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Spirits of the Celtic Regions

Asturias  |  Galicia  |  Brittany  |  Cornwall  |  Ireland  |  Isle of Man  |  Scotland  |  Wales

This section is intended to acquaint the viewer with an overview of the wines, ciders, beers and whiskies of the Celtic regions. Selections of these spirits will be available for sampling (at a nominal charge) at the Arizona Highland Celtic Festival in July.

Brittany

 
Cider has been produced in Brittany since the early 6th century. Production flourished during the Middle Ages. Cider is traditionally served with crepes and galettes.
Beer has been brewed in Brittany since the early 1600s. Beer drinking among young adults is gaining in popularity. This is due, in part, to the association of brand names with the popularity of Celtic music and the Breton cultural identity movement. Best known brands include Coreff, Lancelot (both barley beers) and Telenn Du (a buckwheat beer).
Wine production is widespread in the region, particularly in the area of Nantes, where vineyards predated the Romans. The Muscadet grape produces the region's signature expression - a dry white wine. Nearly one-half of the area's grape production is exported. 
Chouchen is a type of mead. It is made from water and fermented honey and was the Celts' favorite drink because they believed it offered immortality for humans and a "sacred state of drunkenness" for the gods.
Calvados is a dry apple brandy. In the early 1700s apple brandy distillation was restricted to Brittany and Normandy, to protect the grape brandy trade throughout the rest of France. Normandy is the more well-known region for Calvados production (the town of Calvados is situated in western area of the region), but Breton Calvados is highly regarded in its own right.

  

Cornwall

Production of cider, wine (including fruit flavored wines) and beer is plentiful in Cornwall. This is because of the ideal weather and flourishing vineyards and orchards. High quality spring water is abundant in the region, which is essential for the production of spirits.

The sparkling wine "Camel Valley Brut 'Cornwall' - 1999", was served to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to Cornwall in June 2000. 

Mead is a honey wine closely associated with Celts. Mead production has been a staple of Cornish activities for eons. It is arguably the first alcoholic beverage created. It is mentioned in "Beowulf" and was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The term "honeymoon" has a direct connection with mead: when a couple was married, they would drink mead for the month after the wedding. This was supposed to help produce a baby boy.

  

As in Cornwall, production of cider, wine, including fruit flavored wines, is plentiful in Galicia and Asturias. This is because of the ideal weather and flourishing vineyards and orchards. High quality spring water is abundant in the region, which is essential for the production of spirits.
Wines of Galicia are primarily from the area called Rias Baixas - an area of estuary-like irregularities in the convoluted Galician coastline. At least one wine incorporates a Celtic knot design on its label to celebrate the ancient ties between Galicia and the Celtic lands to the north.
Aguardientes is a distilled spirit at 80% alcohol by volume. Galicians have developed a spectacular way to serve it: combined with roasted coffee beans and set afire in a china or earthenware bowl!

  

 

  

Ireland

Perhaps no other country (with the possible exception of Scotland) is so directly associated with its alcoholic beverages. 

Guinness beers and ales have been brewed continuously since 1759 when Arthur Guinness set up shop at St. James's Gate in the heart of Dublin. (The American Revolution was not going to happen for another 17 years!) About 10 million glasses of Guinness stout are drunk around the world every day.

"The light music of whiskey falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude" 
James Joyce, 20th Century Irish author in The Dubliners

Irish whiskies are generally characterized by being smoother than most other distilled spirits (they are usually distilled three times), and made in relatively small batches. 

Unlike Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey does not strongly characterize itself by the region from which it comes. In fact, there are only three major distilleries still operating in Ireland (Midleton and Cooley in the Republic of Ireland and Old Bushmills in Northern Island. All are relatively close to the sea).

    
 
 

  

Isle of Man

At only 227 square miles, much of it desolate, the Isle of Man does not offer a lot of room for spirits manufacturing. There is, however, an interesting enterprise there and here's what some of the literature says about the manufacture of ManX Manx Spirit

"Brandies and cognacs are distilled from grapes; rum comes from cane sugar; calvados starts life as an apple. ManX is distilled from the finest single malt whisky which has been matured in oak casks by our Celtic neighbours, but this is followed by a purification process prior to bottling."

 Essentially ManX Spirit is single malt whisky that has undergone a "redistillation technique" that creates a crystal clear spirit while retaining the complex tastes of the original malt.

   

  

Single malt Scotch whisky is distinguished and categorized by the region from which it comes. There are five primary regions that produce single malts which are distinctly different from each other from the criteria of color, aroma, and taste. These regions are the Highlands, the Lowlands, islands, Campbeltown, and the island of Islay (pronounced "eye-luh"). "Single" means the whisky is the product of a single distillery (not a blend); "malt" means the whisky is made from malted (germinated) barley grain; and "Scotch" means the product was distilled and aged in Scotland.
    

    

    

 

   
Blended Scotch whiskies are popular around the world. Blends usually consist of one to four single malts as their base, and 30 to 40 grain whiskies. These components are expertly blended by the Blend Master to create Scotland's most recognized product.

Beers and Ales from Scotland are now characterized by either those produced by state-of-the art international conglomerates or those produced by smaller independent breweries using traditional methods of production.

    
Beer has been a part of Welsh life for ages, but in the mid-1800s beer drinking became even more popular. The Industrial Revolution and Wales' metal industries (tinplate production, ore smelting and steelworks) combined to provide great amounts of backbreaking labor for workers These men drank beer that was restoring and low in alcohol … it could be consumed by the pint to less negative effect than other beers with higher alcohol content. 

Blended Welsh whisky is produced and bottled in Brecon, Wales.

     

Sparkling apple drinks are often named after occupations connected with their manufacture or musical instruments such as "Sidra El Gaitero" (the bagpiper) and "La Gaita" (the bagpipe), two ciders from Asturias.

            

 

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