What a difference a day makes... while the Western Cape is too dry, suffering from the worst crisis in 100 years, Ireland is too wet, with water flowing everywhere - through the streets and pooling in the luscious green country fields. I recently had the privilege of going from one extreme to the other.
Just 24 hours before beginning my tour of Irish Whiskey Distilleries, I was camped out in the middle of the Cederberg Mountains, three hours north of Cape Town. Named after the endangered Clanwilliam Cedar that’s endemic to the area, this spectacular landscape is defined by the jagged sandstone rock formations sculpted by wind and water over many millions of years, as well as the ancient San and Khoi rock art.
Some of the Cederberg Khoisan paintings date back 8,000 years or more. Their art was not just a representation of their daily lives but a form of spiritual expression, with the eland believed capable of connecting the Khoi to their God.
The contrast from sitting under the African night sky, where the Milky Way felt close enough to touch, to arriving in bustling, overcast Dublin less than a day later was nothing short of a shock to the system.
Still, it didn’t take me long to tap into the energy of this jolly city. Though the skies are almost always cold and grey, the Irish by contrast are always warm and welcoming. Being in the drinks business, I wasted no time before visiting the home of the iconic beer brand, Guinness. Established in 1759, the Guinness St. James Brewery and Storehouse is Ireland’s number one international visitor attraction (with 1,7 million visitors passing through its doors in 2017 alone). The tour begins at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass and continues up through seven floors before reaching its pinnacle at the famous Gravity Bar with its panoramic 360 degree views of Dublin City.
Having warmed up my palate here, I then embarked on the real purpose of my trip - to visit a working Whiskey Distillery. A three-hour bus trip took me to the world- renowned Midleton Distillery. Home to the world’s largest pot still, this nearly 200-year-old beauty has a capacity of approximately 150,000 litres.
In 1975 the modern distillery, also home to Jameson, was built to meet the rising demand for Irish Whiskey. It’s a demand that continues unabated, with the owners Pernod Ricard recently investing 200-million-euros in new washbacks, stills and warehouses, increasing production to a staggering 64 million litres per year.
I felt mesmerised by the sheer scale, passion and heritage of this ancient whiskey tradition. What an honour to uncover just a little of Ireland’s history and mystical secrets. So different from that African night sky, and yet just as expansive. Two worlds apart!