BY KAKIE URCH
If you go to to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, where Alltech President Pearse Lyons was once a master brewer, you end your tour in the Gravity Bar, rocketing to the top in a glass elevator, to the all-glass pub with a 360-degree of the city.
There, they will pour you the Guinness, rich and dark, made there forever, timed just right in the glass. And the view. You’re looking at the new Ireland post-Tiger, higher than the stalled cranes and cathedrals themselves, higher than Croke Park.
The view is so entrancing that I once sort of stumble-kicked actor Paul Rudd out of my way, without even recognizing him. Looking out over the city, it is only as afterthought that you notice the words. Etched into the glass panels, at the precise corresponding point to the city, are the words of James Joyce: “rivverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay…” And then you gasp. Because there out the window, is the river, the Liffey running through the heart of Dublin and Adam and Eve’s, the church running through the heart of Ireland and beyond, the bay. And over there is 7 Eccles Street. Words etched in glass from Ulysses. And over there is Trinity College. Words etched in glass from Dubliners.
Which is a roundabout way of saying every Irishman’s got a story and it’s all connected. And Pearse Lyons is an Irishman.
In introducing his brand-new Town Branch distillery as the newest stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Lyons invoked the story of the thing throughout the event and also obviously throughout the planning of the distillery and the spirit it makes.
“If we have to pump the water a half mile… If we have to truck the water in, so be it,” because that Lexington Town Branch water is “part of that story” of the Lexington distillery and bourbon tradition and part of the story of how the Scots-Irish of the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion were sent to Kentucky by Jefferson and used that branch water to make the whiskey.
By God, Pearse Lyons will have that Town Branch water in his flavor, as soon as his engineers figure it out. That’s what he told reporters as he concluded the tour of his $6 million distillery, the first to be built new in Lexington in more than 100 years. That water runs through Lexington like bourbon runs through its history and that water will be in the new bourbon like the Liffey is in the center of Dublin just like the story says.
The history of the Whiskey Rebellion, the fact that his family made whiskey barrels for four generations in Ireland, the story of Lexington’s distillery-rich past, the story of starting Alltech in a shed in Nicholasville and the fact that, in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger,” Sean Connery as 007 gets out of a plane at the then-Bluegrass Field and tells Pussy Galore that she is now in the heart of bourbon country and there is only one drink: “Bourbon and branch water.” Yes, Pearse Lyons told that story — his son caught the scene on TV just the other night and called him over to the set — at the announcement. And, as Lyons says,”When JR Ewing says, ‘Give
me a bourbon and branch,’ ” well it’s that tradition and that richness of a story that his new craft bourbon tells in its first, second and finishing notes.
And the Town Branch, don’t you know, is connected to the contemporary evolving legend of the Blue. Lyons told the group: “This is Title Town, right?” Home of the NCAA Men’s Basketball title winners, this year and maybe, well, riverrun….
So of course that storied team will have a “Title Town” special batch blue label bottle of Town Branch signed by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari.
Even the Visitors Center, the historic preservation of the “Icehouse” building that was once an engine room for a distillery and later the studio of photographer/writer James Baker Hall and a lively performance art space with much furtive flavor, lets Lyons tell a story.
Designed by Deirdre Lyons, the renovated center mimics a Dublin street, with the colored pub fronts named after actual Lyons’ ancestors — Eddie Byrne, Tommy Dunne — and the contractor who did the superfine work of the Icehouse renovation — McNamara’s.
Some guys, when they make it, it’s the Formula One. Other guys, the racehorses, and blessings be upon them throughout the Bluegrass. For Dr. Pearse Lyons, biochemist founder of a $700 million a year international company, it ‘s two pure copper pots from Scotland and the mystery of the 51% corn mash and limestone-rich water.
Standing in his distillery, the entrepreneurial success out of the County Louth held the Kentucky Bourbon Trail t-shirt that now features the silhouette of his own Town Branch craft bourbon….and goes into a reverie… “just to be on this shirt with the names of these distillers,” pointing to each and reciting, like a rosary, “Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Four Roses…Jim Beam.”
There is always time for a story and a sip. And there always will be.