Hell-Cat Maggie Irish Whiskey by Joseph Johnston

On a bit of a whiskey world tour for my annual birthday bender. Started a week ago with some J&B scotch then switched mid-week to my standard kitchen bourbon and finally went to pick up some Jameson last night but my liquor jerk talked me into this instead. It’s not Protestant whiskey and it certainly isn’t Catholic whiskey, so what kind of whiskey is this? Hell-Cat Maggie is named after the legendary Five Points New York City criminal of the same name, an early member of the Dead Rabbits gang and immortalized in the movie Gangs of New York as the bad ass who filed her teeth to points. Let’s take a look under the hood, shall we?

COLOR: Little bit darker than your standard Irish whiskey, dark amber and rich honey. I’m wondering if it’s artificial.

NOSE: Pretty sharp and rubbing-alcohol-ish. It smells like a little bit like a hangover and a lot bit like an ad agency.

BODY: Certainly not hack-ish. There’s a bit of flavor here, but nothing beyond what my Catholic brethren and Protestant cousins have been giving me since I started down these roggling roads. There’s much here to make me carry on and carouse and predict the weather, but none of it feels legitimate. I feel a bit had. Looking more closely at the heavily art-directed label I see it is billing itself as a “unique blend of the finest Irish craftsmanship and American know-how.” Alright, what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Sounds a bit like the whole Shinola Detroit marketing scam. Shinola makes rich-people bikes and watches in Detroit but that’s only because of market research. The former chair of Fossil watches wanted a new brand so he focused-grouped the sale of pencils stamped with various phrases like “Made in USA” and “Made in Brooklyn” and “Made in Detroit” and discovered that the pencils stamped with “Made in Detroit” were able to be sold for a higher price than any other phrase so BOOM he invents this mystique and markets these rich-people products out of a city that could certainly use some exploitation. Billed as authentic; is nothing close to authentic.

It was difficult to find any info on the provenance of Hell-Cat Maggie whiskey. No distillery listed; just an Irish county. Finally I stumbled upon an article from some advertising trade magazine that spelled it all out: a liquor distributor from Minnesota wanted a new Irish whiskey and hired a hot-shot ad agency in Chicago to come up with one. And they focused-grouped a name and a label and then got around to actually coming up with a spirit to put inside. This dram is fourteen kinds of pure, Irish HOGWASH! It’s probably two pipettes of Irish whiskey dropped into restaurant-grade industrial whiskey with food coloring added.

FINISH: I’m all kinds of pissed is what this finish is! Pissed I pissed away money I could have laid down on Bushmills or Jameson! Pissed that this whole whiskey renaissance is all man-behind-the-curtain and no wiz! It takes years to develop decent spirits. At least three by law and at least ten by custom. Will the whiskey fad still be there when the real McCoy now aging slowly is ready to drink, or will our ad agencies have moved us on toward “new and exciting directions in tequila?” Stay away from the gimmicks. Distrust your local liquor jerk. Follow your instincts. How’s that for a finish?



Joseph Johnston is a writer and filmmaker from Detroit. His prose, poetry, and video literature have appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Old Northwest Review, Arcadia, and Iron Horse Literary Review. He is currently working on a documentary about the history of boxing in Detroit and is probably tipping back a dram. You can keep up with him here.