You probably guessed it: Whiskey. Oaky, grassy, brute-as-hell Irish whiskey, to be exact.
"It's such a no-brainer," James Fearnley tells me as I clink glasses with him and Spider Stacy in the backroom of Tom Bergin's Irish pub in Los Angeles. "I've been kicking myself and thinking, Why didn't we think of this earlier?"
I couldn't help but wonder the same. I'm sure the dozens of people in attendance—including actors like Thomas Lennon and Diedrich Bader, who were drinking The Pogues Whiskey like it was Fiji water—thought the same, too.
Double-fisting a shot of whiskey and pint of Guinness, I'm practically floating to them as the background tunes—led by a tin whistle—get louder.
"The nose has notes of linen, mint, raspberry, coffee, [and] caramel, and has a great minerality," Pedro Shanahan tells me as he inhales a deep whiff and closes his eyes before he takes his first sip while sitting at the U-shaped bar of Bergin's. As the "spirits guide" for 213 Hospitality group and host of Seven Grand's Whiskey Society, he's an expert on the oaky spirit, to say the least. "Well, the first sip is just to get to know you," he tells me and my bartender friend, Joshua Hernandez of Caña Rum Bar, with a grin. "You get cherries and chocolate, lots of red fruit characteristics. Like a good Irish, it is really easy-sipping but still very bold. It has a lot more barrel in it, too. It has a really creamy mouthfeel, so it'll go great with a Guinness."
He stops suddenly and then takes a big gulp of his frothy, pitch-black pint of Guinness. "Yup. I was right."
Finbarr McCarthy, a sales executive and founding family member of West Cork Distillers, was in LA for the event. He attests that The Pogues "were there every step of the way" when constructing the whiskey. The final product ended up being a 50-percent single-malt and a 50-percent five- to seven-year-old blend, making it a high-end blend in the Irish whiskey world. The Pogues were chosen for their Irish connection and punk rock values that are are synonymous with those of West Cork Distillers, which stands as one of the last independent, family-owned distilleries left in all of Ireland.
I head back to the back room where Fearnley and Stacy are calmly waiting for me on a leather sofa. Double-fisting a shot of whiskey and pint of Guinness, I'm practically floating to them as the background tunes—led by a tin whistle—get louder.
Fearnley admits that the distillers approached the band with the idea. "It's such an obvious thing to do. In a sense, we've been leading up to this whiskey for years. We're fucking musicians, for fuck's sake. While we've always drove the audience to drink with our songs, now we are going to drive drinks to the audience."
The whiskey was "a couple" of years in the making, according to both of them. "We went through a long series of tastings with everybody in the band," Stacy says.
Fearnley takes a sip and goes into a nostalgic trip. "I know a drink can be dangerous and I know that it can be abused, but back then, we just fucking went for it and we had a lot of fun with one another. My delight in the product itself is that it totally reminds me about the first time I toured in Ireland. We drank a lot of whiskey and listened to Irish music 12 hours a day."
He takes another sip and continues: "This whiskey reminds me of getting to know Shane [MacGowan] and everything he provided for me as a person. It also reminds me of getting to know how to live with people in the confines of a minivan."
After fiercely trying to keep up with Fearnley and going shot-for-shot with him as he tells me about some of the drunken woes he experienced while touring with Elvis Costello, the rest of the evening quickly turns into a blur.
I do, however, manage to catch one final sentiment of the night, murmured by Stacy: "Whiskey was totemic to us, more than it was just a fuel or anything like that. Whiskey was our spirit animal."