last Christmas,' I said, wiping a tear from my eyes.
'It was a box containing the four bottles that comprises The Wild Geese Irish whiskey collection,
'You know me, I'm a lover of Scotland's single malt whisky and although I have tried many other whiskies around the world, I've rarely found one to match the finest Scottish malt – until now.'
Mr H sat up, reached for his lighter and reignited his Nicaraguan robusto then uttered one of those words guaranteed to tick a box in the minds of cognoscenti and anyone else brought, rather than dragged, up: 'Really!'
He then sipped another drop from his half empty glass, and sat back, ears and eyes ready for the off.
'The first bottle I tried was the Classic Blend, which lived up to its name. It was sweet and light and delicate and not over-honeyed, somewhat like lying in a field of wild flowers and clover on a hot summer's day, enjoying the heady scent and listening the bees.
'I then gave the Rare Irish a twirl round my tonsils and it was so smooth and perfectly balanced, with a touch of citrus and the teeniest taste of honey and lasted so long and so lovely, I almost died with delight. It was a beautiful rare whiskey, indeed, and worth waiting a lifetime for.'
'God save us,' muttered Mr H, his mouth watering. The rest of our companions were also drooling and licking their lips.
'The third bottle's description, Single Malt, set the old bullshit-alarm tingling, until I took my first luscious sip. Clean, smooth, subtle, summery, rich, well balanced and a body that is whisky's equivalent to Elle Macpherson – who, I must admit, I wouldn't mind sampling, given the opportunity (please, God, just the once and I'll be a good boy for the rest of my unnatural life).
'Finally came the turn of the Limited Edition, which like its three siblings was one of the nicest and most perfectly balanced Irish whiskies I have ever tasted, but, like them, with its own distinct character. Smooth, sweet then spicy, light and stunning. The problem I had was not to drink all four bottles in one mad go. But then, if I had, I would have missed so many delightful hours of pleasure.'
Mr H rose, staggered to the whisky cabinet and grabbed all four bottles of The Wild Geese, which he had hidden away, and said, ashamedly, 'I can't stand it any more. Help me open and pour these, James.'
'Righto, Mr H,' I replied, grabbing a tray-load of virgin glasses, rapidly distributing them to all the cigar companions present before yer man changed his mind and disappeared into the night with his treasure trove. 'Happy days.'