Irish Hospitality Heroes: Protecting Irish Pubs

The Bank On College Green: One of the finest places in the world to enjoy an Irish Whiskey

Anyone who knows me personally will know that my passion and knowledge for Irish Whiskey is only matched by my passion and knowledge of Irish Pubs. I’ve spent an incredible amount of time in Irish pubs over the past decade, both in a professional capacity and as a loyal customer to many venues across the country. I’m frightened by the battle which the Irish Pub and the whole tourism sector in Ireland is facing while this pandemic is ongoing globally and which they will continue to fight when the pandemic is gone. Throughout this piece I will give you an insight into my views on Irish Whiskey consumption trends, how we can support the Irish Hospitality trade and the Irish Whiskey industry simultaneously, and the Irish pubs who have re-invented their offerings focusing on Irish Whiskey.

Firstly I must point out that our dear Government in Ireland are making an absolute balls of supporting the Hospitality industry as the country attempts to leave the current pandemic behind. With the news that the near 3500 wet-led(no food offering) pubs across the country are not allowed to open until the 10th of August while the Restaurants and Gastro-pubs across the country have been allowed to open their doors since the 29th of June. Admittedly, those open have been operating on reduced hours with social distancing, timed stays and only allowing for the service of alcohol if it is accompanied by a ‘substantial meal’ to the value of €9. I have to say I agree with the short stays, limited groups, reduced capacities and the reduced opening hours, but as I read somewhere today:

‘How is the virus supposed to know if you’ve had a feed with your 3 or 4 pints?’

Rural Irish Publican

Many are stating that the Rural pubs will feel the brunt of this burden of not being able to open, which can’t be refuted. However if the word coming from the City Centres is anything to go by, the Bars and Restaurants here have just as tough a battle, and in the majority of cases are supporting significantly more jobs than those in rural areas. The venues who have relied on tourism for a significant portion of their revenue have been decimated by the loss of this custom and now have to deal with endless amounts of no-shows, and also gobshites trying to expose venues they feel aren’t adhering to the guidelines fully. And the shame in all of this is that those attempting to expose venues seem to be doing it where the Proprietor is doing their very best to adhere to the rules, and yet the many pubs throughout the Cities who are flouting the rules entirely, nothing is being said at all. Our hospitality industry needs help now:

The figures speak for themselves, the hospitality industry is in serious trouble and if they do not get the support they need many pubs may not be able to return at all. Simple areas to start would be:

  • VAT reduction from 23% to 5% and match the UK.
  • Removal of Rates for the remainder of the year.
  • Business re-start grants based on Business needs, to be assessed individually.
  • And, if the Government really want to show their support, insist that Business Interruption insurance policies are upheld by the insurers.

Now without going any deeper in to that particular rant, there are a number of ways that we, as consumers, can help and support the many venues throughout Ireland that have put Irish Whiskey at their core. To explain the things I think we should do going forward, first we must look back.

Garavans Bar, Galway.

As Irish Whiskey has become the focus for many venues across the country, the ways in which people are enjoying their Irish Whiskey has changed dramatically. As a member of the bar team in Garavans Bar, Galway early in my career, I watched as our shelves began to explode with various different premium whiskeys from around the world. They had, and still do have, an incredible selection of Irish, Scotch, Japanese and American whiskies, it was an incredible place to learn about whiskey as I gradually worked my way through tasting the selection on my down time. I was encouraged by the owner, Paul Garavan, to taste and learn as much as I could and build my new knowledge into the customer experience. It was a perfect example of superb developmental coaching by Paul, he provided the tools and knowledge to allow me to develop while also teaching me how important this was to the development of the business. Part of this development was my own personal goal of knowing something about every whiskey we stocked, so every week I saved my tips and slowly but surely spent them sampling my way through the entire selection, approx 175 different whiskeys from around the world.

The point to that little anecdote is, at this time between 2012-2014, aside from purchasing all the bottles, which was never going to be plausible, this was the only way that I would get the opportunity to taste all of these whiskeys. The Irish Whiskey community, or #IrishWhiskeyFabric as it is sometimes referred to online, was nowhere near as vibrant as it is now. There were no bottle shares, very few tasting events for a man living in Galway, I knew no-one who shared my interest in Irish Whiskey and definitely no-one my own age who drank it. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t change the way I started my whiskey journey for the world. I learned about whiskey in pubs, and nowadays, well pre-COVID anyway, I still taste any new whiskey I’d like to try and re-visit many of my favourites in the pub.

