Uisce Beatha Real Irish Whiskey

Every thirty seconds the slow wash of tires passes across my right shoulder, over to the left, behind my neck, out my left ear into the hallway.  Spinning forward to my right periphery a red illumination shines from the grove of a black disk, spinning, spinning, spinning, and moaning… “you betta come on / / in my kitchen / / babe it gonna’ be rainin’ outdoors.”  It’s a misty, chill December shower.  Inside, in the mellow warm candle light with Marrakesh smoke on the air, every thumping bass note on old Bobby Johnson’s thumb seems to urge the floor to tickle the increasingly numb souls of my feet.  The draining circulation in my fingers makes for spasmodic and pained typing.  Perhaps more pained because I’m still not sure what I mean to say.  It is rare this late in December, in this Northeastern clime, to still be awaiting our first snowfall.  And yet we are.  And still—warm enough to rain, winter enough to frost—I’m ready to embrace an instinct familiar to other mammals, hibernation.  This in-between weather, this wet and confused New Hampshire December, I imagine is how most of winter must pass in Ireland.  As ancient coal stoves burn, turf stoves, even, I imagine many among the Irish fight the mammalian instinct of hibernation in turning to one more human.  I imagine on a night like this, sometime in the 14th century, some tonsured monk drink a fluid warm from the still, and he said to his brethren, “this is the water of life,” uisce beatha.

 

From these words, uisce beatha, comes the modern word for the sweet nectar and societal scourge, that is whiskey.  Of course, if you’re reading a whiskey blog in your free time, I probably don’t need to tell you that.  But if you learned something, well, the more you know.  Why do I bring this up, with unnecessary verbosity and noir musings?  Well, because someone done gone made an Irish whiskey, and guess what they’ve called it…yousebetya, Uisce Beatha.

 

It takes a fuckin’ fully functioning spleen to go and brand your whiskey as its etymological root. Before you say anything, the spleen does have a purpose, look it up, smartass.  Now while we’re on the point, I’ll give you some brief background.  Apparently this whiskey, Uisce Beatha, *redundant* is a product fresh from the mind of John Paul DeJoria, who is best known for bringing the world Patron Tequila and Paul Mitchell shampoo.  One of these things is not like the other.  I think I’m just going to leave your mind lingering on that without further comment.  Anyways, the Patron Mitchell guy happens to be a cofounder of a company called Rok Drinks, which has decided to churn out whiskey under its original moniker.  Sadly, I cannot figure out where the juice these “Rok Stars” are using to make this whiskey, but they have clearly disclosed that it is blended of whiskies aged at least 4 years in former bourbon barrels. That’s about is far deep as I’m going a googling tonight, so let’s get to the point—I’m seriously flagging in the life department and giving that hibernation thing some consideration.  Let us put some life in my blood.

Uisce Beatha

The nose on this is delightfully rich, honey was a given based on the color of the whiskey, but there are pleasant dimensions of richer molasses and dark fruit, a touch of spice and maybe even a hint of hazelnut.  The base note which seems to first hit the tongue and then lingers steadily throughout the palate is something akin to a sweet but gristy whole grain muffin.  On top of this are layers of flavor, including a more fully expressed cinnamon spice—which I’ll be bold enough is from the barrel of a high-rye bourbon—some light citrus, and the ever Irish honey sweetness which is more than usually subtle in this expression, I imagine due to the bourbon barrels. The finish is very light, with an almost cold breath around the edge of the tongue passing and leaving just a grassy sweet reminiscence of loving life on the tongue.

So, does this young upstart, new to the market from the mind of a tequila slinging hairdresser live up to its Gaelic name? Well, it certainly is whiskey, that’s an accurate start.  Beyond that, it’s a pleasant whiskey, distinct from the many other expressions in the field, with a refreshing complexity for its youth.  Yes, I do feel a bit less like sinking into hibernation, I feel a bit more blood running in my fingers and toes, and I may in fact be on the verge of having a touch more life.

For those of you who may think I’m a little too booze and need more blues, here is Bukka White, moaning and droning the “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.” This post has a side point–I’m going to Mississippi, down the delta, putting on my walkin’ shoes and hopping a passenger plane and ride. I’ll be stopping off in Memphis and drinking my way from grave to grave, playing music, certainly, and yes–there will be plenty of booze.

Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins playing together. Much has been made of the chemistry between Lady Day and Prez, long estranged and that one glance Billie gives says it all. They would both die two years later, 4 months apart. There’s not much more to say that the song doesn’t say.

Ladies and genteman, Hot Tuna playing Hesitation Blues. For those who enjoy ignorance Hot Tuna is comprised of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and, I suspect, the ghost of Blind Willie McTell. I give you this raggedy ragtime jivin’ blues because I myself am hesitating to write a real post. You see I started a new job, the kind that could even be said to be in the careerist realm, and I’m a dollar and a dime short on inspiration and layin’ low on the libation–poor formula for writing. I don’t apologize, you can deal without boozy ramblings for a little while–maybe you could even drink some booze and write your own blues.

I know haven’t been keeping up the site to my best ability but I’ve got a couple booze articles stewing right now–as in I better get to it before I kill those bottles–and once I get a day off and get to ease my mind into it I’ll get those to you.

In the meantime here is some fantastic footage of Mississippi Fred McDowell playing “Going Down to the River.” It’s visceral, raw blues of the finest form with the vocal delivery of a man possessed and the devil howls from the bowels of his guitar. What possesses Fred? Well of course a woman, and the pain of longing aching desperation that’ll drive a man to madness.

St. Louis blues was the first published and pressed blues song. W.C. Handy said he first saw the blues played by a man at a train station sliding with his knife blade on the guitar. He took that experience with the rawest and most visceral of blues and brought it into an orchestral environment, made it listenable to the masses. You’re listening to the powerful Bessie Smith version of the St. Louis blues. In it you can see how the St. Louis Blues became a jazz / blues standard, but the in the process it paved the way for the real blues that Handy had seen, the blues of men like Mississippi Fred McDowell that shakes and screeches and howls it’s way deep down into your liver.

Anyways, I’m going to St. Louis for a long weekend–keep it bluesy

I had no idea this video existed until today. I’m shocked, stunned, and thrilled. Hound Dog Taylor was probably the first blues musician that caught my ear. It was “Give me Back my Wig,” off an Alligator Records compilation. I don’t remember when I first heard that song, or exactly when I first got hooked on the blues. But I know it was that song, and when I first started my own radio show in college, it was that song that opened every show for a year. Of course as I got into blues, Little Walter Jacobs also came onto my radar pretty quickly. I was dabbling in harp myself, and Walter is the Charlie Parker of blues harmonica. Now, both these guys are fully equipped to kick ass. Surprisingly, this track turns out pretty mellow, but it’s got a great sound, and the footage is great. Particularly, this is an interesting moment in time because this video is said to be from 1967. Walter died in ’68, and Hound Dog wouldn’t even be recorded until ’71. Here we have a dying legend sharing the stage with an underground figure, yet to be a legend in his own right. So bluesers and boozers, dig in and enjoy. Also, see if you can see Hound Dog’s extra fingers, (he was born with Polydactylyism) I didn’t but maybe you will.