Akron Irish: Back in Business
By Lisa O’Rourke
When you get it wrong, you have to own it. A few years ago, worried about the unpredictable Irish economy and the accompanying difficulty of being an entrepreneur, I advised a new friend to ignore the “follow your passion” of pop psychologists and stick with the steady gig of teaching.
Happily, he ignored me and a horde of others who gave him similar sage advice. But fortune favors the bold and it has certainly favored him.
The young man who followed his passion is Pádraic O’Griallais. While I met Pádraic as a teacher, that is not the important thing about him. The important thing about Pádraic is that he is a Connemara man to the soles of his peaty feet.
Teaching is one aspect of his personality, along with storytelling, whiskey making, farming, horses, and the Irish language. At the time we met, he had been watching the small-batch artisanal movement thrive in other counties along the Irish coast, leaving the more isolated Connemara behind yet again. The left behind quality of Connemara is definitely part of its charm, but charm doesn’t pay the bills.
Pádraic had a crazy idea that Connemara would be a great place for a distillery, and like all crazy ideas, it wouldn’t leave him alone. Along with crazy, he has a healthy combination of business acumen, energy and hubris. It doesn’t hurt anything that Pádraic possesses charming country manners and a teaching ability that educates while it is hooking your curiosity to learn more.
And what Pádraic makes, if you haven’t already guessed, are fine spirits. His first ambition was to obtain a license to make and sell a spirit whose recipe originated with his great, great, great grandfather, Micil Mac Chearra, a 170 years ago. The recipe was for the Irish equivalent of moonshine, called poitín (putcheen), which, like our moonshine, is a clandestine affair.
Padraic got the license for poitín in 2016, making history for his family and for Irish spirit production. The company, Micil, named after that same great, great, great grandfather, is a family affair. You would not be talking to Padraic long before you heard about his family, particularly his grandfather. Pádraic’s brother Jimín is a partner, and like any family business, the whole family inevitably pitches in.
Our next visit was two years later, to the then new, Micil Distillery, located in Salthill, the seaside area of Galway. The distillery shared space with a brewery, which seemed like good fit for the laid-back leisure vibe of the area. Pádraic was giving tours and tastings and we were happy to participate.
I am not a whisky drinker at the best of times, so he had me try a gin that he was working on. It was wonderful. There was no family recipe for gin, but a little research showed how easy gin was to make (think bathtub gin). It is a far simpler distillation process than even moonshine.
Pádraic did use native Connemara botanicals to make his gin singular, just like he did with the poitín. Micil gin is the distillery’s biggest seller at the moment.
One business that has proved universally resilient during the pandemic is the alcohol business. Pádraic and Micil have done nothing but thrive in the last few years, and so the urge is there to do more and try a new product. His next project is an interesting one and again, harkening to a sentimental love of Connemara and his own origins.
This project also shows a decent business sense since what could be more Irish than a quality whiskey? Whiskey, after all, originated in Ireland. The name whiskey comes from the evocative Irish, uisce beatha (ishka baha) which means the water of life. Over time, the words were shortened and anglicized into whiskey.
The name poitín, is derived from the use of the single small pot that the amateur brewer used to make the native spirit. During the Middle Ages, Galway, along with having its own city distilleries, also had a thriving trade with the Latin influenced countries of mainland Europe. Ships from France, Portugal and Spain came to the Galway port during the Middle Ages, distributing wine among other things. This gave those distillers in the area unique access to some exotic casks for making and storing whiskey.
The old Galway whiskey would have been made from barley primarily, and then enhanced with some combination of oats, barley and rye. It would have been a lightly peaty, single malt, that had aged in one of those distinctive imported casks. The casks’ descriptions at the time would have used similar language to any sommelier, using adjectives like nutty, spicy, winter spice, honeycomb, and leather.
The Angel’s Share
Then there is the intriguing opinion that Irish whiskey makers have of how angels spend their free time. Whiskey that sits in casks aging and fermenting for years, ends up losing some of its volume. This loss is called the Angels’ Share. The size of the cask and the time spent aging determine the thirst of the angels. All of this information was an education to me.
In 2023, whiskey making will come home to Connemara. Micil Distillery will open a second location at the edge of the Gaeltacht, in a town called Spiddal. Spiddal is an excellent choice since it is in the Gaeltacht proper and just a nice short drive from Galway along the Atlantic.
Pádraic has already made two whiskeys that he is selling, but the expansion of location will mark a big expansion of his whiskey business. Pádraic and his brother Jimín are trying to do everything right in their attempt to make Galway’s first local whiskey in over 100 years.
The whiskey will be a peaty single malt, to echo what was made in the past and to rival the treasured small distillery whiskeys of Scotland. The Micil crew aim to keep as much of the production local as possible, from grain to turf to labor and finally, the investors. It is really an exciting idea and will be great for the area.
This may read a little like an ad for the Micil Distillery. But it would be next to impossible not to root for their success. Ventures like this are not only be good for the areas that they grace, but also serve as positive examples for others who have their own crazy dreams, not to mention the thirsty angels. So, if I offer you any advice in the future, my advice is to you is to do whatever you want anyway.
To learn more about Micil,visit https://micildistillery.com/
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at ol*****@ic****.com.
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