live blog: pure pot still

This trip has seen my eyes opened to not just one but two new single pot still whiskies: the old school Green Spot, and the literary-inspired Writer’s Tears. The pure pot still technique is unique to Ireland, which by 1802 accounted for 90% of the world’s exported whiskey. Pot still – not to be confused with poitin, a high-alcohol content Irish moonshine – developed as a reaction to the British taxation on Irish malt. In an effort to avoid the taxes, Irish distillers decided to use a higher percentage of unmalted barley as opposed to malted barley, which resulted in a very different style of whiskey – one that became highly sought after for its smooth finish. Though once widespread, a number of historical factors including mass emigration and the war for independence led to a drastic reduction in the number of functioning distilleries. Those that survived turned to producing less labor-intensive blends and single malts. Yet in concert with the food movement which has swept over Ireland the last five to ten years, so, too, has there been increased demand for a more artisanal-style distillation as embodied by Green Spot, Writer’s Tears, and another favorite, Red Breast. The inverted percentage of barleys in the mix makes for a lighter, spicier-tasting drink. If they hit the high notes a bit too hard at first, that’s rectified by a splash of water or a cube of ice. Even better is what happens during the maturing process. At 12 years, Red Breast takes on the woody bass notes and amber hue you’d expect from cask aging. I’d expect in the coming years these other two should fare equally well.

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roadside rasta fruitstand

If you’re driving around Jamaica and see a homemade sign with the scrawl “ice cold jelly,” take heed and stop. It means there’s cheap, cool refreshment to be had in the form of coconut jelly, the slightly sweet, delicious slime – for lack of a better word – that forms inside the fruit of an immature coconut and tastes like, well, jelly. Even better: if you’re cycling through the jungle and happen upon a roadside Rasta fruitstand, make a pit stop for a banana or two and some intensely hydrating fresh coconut water. Don’t be put off by the half-dozen or so ganja-smoking Rastas under the lean-to, they’re stoned out of their minds. More formidable is Mamma, who despite seeming to have never discovered the benefits of wearing a bra is outfitted in a pair of Gucci sneakers and fisherman’s cap. She’s the one in charge here, so ask the boss for a coconut water then watch as one of her boys hacks at the fruit with a machete before handing it off to you with a straw. While you’re drinking it down let Mamma show you the rest of her fruit:  plantains, baby banana, cassava, breadfruit, lemon, lime, and curiously conical pineapple. If you’re lucky she’ll also enlighten you to the fact that she’s no Rastafarian – her family are Maroon, from up in the hills. When you ask about the Maroons she’ll tell you something else you didn’t know: the Maroon were runaway slaves who banded together and took to the hills, establishing a communal hunter-gather society. On other Caribbean islands the runaways were quickly overcome by white settlers and hunters, yet in Jamaica Maroons thrived and grew powerful enough to fight the British colonists to a draw, eventually signing treaties which not only freed them a good half-century before the abolition of the slave trade but also guaranteed them autonomy. Their continued isolation has essentially kept the Maroon separate from mainstream Jamaican society to this day, which is why you might struggle to understand Mamma’s patois yet still grasp her sense of pride.

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