Get Away With Fran

October 23, 2009

Whiskey dreams and Ireland

bushmills_bottles

The other night I had very unusual dreams involving Leprechauns and such that I can only credit to the fact I went to a Bushmills Irish whiskey tasting at the brand new Post 390 restaurant in Boston. I am beginning to understand why Jim Morrison was such a fan of the stuff. I did not quite hallucinate, but…

First let me admit I know very little about whiskey. I’m much more a vodka gal. But my whiskey education included learning the fact I actually rather like the Bushmill 16 year, with a little water and ice, especially when accompanying a gussied up version of meatloaf – Post 390′s is veal, beef and pork, stuffed with ham and Fontina cheese and topped with a slightly sweet Marsala sauce. Yum (and my favorite dish of the evening). But I digress.

Colum_Egan I am newly intrigued with Irish whiskey and just may have to head to Ireland to discover more. There could probably be no better guide than Colum Egan, my host at the tasting in Boston and the Master Distiller for Bushmills, every bit the Irishman down to the twinkle in his eye and his corny toasts.

 Actually, Bushmills, located in Bushmills, County Antrim, is very much on the tourist map – Egan says the distillery gets more than 140,000 visitors a year – with people interested in where whiskey comes from.

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Interestingly, Egan himself first came to Bushmills as a tourist. At the time he was dating a local girl (now his wife) and in his 20s and working at a brewery in London. He was attracted to the homeyness of the small village of about 1,500 and the smell of the barley. “The smell hits you,” he says.

He was later chosen to work with the then Master Distiller, and when he took over that role himself he became the official keeper of secrets he too will pass on some day. A few he will disclose (at least after a tasting of Bushmills Original followed by a tasting of Black Bush: the ingredients are water and barley (dried, not smoked), distilled three times.

BTW, for those who know the distillation process, yes, his given name is Colum, and yes, that’s also the name of the tall industrial stills (one of those odd coincidences).

Only about 10 people, surprisingly, work at Bushmills distillery, in the actual distillation process. The distillery produces a half million cases of whiskey a year. You wonder how Egan had time to come to Boston. The malting of the barley actually takes place in Cork, a facility shared with other producers.

Some mix the whiskey with soda. Some with ginger ale. Egan says use Coke if you want, he’s not bothered. The 16-year I favored is aged half in oak barrels that were previously used for bourbon and half in oak barrels previously used for sherry. And then it goes into casks previously used for port for another 6 to 9 months. Eagan tastes it every day and the second it reaches maturity it’s bottled.

It’s a “special occasion” whiskey, with a chocolate fragrance, maybe a little almond too and a warm finish on the throat that will be perfect for the upcoming cool-weather season, and great to sip while listening to The Doors. The retail price is about $60 per bottle.

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