Bushmills Irish whiskey master distiller, Colum Egan, delivers a masterclass for those not yet initiated into the joys of this versatile spirit.
Colum Egan was born to be a whiskey maker. He grew up in the heartland of Ireland’s barley-growing country where he was surrounded by the golden grain from which all great Irish whiskey is made. Today, he has what he calls his ‘dream job’ in charge of The Old Bushmills Distillery on NI’s rugged north coast.
It’s his role to ensure that Bushmills’ centuries-old reputation for crafting the finest quality whiskeys of distinctive character is known across the world. He travels the globe to educate and entertain whiskey-lovers and introduce them to Bushmills triple-distilled single malt Irish whiskeys and blends. He has become a recognised voice of Irish whiskey, playing a major role in encouraging its growing appreciation around the world. Here, he takes us through his top tips for learning how to master the craft of Irish whiskey drinking.
First thing’s first, what is Irish whiskey? What is the difference between Irish whiskey and bourbon or Scotch?
Generally speaking, Scotch is distilled twice and bourbon once whereas Bushmills Irish Whiskey is distilled three times, producing a smoother spirit.
Bushmills is made at The Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery where we only use malted barley which is unpeated. This means it’s dried with hot air rather than peat fire, which frees it from the smoky flavour sometimes found in other whiskeys such as Scotch and bourbon. The copper stills we use, which are relatively small with tall, slender necks, produce the elegant spirit we’re famous for.
When tasting a whiskey, what should I look for?
A nice glass always adds to the whiskey-tasting experience. You should look out for a light glass with no lip; the thin glass wall adds to your tasting experience. When it comes to tasting, smell and aroma are crucial, as we actually taste more with our nose than with our palette.
Taste is of course also important, so I recommend sipping your whiskey to savour the flavour. With Irish whiskey, you don’t need to fight the smokiness often associated with the first sip of Scotch or bourbon.
Our premium whiskey tastings take fans on a journey of discernment from Bushmills Original, with its rich, characterful taste of fresh fruit and vanilla right through to our rare Bushmills 21-Year-Old Single Malt, famous for its intense and luxurious flavours.
What’s the difference between a blended whiskey and a single malt whiskey, and which should I try first?
A single malt whiskey is seen as the most premium and best whiskey because it is made with 100 per cent malted barley and is, therefore, very pleasing to the palette. It’s a really enjoyable whiskey.
Blended whiskey is equally as enjoyable and is very versatile – it works very well with a mixer and is perfect for cocktails.
Different whiskeys will suit different occasions, so it’s important to match the whiskey to the moment in time.
What is the best way to drink whiskey? Neat, on the rocks or with a mixer?
I believe that the best way to drink whiskey is the way you most enjoy it and how you are feeling in the moment.
It is perfectly acceptable to drink whiskey in a cocktail or with a mixer or enjoy a single malt neat or over ice. It is important to match the whiskey to the occasion.
Are cocktails a good way to experiment with and try more whiskeys? What whiskey cocktails would you recommend?
Yes absolutely – there are many lovely cocktails out there which are particularly delicious when made with Bushmills Irish Whiskey. My personal favourite is a Black Bush Old Fashioned or Whiskey Sour. A Whiskey Sour is a mixed drink with whiskey, lemon juice, sugar and if you’re feeling it, a dash of egg white. This is also a great option for someone beginning to drink whiskey for the first time.
How much does age matter when it comes to whiskey?
Age really does matter, as the longer the whiskey is in the barrel, the longer it has to interact with the wood and the air. These interactions lead to new flavours and characters and increase the complexity of the whiskey.
Does whiskey age in the bottle in the same way that wine does?
No, whiskey does not age when bottled. This is great as it means that the high quality of the whiskey remains constant throughout its time in the bottle.
Our whiskey is bottled under perfect conditions and this great taste and quality does not change once bottled.
How long will a bottle of whiskey last once opened?
Whiskey will last for a long time once opened. I would recommend keeping the bottle out of sunlight with the cap firmly in place.
Should you always look for the most expensive bottle?
This really depends. Single malts are aged for longer and are, therefore, naturally a more expensive and premium whiskey. However, at Bushmills we have many fine whiskeys to suit every palette and budget.
Do you have a favourite Bushmills whiskey?
I really enjoy a Bushmills Original on the Giant’s Causeway as the sun is going down. This is the perfect moment in time for me. It’s the best way to celebrate thousands of years of natural perfection and over 400 years of Bushmills whiskey craft.
What makes the Bushmills range the perfect whiskeys for broadening your experience and discovering something different?
Bushmills has a whiskey to match every palette, every taste and every occasion.
If you’re relatively new to whiskey, our Bushmills Original is a great introductory whiskey due to its delicate and exceptionally smooth and balanced flavour.
Alternatively, if you are seeking a whiskey for that special moment in your life or to mark an occasion, our Bushmills 21-Year-Old Single Malt is the perfect choice.