A final shower of rain pushed the guests up the elegant steps of the main House. Awaiting them at the top, the open door of Howth castle, inviting them to enter. Guests were greeted by soft lighting and the enchanting sound of an electric harp. Five hundred years ago when Grace O’Malley knocked on the door on her way back to County Mayo this was certainly not the case. The Lord simply dismissed her on arrival.
However, Grace O’Malley was not one to be so lightly dismissed. In response the lady kidnapped the Lord’s son and brought him to the west coast of Ireland. Only when the Lord had promised that from now on there would always be an extra place set at his table for traveling guests, was his heir returned to him. This practice has been upheld for the last 500 years at Howth Castle.
Howth was the right place to present our new Grace O’Malley Whiskey to the world last Thursday. The Captain’s Range was ready for tasting – 18-year-old single malts, each finished in fresh filled, wet Cognac, Amarone and Port wine barrels. Each bottle leather labelled and numbered by hand, each bottle unique. The PR-Agency Burrell had invited an illustrious crowd of guests, comprised of Whiskey-Experts, bloggers and representatives of some of Ireland’s most noteworthy media.
Everyone had come full of excitement and curiosity. Some had heard whispers of the new Whiskey brand already others would be introduced for the first time. First work, then play – that’s just the way it is. Prior to the first tasting, our Managing Director, Stephen Cope gave the welcoming speech. Stephen, born in County Mayo, had grown up with the legend of Grace O’Malley.
On an annual pilgrimage with friends to Clare Island, inspired by the atmosphere and the stories told in Grace O’Malley’s biography by Anne Chambers, he decided to start a whiskey in honour of the Irish Queen of Pirates. It has now been 2 ½ years since he called his friends from Berlin, Stefan Hansen and Fritz Hendrick Melle. Those two had been building global brands for years as advertisers for the likes of Procter & Gamble. They quickly recognised the potential in the story of Grace O’Malley. A story that is not only Irish but global and fitting for our time – female empowerment, a fight about identity and freedom, loyalty and love. The plan to launch the first whiskey brand named after a woman was born.
Following the opening speech, guests made their way to the dining room. Festively decorated tables illuminated by candle light beckoned them to their seats. To being, the 18 year old single malt with a Cognac cask finish was served. To guide the guests on their journey of taste discovery, internationally renowned French oenologist and Grace O’ Malley’s very own master blender Paul Caris introduced each Whiskey and explained the complexity of the spirit.
The guests responded with an audible “Wow!”. Following the appetizer, the Amarone Cask was served, glowing faintly red, blushing in its glass. Stefan Hansen lamented in his address how Stephen had already said everything. However he did find something to say and told the story once more – about Stephen’s call, the excitement, the not knowing anything in the beginning and the sheer joy and gratitude of sitting in Howth castle now watching the evening unfold. After an expression of thanks to Rebecca Burrell and her team, the Amarone cask was served and the glasses were refilled. Suddenly, Hendrick Melle sprung from his chair and addressed the room in order to explain, that while drinking a Grace O’Malley one does not say “Skóll” or “Sláinte” but “Believe in Grace!”. This was then diligently practiced several times and became the toast of the night.
Enda O’Coineen of the Sunday Business Post gave a short address and Joan Mulloy, the professional sailor and descendant of Grace O’Malley, expressed her gratitude for the sponsorship through the brand and told of learning the hard way, of failing, of persevering and of always getting up again.
After desert, the guests retired to the drawing room and enjoyed the marvellous Grace O’Malley Port Cask by the fireside, where the evening would slowly round off with talk of whiskey, farce and the world at large.
Just before the evening came to a close, the amazing Anne Chambers raised her glass and gave thanks for the new regard the makers of Grace O’Malley whiskey had given to an old story. As if that wasn’t enough, she intoned the traditional „Óró Sé Do Bheatha ´Bhaile“, in the traditional Seanchaí style, Anne sang the verse and the guests the refrain.
That was the final Goosebumps moment that will anchor the evening in one’s memory for a long time. As Gary Quinn of the Irish Times wrote: ““It was a really special event and only for work this morning I would have loved to have joined the after party in town. A very sensible side of my character came out and told me to get in that taxi home!”
A very wise decision. Believe in Grace!