The Craftsmen of Ireland

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At the end of last year, I was delighted to hear that Jameson had invited me to Ireland to interact with some of their local craftsman, tour their incredible distillery, and—of course—enjoy some delicious Irish whiskey.

Never having been to Ireland before, I knew I was in for a treat. Telling friends and co-workers about my journey I was told stories about cozy, old pubs that buzz until late into the night, lusciosus green hills that seem to last forever, and encountering folks who were some of the nicest they’d ever met. This was one of the elements that still stands out so vividly to me: how kind the people are.

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The first craftsman we visited was a burly man named Garvan de Bruir, a leather crafter working in the quaint town of Killdare. We drove almost directly from the Dublin airport to his studio and was greeted with a spread of sandwiches, salads, and good beer, which was much needed after a 14+ hour flight. Garvan’s kindness matched his creativity as we snacked in an impressive studio he designed himself, not content only creating objects with leather.

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The De Bruir line of leather goods are fantastic, too. He makes a little bit of everything such as luggage, bags, wallets, keep-all trays, and, most surprising of all, bow ties. I believe hearing the words “leather bow tie” might induce a cringe amongst most but his design is flawless and, when you see Garvin himself wearing one, you suddenly see how well it works.

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We were given the opportunity to make leather aprons for ourselves using De Bruir designs. Watching Garvan and his apprentice work looked simple but in actuality is a lot like watching cooking shows on television: “I can do that, no big deal,” you say in your head. As I learned, leather crafting is not simple. Thankfully we had expert teachers who led us through process with ease as we chatted about other small leather good brands from around the world. It was two days of hard work that led to a beautiful product that should last me forever.

After this, we took off for the town of Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city and home to a number of glass blowers. Waterford might sound familiar and that’s because it was the home of Waterford Crystal. Well, that was until 2009 when they declared bankruptcy and laid off most of their artisans. Still! That didn’t stop companies like The Irish Handmade Glass Company from filling the void with their very in-demand skills.

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If you’ve never seen glass blowing in person, it’s hard to fully understand the beauty of the process. We were treated to Richard Rowe showing us how a master glass blower goes about his craft, tranforming globs of molten glass into precious pieces of art in minutes. It’s an intimdating craft that has an element of danger—or at least you think this from the view of a spectator, which is a part of it’s allure.

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The last leg of our trip was a tour through the Jameson Distillery in Cork, a facility that’s been around since 1795. The distillery is indicative of what I saw a lot of in Ireland: a rich history and heritage now being augmented with contemporary design and architecture. As you walk around you’re overwhelmed by the age of the place, that has been the brand home for hundreds of years.

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They’ve been plying their craft, slowly but surely moving toward the present and future of whiskey. The grounds are mostly lined with old building made of stone and wood, like a Dickensian setting of some sort. This setting continues in the past until the near end, where you’re guided to the new wing of the facility a state-of-the-art complex that resembles a Bond villains lair (but in actuality, distills golden, whiskey goodness).

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They even have (what I would call) a whiskey labratory officially titled the Irish Whiskey Academy. It offers a number of courses on the history of whiskey, how it’s produced, and—yes—extensive tastings. The tastings were particularly interesting because of the variety of flavors and nuance a whiskey can take on. Some had fruit notes, some where quite smokey; others were younger and thus quite potent, a specific taste for specific people. Getting to soak up the details of a whiskey like that is not something that happens very often—especially in such a storied place like the Jameson Distillery.

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In all, Ireland was a fantastic place to visit. The weather was warm, the people were warmer, and the whiskey never stops flowing. You can’t ask for much more than that.

January 27, 2015 / By

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