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Greatness for the Price of a High Street Cappuccino

At the Best of Panama coffee competition in 2004 a jasmine-scented, unexpectedly fruity coffee wowed the jury. When its identity was revealed the bean turned out to be Gesha, sometimes called ‘Geisha’ though it has bugger all to do with an all-singing-and-dancing Japanese lass . Gesha, the coffee, has  its roots in the Gori Gesha forest of Ethiopia, where seedlings were collected back in the 1930’s by the then British consul, Richard Whalley (no relation AFAIK). By 2004 it had rocked up, via Costa Rica, in Panama.  This particular one was grown at the now famous Hacienda La Esmeralda in the high elevations of Boquete. Gesha has since been planted all over Panama, and subsequently in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There is also a revival of  production in its  homeland.

The tasting infused the speciality coffee world with a huge frisson of excitement. Gesha become one of the most coveted coffee varieties and rprices soared. Fast forward to September 2019 when an experimental batch of Gesha from a grower called Ninety Plus was sold to an Emirati entrepreneur for  a stratospheric US$10,000 a kilo. Coffee from these beans was retailed at $250 a cup. Of course not all Gesha will fetch that sort of money. The parallels between coffee and wine are becoming more apparent year on year, so, just as every Pomerol does not have the cadre of Château le Pin, not every Gesha can slug it out toe-to-toe with Hacienda La Esmeralda.

Last week, thanks to Gary Grant, MD of Irish coffee importer Imbibe, I had the pleasure of sampling the pleasure of a Panamanian Gesha, La Huella “Canas Verdes”.  I made it, as Gary instructed, in my filter brewer, 15g to 250 ml of water, as specified (giving me 4 decent cupfuls from the 60g packet). The resultant brew was remarkable. From the off, the big jasmine hit announced its present. But there was, for me, something equally floral but subtler on the nose that I identified as bergamot. Further on into the cupful I began to conceive the coffee as a meld of Earl Grey tea, fresh veal stock and pinot noir. I don’t this is stretching things too much, the Gesha was, at one and the same time time ultra-fragrant and rich and powerful. My mother, who used “beef tea” as a restorative, I think would have approved. I have frequently drawn equations between coffee and wine – after all, both the grape and the coffee cherry are fruits but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a coffee where the comparison is so apt. The precise, sensitive roasting probably contributed to this and to the long, long finish.  There just a slight hint of woodsmoke too, something I’ve often found in Ethiopian coffees, so maybe a genuflection to Gesha’s roots.

Now, get your wallets out and enjoy Gesha’s complexity and uniqueness. Re-mortgage the mansion, flog the spare car. Relax, I’m joking. Thanks to Imbibe, who, I understand, are taking a hit on the project in order to encourage folk to think deeper about the coffee in their cup, you can purchase the “Canas Verdes” for €16 for a 60g pack or €20 per 90g (That’s €3.30 a cup) from their website,

QUAFF: White Haze IPA

New beer from O'Hara explores trendy New England style

O’Hara’s Brewery continues to experiment with interesting styles, and the Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow based brewery has just released White Haze IPA, a fruit forward, hazy IPA.

Seamus O’Hara, founder and CEO, commenting  on the new brew said – “We are not ones to follow every trend but we felt it was time to tackle a hazy IPA. There is almost as much diversity in this style as there is in craft beer generally but the one common denominator is that soft mouthfeel and juicy flavour. In developing White Haze we played around with a few different hop bills but if we were going to do a juicy hazy IPA we always wanted to have Mosaic involved, we just love the punch of grapefruit pith it gives a beer. Like most of our beers drinkability was an important consideration and we strived for a fruity but balanced beer that is both accessible and rewarding. While White Haze has lots of soft juicy flavour I think it has just enough bittering balance to make a second bottle tempting!”