When it comes to Whiskey enthusiasts, I’ve come to the realization that I am in the minority when it comes to my whiskey consumption habits. I don’t have a large whiskey selection/collection at home, I very rarely purchase bottles, I don’t buy into bottle shares, I’m not a member of any whiskey society and I haven’t been to many tasting events as a punter in the past 2 years. I don’t think this had held me back in my whiskey enjoyment, only that I would like to know personally many of the people that I now converse with online quite regularly. My plan to change these personal trends is not to buy more bottles or buy into more bottle shares, but I do hope to attend more tastings only because it serves me in my main goal of meeting more people in the pub.

What I am saying is, when the time comes and our favourite pubs can once again enjoy our custom, some of them may already be open, I feel the #IrishWhiskeyFabric has an opportunity to have an immensely positive impact. Lets collectively make a difference, here’s a number of options for us all:

  • Organise to meet in a small group in your favourite venue, have a few pints and a few drams, lets talk about the whiskeys we’ve enjoyed during lockdown.
  • Treat yourself, if you’re out for a meal why not have a wee Tyrconnell 16 or a Redbreast 21 before or after dinner, something you wouldn’t normally have at home.
  • Make an Irish Coffee the start to every evening out.
  • Attempt a bit of blind tasting, everyone buy a dram for someone else and don’t tell them what it is.
  • Above all else, if you see something you haven’t tried, try it, it’s always good to try something new.
  • When your in the local rural pub, such as Mac Tams in my hometown of Clonmany, Co.Donegal, they may have that sole bottle of Redbreast or something you wouldn’t normally expect. Well I can’t wait for a pint & a Redbreast, the point is, if they have whiskey, have one or two.
  • Most of us are on Social Media, take pictures, tweet, post on Instagram and in your favourite whiskey groups about your favourite pubs.

Lets show our support for many of the great bars throughout the country that are investing in and supporting the Irish Whiskey Industry by drinking whiskey in their venue, whether they are open already or when they get open again. Pictured below a few bars I’m looking forward to getting to visit again: The Whiskey Palace at The Palace Bar, The Shelbourne Bar, Cork and The Bankers Bar, Dublin.

Alternatively, in terms of supporting our favourite venues, the pandemic has brought forward some incredible innovation in the hospitality trade, with my favourite being the venues who have begun to operate Dram Services with Nationwide delivery. This gives us all an opportunity to support some of our favourite whiskey bars and our favourite whiskey brands from our own homes:

Bar1661

Bar1661, Dublin kicked their innovations off with an incredible array of bottled cocktails which are now listed products in major independent retailers such as The Celtic Whiskey Shop. But, it was their Dream Dram service which got pulses racing as they put their vast more obscure selection of whiskies up for grabs in 50ml bottles available for collection at the bar. Now I am a firm believer in ‘people buy from people’ and there are few who advocate for the Irish Spirits industry like Dave Mulligan, the owner of Bar1661.

Dick Macks, Dingle

Irish Whiskey Bar legends, Dick Macks, Dingle already had a fantastic merchandise offering coinciding with their terrific Brewhouse and the Belt making offering which takes place in the bar throughout the tourist season. Although it was the access to their multi-award winning whiskey selection from the comfort of your own home which has gained tremendous support from the #IrishWhiskeyFabric. If you’re lucky enough to visit when they get to open their doors again, look out for the tall, fair-haired, devishly handsome machine that is Finn Mack, the man who is championing his heritage and pushing Dick Macks to new heights.

The Sky & The Ground, Wexford

Last but not least, Drops from the Sky, the dram service created by the Barron family of The Sky and the Ground, Wexford. Johnny Barron is one of the nicest publicans I’ve had the opportunity to meet and converse with over the past year, genuine and hard-working they have added an incredible online Dram website which is another superb addition to the Irish Whiskey scene. The selection curated in part by the inimitable Pot Still Will, Willie Murphy includes some incredibly sought after drams.

All in all we now have more reasons, and when everywhere is open, we will have more ways to support Irish Pubs than ever before. I’m not saying to give up on the bottle shares, or the buying for your own private consumption but in the interests of fully supporting our industry, plan a few drams in your favourite pubs or from your favourite pubs sooner rather than later.

Mark

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