Our Ireland trip got off to the metaphorical flying start after the literal flying start (courtesy of FlyBe – a nice, quick and no-fuss flight from Exeter to Belfast George Best) after grabbing a hire car and heading off to the Old Bushmills’ Distillery for a tour of their facility.
Now, being transparent on this one, I wasn’t sure what to expect, nor was I certain I’d enjoy it. Certainly Ross was beyond sceptical and I thought that Grace would be bored. In the lead-up to this, Ross mentioned (on more than one occasion) that the one alcohol plant tour he’d been on before – the Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire – was amongst the most boring experiences of his life. So none of us went in with high expectations.
However, we were very pleasantly surprised – the tour was engaging, informative, didn’t outstay its welcome and, because of that combination, was very enjoyable indeed.
Unfortunately I can’t put up any photos of the inside of the distillery because we weren’t allowed to take any. Apparently the combination of strong alcohol fumes and photographic electronics can lead to rather large and messy explosions… so best avoided, I guess!
The tour was led by an engaging and well informed young lady who knew her stuff back to front – this wasn’t a “from the script” talk with nothing more, she was able to field any and all questions put to her and she did it with aplomb.
The groups are kept small and leave regularly – a new group leaves every 15 minutes so nobody will have to wait for long to get going. In our group, there were a total of ten people so it wasn’t crowded or claustrophobic and everybody had a chance to interact with the guide and have their questions answered.
What You See
There were seven or eight different areas of the distillery to see and we didn’t linger in any of them so long that it got boring. The tour organisers seem to understand that looking at heavy machinery can only remain interesting for so long and keep the pace brisk without rushing – as a result, they never ‘lose’ the audience.
There are some lovely stories told by the guide about the genesis of their product and some fascinating insights into the process – including a story about the “Angel’s share”, which was probably our favourite story!
By the end of the tour, it’s clear why Whiskey (good whiskey, at least!) costs more in comparison to other alcoholic beverages. The amount of work and time that goes into creating a good tipple is impressive and under-understood. When I next raise a glass of the amber stuff, I’ll certainly have more respect for what went into it.
Well, I say “when I next raise a glass” but truth is that I raised several glasses after the tour as I got to enjoy (and I definitely mean enjoy!) the Bushmills Whiskey Tasting experience.
The Tasting Experience
The tasting experience (over 18’s only – but they were kind enough to provide Grace with soft drinks) allows you to sample all of the Bushmills products – the original and Black Bush, two blended whiskeys, then the single malts – aged 10, 12, 16 and 21 years respectively. We also got to try a honey whiskey, aimed at sub-25 year old drinkers (an “entry-level” whiskey) and a rather medicinal hot toddy (which was excellent and I could see being very helpful to ward off a cold!). Alongside these drinks were glasses of competing whiskeys for comparison – without wishing to name them, I will say that one was a Scottish blended whiskey and the other was an American bourbon whiskey and both are VERY popular. The Bushmills staff were evidently very confident in their product to put them up against those as a taste test…
And you know what? They were absolutely right to be confident. Having tried their products, I’m now a Bushmills convert (and Ross even moreso!). “Blended whiskey” is often a term which is looked down upon by connoisseurs and yet there are very different types of blend. Bushmills blends two or three whiskeys to get their mixed blend products. Other brands sometimes blend up to THIRTY. So it’s like comparing chalk and cheese on that count. Both of the Bushmills blended were smooth and pleasant – in fact, Ross’ second favourite of all the whiskeys was the Black Bush.
The most interesting taste test came when we sampled a little of the Bushmills blended whiskey and then had a sip of the American and the Scottish whiskey directly afterwards. The American whiskey didn’t follow the Bushmills’ particularly well but the Scottish blended whiskey, directly after a Bushmills, was honestly like drinking dishwater. Utterly horrible.
Horrible, however, is definitely not a term to apply to the Bushmills single malts – the 10 year old offers a great taste for the cost and, if you’re feeling flush, the 16 and 21 year olds are outstanding whiskeys. I’d say there’s not much to choose from between them in terms of taste. And, on top of this, there’s a 12 year old that they only sell on site at the Bushmills distillery, so we were able to taste that – superb. Smooth, complex and deep, I’d say in my best knowledgeable whiskey drinker voice. Probably comes better from Ross – who was impressed enough with it he put his hand in his pocket and bought a bottle for £36. The quality certainly justifies the price tag.
When you next visit Ireland, if you’ve enjoyed a whiskey or two in your time, I’d definitely recommend popping along to the Bushmills distillery. It’s an enjoyable tour with a good finish (look at me using whiskey terminology!) which won’t take up your whole day – even if the excellent bar and restaurant at the end of the tour does warrant lingering over like a good glass of Bushmills!
Disclosure: We were provided with this tour by the kind people at Bushmills Distillery in conjunction with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. Please note that all words, images and opinions have been formed by the owner of this blog and have not been influenced in any way. Please do not reproduce any of the content or images on this post without prior agreement from Victoria Visits.