As I had pencilled in fish (fresh cod) and chips for Tuesday night’s dinner at home it seemed appropriate to knock the top off the sample and quaff. Alas I couldn’t find the promised “refreshing tropical fruit flavours” but there were plenty of citrus vibes – grapefruit and Seville oranges forced their way through the opaque burnished gold body and assailed the nose in fine style, along with a fair whack of spice. Top fermentation, coupled with cold-conditioning and absence of filtration has provided the benchmark hazy hue demanded of the style, which was, apparently, developed in New England. The attractive milk-white head persisted to the end of the glass.

To sum up I found White Haze IPA attractive, richly-flavoured and moreish. I’d certainly drink it again.

ABV is 5%.

The O’Hara’s team are also very excited about the most recent release in their single hop IPA ‘Hop Adventure Series’. The sixth edition is out now and promises to showcase the ‘Idaho 7’ hop, with flavours of tropical fruit, stone fruit and a hint of black tea.

White Haze will be available in select independent bars, off-licences and retailers with a RRP €3.35 for a 500ml bottle.

Midleton Very Rare 2019 released

Brian Nation, Master Distiller

Fado, fado, around this time of year I used to look forward to an early Christmas present.  The good cheer was brought to my door by a courier who, I thought, regarded at me with a respect bordering on reverence as he handed over the precious package. Boy, oh boy, I could hardly wait, tearing at the wrapping to uncover the polished wooden box. I’d open the lid and there it was, the plain-ish bottle with the understated label, the gold-to-amber liquid within. Ten minutes later, no matter what the time of day, I’d be sat in my kitchen, nosing, sipping a dram of the latest vintage of the Midleton Very Rare, King of Irish Whiskeys and raising a silent toast to the guys who made it.

Of course in those days there were only five or six of us boozehounds to plámás, distributing largesse on this scale wouldn’t have caused much of a dent in Irish Distillers’ marketing budget.  Today, with soi-disant drinks writers in every publication from The Tondragee Trumpet to Welder & Ferret Breeder I imagine the practise has been discontinued on grounds of expense. Or can it be I’ve  just lost some of the cachet I once had?

Happily,  I still get to taste the ‘V.R’. Recently I had the pleasure of attending an exclusive  tutored tasting – in the Constitution Room at The Shelbourne Hotel – curated by Master Distiller Brian Nation, the man behind the masterpiece. The Midleton Very Rare 2019, 36th edition,  has been blended from whiskeys laid down at Midleton Distillery, Co Cork, over the past four decades. and combines only hand-selected single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys of exceptional quality and rarity within the Midleton inventory. With each whiskey in the profile having been matured exclusively in lightly-charred first-fill American oak barrels for between 13 and 34 years, 2019 marks the oldest collection of casks used to create a Midleton Very Rare since the premium whiskey’s inception in 1984. 


Here are Brian’s tasting notes:-

Nose: Ripe fruit notes of sweet pear and apple that develop overtime, adding a delicate touch of mango. Complimented by the charred American oak, these flavours are further accentuated with additional sweet layers of brown sugar and vanilla, with a light dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove spice. 

Taste: Luscious and silky texture with the orchard fruits and pot still spices coming to the fore while the grain’s soft floral notes gently linger in the background, allowing the oak to add dimensions of mild tannins and wood spice.

Finish:  The fruits and gentle spice slowly fade, giving way to the oak foundation that leaves a mild roasted coffee and nutty character to linger until the very end.

Brian also brought along a bottle of the 1989 for comparison purposes. This, I thought a very different tipple, with, even after thirty years, massive power and presence. The 2019, in contrast, seemed less ‘driven’ , lighter and altogether more poised. Brian agreed, describing the latest release as having “no shout, no roar – it’s a very modern whiskey.” He stressed the sweetness, the “dusting of spices, the cinnamon notes”  and the exotic hints of mango and mandarin. Conspicuous length of finish was a feature of both the 1989 and the 2019.

I asked him if he considered the process as evolutionary. He said “no, it’s more a matter at looking at what we’ve got in each particular year and deciding how best to showcase it.”


