First TIme in Ireland, Becoming a Certified Whiskey Taster

Aboard Independence of the Seas

This last cruise was a 4-day cruise from Southampton to Cobh (pronounced “cove”), the port city for Cork, Ireland, and the launching site of the great Irish migration to the United States. What a delight!

Docking in Cobh

I was able to watch the ship come into the port from the bridge, along with the Captain’s wife. The port of Cobh was the last port of call for the Titanic, and it was eerie to see that the old White Star Line office building was still there, with remnants of the tender dock that Titanic used. The inner harbor, though deep, is fairly narrow. The Port created a “dock” alongside the town wall using two large rafts, and Independence had to turn 180° to come alongside. It got very interesting watching the bow of the ship swing nearly over the coast road as the azipods turned her on a dime like a tugboat. Hundreds of people drove into town and lined the hillsides to watch the turn, and it was quite emotional to see how the local community supports the port call.

I wandered around on my own after lunch, exploring the little town of Cove. The town had arranged a tiny “French Market,” the equivalent of a street fair, including al fresco performances by local choirs, soloists, and bands, in order to provide some entertainment to the 4200 ship guests and 1450 crew. Ole was able to come ashore for dinner, and when we left the ship there was a swing band performing. We stopped to listen and dance, then struck up a conversation with a lovely local couple. When they found out that Ole worked aboard the ship, the gentleman told us he was the assistant harbor master and offered to be of any assistance. When we told him we needed advice about where to go for dinner, he made a phone call, told us to look down the street, and we saw the restaurant owner (the assistant harbor master’s nephew) standing in the doorway waving us in, in spite of being fully booked. Now that’s advice!

Kelly’s Bar, Cobh

After a great dinner and friendly service, with the obligatory shot of Jameson’s both before and after dinner, we asked where we should go for the best Guinness in town, having been told that even though a Guinness is a Guinness, some pubs are better than others at the plumbing and refrigeration necessary to pour a draft. We were directed down the street to (of all the possible Irish names for a pub) Kelley’s, where we were assured we would find the penultimate Guinness.

When we got there, we found the place filled to fire-marshal freak-out proportions with a live band. Honestly, the place was so full, the singer had to stand on the bar. We felt like ping-pong balls in a random-motion machine as we just let ourselves get jostled to the bar and through to the back where we could breathe a bit better. In reality, I’ve never been a fan of Guinness, in that when it’s been served in the States, somehow people think it’s got to be room temperature (i.e., warm). Room temperature in a Seattle or Boston or Phoenix tavern, what with artificial heat or air conditioning, is way different than room temperature in the basement of a 2- or 300-year-old pub. The ale was cool, and the head was like cream. Not that I’ll convert full-time to drinking it, but it was delicious. Maybe it was the atmosphere.

We concluded our evening out with a stroll through the town, up a steep hillside with frame houses called the “pack of cards,” for the way they were stacked side-by-side up the hill.

The next day, the Captain’s wife and I took advantage of a taxi tour provided through the kindness of the Port authorities. Our driver, Darragh, took us to Waterford, where we toured the crystal factory and learned why it’s so danged expensive. Then we stopped in the seaside village of Youghal (pronounced “y’all”) at a hotel called Aherns for seafood chowder, peasant bread, and sweet Irish butter (delicious doesn’t even begin to describe it). The tour concluded with a stop at the Middleton distillery, home of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, where I became a “certified whiskey taster.”

Actually, the tasting was educational. It was a “horizontal” tasting of a flight of 7-year-old whiskeys – Johnnie Walker Black, Jack Daniels, and Jameson’s, served in half-sized shot glasses watered down about 50% so you don’t burn your mouth out in the tasting. The differences were stark – and explained by the differences in the malting, drying, and distilling. So now I know. And I’m a bigger fan of Irish whiskey than I was when I started – and I have the paperwork to prove I’m qualified to judge!

On Sunday evening we’ll leave the ship in Barcelona, to fly back to Emma Jo in Panama on Monday morning.

While we’ve had a room steward, daily pick-up and drop-off of laundry, 24-hour room service, an unlimited beverage budget, and people to tell Ole the Chief about the work they’ve done, it will be good to get back home to the boat and the cats.

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