Globalisation at work – the Irish discover vodka

Growing international trade means we now enjoy food and drink from the four corners of the world.

The price of globalisation – apart from tiresome riots at meetings of the G8 and World Bank – is that no nation can truly call its products its own, and that’s no bad thing. Free international trade means that all of us are increasingly able to sample and enjoy products that individual countries used to keep for themselves.

This is especially true of food and drink, which is now genuinely international. Sushi and pizza are eaten the world over, as indeed is the hamburger, to the dismay of nutritionists everywhere, who have long fought a forlorn battle to win the world over to the cathartic, bowel-scouring joys of roughage.

Globalisation continues, however, to meet stubborn resistance from some producers, who insist that they alone are entitled to make certain goods, or, at any rate, to use the names of those goods. The Neapolitans, currently fighting to prevent others from producing pizzas with “unauthentic” toppings, are merely the latest to seek legal support for their protectionist instincts. In this they join the Scotch whisky distillers, who are periodically outraged when whisky is produced on the bonny banks and braes of Yokohama, and the French, who will pursue through the courts anyone presumptuous enough to call a fizzy wine champagne.

This is all rather unnecessary, since no one is fooled, not more than once anyway. Brandy, for example, is not a protected name, but anyone who has drunk Spanish, Greek or other versions of this brew will quickly testify – once their voice has returned – to the difference from French VSOP. Similarly, no one makes Scotch like the Scotch, and there is no substitute for real champagne. As for gin, well, the English made that their own back in Hogarthian days when you could get sky high for a farthing and six feet under for a penny; and even to this day no one makes mother’s ruin to compare with our own.

There is one spirit, however, that is truly international and a vindication of globalisation, and that is vodka. The Mexicans have tequila, the Caribbeans have white rum, the Japanese have Saki, but anyone with a handful of rotting vegetable matter has vodka. Its origins may be Russian, where the natives have long used it as an anaesthetic, first against the horrors of life under the tsars and then against the new, improved horrors of life under the Communists.

That vodka is truly international is demonstrated yet again by the arrival in the US of a new brand made in Ireland. Yes, you read that right, the Emerald Isle is the latest recruit to the international brotherhood of the knockout juice that looks like water, tastes like gasoline and mixes with just about anything apart from polite society.

The Irish brew is called Boru – after Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, whose harp symbolises the country. When you learn that Ireland had a King Brian and that he played the harp, it explains a lot of things, not least why the Irish sometimes seemed confused.

The Boru bottle has a narrow neck, possibly, it is said, following the advice of the old Irish saying, “a narrow neck keeps a bottle from being emptied in one swig”, which shows that one thing those old Irish aphorisms were not was pithy.

Fathom Communications of New York is behind the ad campaign for Boru and has chosen as its theme “Clarity from Ireland”, which may be a tongue-in-cheek way of stressing the brand’s rare quality.

Many of Fathom’s ads offer catchy comments on modern life with an Irish flavour – “a puckish sense of humour with a wink and a smile”. The agency has dubbed these sayings “Boru-isms”. For example, “Boru on rush hour: life is too short to be in a hurry.” And if that is too subtle for you, how about “Boru on cellphones: people who like to hear themselves talk rarely care how others hear them.” No? Well, try this: “Boru on patience: don’t get on the bus before it arrives and don’t get off before it stops.”

But just as you’re beginning to think that Boru must have kissed the Blarney Stone and missed, he comes up with a good one: “Boru to the man about town: may you die in bed at 95, shot by a jealous spouse.”

“The Boru-isms form feelings for the brand like it was a person,” says Mark Andrews, chairman and chief executive at Castle Brands of New York, the US importer of Boru. The sort of person, perhaps, you might wish to avoid in a crowded pub and would positively dread on an uncrowded bus.

One is reminded of the great days of the Madison Avenue liquid lunches, when account executives drank vodka martinis because they didn’t smell on the breath. The habit stopped on the orders of an agency chief executive, who insisted on a return to gin mixed with the vermouth on the grounds that he preferred its clients to think they were dealing with drunks, not idiots.

I should hastily add that mention of idiots and the Irish in the space of one article is coincidental and no inference of any kind should be drawn. On the contrary, let us congratulate the Irish on their vodka and look forward to more examples of globalisation. How about Tibetan Guinness, Trinidadian shillelaghs and Fijian little people?

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