To mark the release of its 2019 Midleton Very Rare vintage, Irish Distillers has launched the ‘1825 Room’, a members’ site to pay homage to Midleton Distillery’s outstanding influence on Irish distilling since its foundation in 1825. Offering exclusive content and features about Midleton Very Rare, the site – available to join now @ will also include an exclusive online store, with five rare vintages for sale from 2nd October for one month. To celebrate the launch of the 1825 Room, members will have the opportunity to purchase a bottle of the very first 1984 vintage at the price of £40 Irish punts, which equates to €50.80. In anticipation of demand being exceptionally high, purchasers will be selected through a ballot system.

Bottled at 40% ABV, Midleton Very Rare 2019 is available globally from this month at the RRP of €180 in markets including Ireland, the UK, and the US. 


M & S Tasting - Autumn/Winter 2019

Things I do for my readers! A tasting of over 100 carefully sourced wines. Took up a whole morning. After a deal of deliberation  I’ve picked six that will yield up enjoyable drinking and exceptional value for money for now and during the festive season. There were others that could have made the cut, most notably the broad-shouldered Sicilan Nero d’Avola, a snip at €9.50.

M & S Cava Brut NV

Way-hey! Only just taken my coat off and I've got my nose in an absolute cracker. The first wine in the line-up is a hugely enjoyable Cava. Bone-dry but with bags of stonefruit and russet apple and none of the meanness that characterises a lot of budget fizz. Slaughters (most) prosecco. I can see M&S shifting shedloads this side of Christmas. Price is a steal.

Rating 87/100 ABV 11.5% €10.50


M & S

Balfour Classic Rosé

English 'traditional method' sparking wines have rightfully garnered high praise in recent years but, my God, some of the proprietors are charging like wounded rhinos. Here's one with a sense of perspective. Of their two wines in the tasting I preferred the rosé for its 'prettiness' and delicacy and beautiful floral bouquet. It's no shy, shrinking violet though; this one punches well above its weight.

Rating 90/100 ABV 12% €29.50


M & S

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2018

That's right, pecorino is a cheese but also a grape variety. Nothing cheesy about this one and nothing fancy either. 20 days in stainless steel is al the cossetting it gets. In Italy Pecorino has got quite trendy, with plantings, particularly in Le Marche, increasing year-on-year. This one's from Abruzzo and exhibits high aromatic concentration and bold peach and apricot fruit, beautifully balanced with keen acidity. Class act for the money.

Rating 88/100 ABV 12% €12.50


M & S

Chablis - Domain Pierre de Prehy 2017

From the snatches of conversation around the tasting table, I'd say this wine would be short odds for the title of consensual favourite. Elegant, lean-but-not austere, classic (unoaked) Chablis from the reputable Jean-Marc Brocard. Remarkable depth of flavour, too and that trademark pierre à fusil (gunflint) character to boot. Nice.

Rating 92 /100 ABV 12.5 % €22.00

Rioja Perez Burton 2017

From high altitude vineyards in La Rioja Alavesa and made by Telmo Rodriguez who probably knows more about the temper of tempranillo, Rioja's signature grape, than anyone else around. A split personality, it's a very modern wine, buckets of bright juicy fruit; at the same time it's a 'serious' wine with dark notes that call to mind the old-style Riojas that Ireland fell in love with, back in the day.

Rating 89 /100 ABV 14 % €18.00


M & S

Earth's End Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017

Good New Zealand pinot noir can't usually got at this price. The downscale stuff is usually quaffable but the enjoyment is of a simplistic nature, a hit of cheery cherry fruit and that's about all. This one has poise, subtlety and complexity. The buzzwords of skilful , careful winemaking are all in its making - hand-harvesting, de-stemmed fruit, wild yeasts and minimal extraction play a part. Fining, filtration and additives are all proscribed as the winery eases its way towards organic status. Really good kit for an entry level price.

Rating 91 /100 ABV 13.5 % €22.50


M & S

Days in A Taster’s Life: 4

“I’m not into crosswords, or what’s it called, suduko? Nevertheless, I do recognise the importance of keeping one’s brain exercised so I occasionally invent some form of mental gymnastics for that very purpose. A few weeks ago I decided I would write down, in ten minutes flat, all the aromas and flavours I had ever found in a glass of wine. For the record the total was 158 and included such exotica as arbutus berries, oatmeal, mown grass, green sap, chicory, tobacco, eucalyptus, balsam, beeswax, quinine, soy sauce, molasses, sawdust, burnt toast, mildew, gun smoke, diesel, wet dog, soap, fish, steel, sauerkraut, sticking plaster, marigold, geranium, liquorice, ginger, bacon, offal, leather and, yes, shit, in addition to the usual suspects.”

Khoresh Bademjan – Persian Beef & Aubergine stew

In our garden we have a larch-pole pergola over which a tangle of grapevines drape. Running through them is a rambling clematis, Montana, I think. Underneath stands the big Aussie barbecue on which, in summer at least, I cook my home made sausages and burgers plus steak, chicken and whatever else takes my fancy. The vines provide a degree of shade and repel light showers. They also produce grapes, at least two of them do, the sauvignon blanc and the phoenix. The pinot noir (a vanity project) is perennially infertile. Any fruit rarely ripens - most years I end up with sour grapes (literally and metaphorically) that I chuck into the compost. Last year, faced with a bumper harvest, I cried “enough!” Half-remembering a dish I last ate at an Armenian restaurant in Manchester thirty-odd years ago, I went on the net to find it. Khoresh bademjan is a Persian beef-and-eggplant stew that involves a generous quantity of unripe grapes. As such, it’s proved the answer to this failed vigneron’s prayer. This, my own version, based generally on a traditional one, has evolved over time.


  • 8 small aubergines, halved lengthways (or 2 large aubergines, part-peeled – ‘striped’ then cut into chunks)
  • 1 kg beef.  Can be round steak, chuck steak or anything in between. Best bought in a piece and sliced into strips approx  80 cm x  30 cm  x 20 cm thick. No need to bet too picky about this.
  • 2 onions, 1 cut into quarters, 1 cut into thin slices.
  • 3 cloves garlic,
  • 3 corms turmeric (or 3 tsp powdered turmeric)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups sour grapes (ghoreh) I have read that verjus can substitute for the  sour grapes but have never tried it.
  • ½ teaspoon saffron 
  • olive oil and/or vegetable oil
  • salt and black pepper
  • fresh coriander, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)


  1. Blitz, briefly, the tomato paste, turmeric, garlic and cumin seeds in a food processor.
  2. Season and tenderise the beef according to your favourite method. Tenderising depends on the cut of beef – 1-3 hours in a pan, and on the method used – simmering/pressure cooker/sous vide or whatever your favourite method is. Drain and reserve the beef stock. Discard the onion.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200° C. When heated cook the aubergines as in 6 (below).
  4. Heat a little olive or vegetable oil in a large pan and caramelise the onion slices (10-15 mins). Add the tomato paste/garlic/turmeric/cumin ‘blitz’ and the finely-chopped onion and the beef and briefly ‘brown’ the meat.
  5. Add the tomatoes, sour grapes, the stock plus enough water to cover the beef. Add salt and pepper and cook for about 25 minutes. Top up the liquid if necessary and stir occasionally. Cook without a lid on the pan as you want stock to reduce and thicken.
  6. Place aubergines in a flat dish. Drizzle with olive oil then bake in oven for 20-25mins. Remove, add to beef and at this stage add the saffron if you are using it. Cook for a further 15-20 mins.
  7. Garnish with fresh coriander (if liked just before serving.
  8. Serve with rice or nan bread.

Serves 4-6

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