Bushmills recently launched brand new packaging for their standard range. We caught up with Helen MulHolland, the Master Blender at Bushmills…
MoM: First off, let’s talk about the new packaging for the range, we must say it looks stunning, what was the thinking behind the revamp…
HM: Thanks – I think that it looks stunning too! At BUSHMILLS we are always looking to stay with the times and refine both our product and our offering. We felt that it was time to refresh our look and focus on the future of this fantastic brand, while at the same time celebrating the heritage and quality that is integral to BUSHMILLS.
MoM: Will there be any other redesigns/revamps going on at the Bushmills camp?
HM: Well, we’ve have just renewed our entire range, so no immediate plans for other revamps. Last year Original and Black Bush were given a new look as part of a £1.75 million spend by Diageo. The Single Malts got their stunning new look this year. The rebranded 10 Year Old Single Malt went on sale back in August, 16 year old hit the shelves in October and the new look 21 year old went on sale just last month. We hope that this redesign will drive awareness of our award winning liquid. Irish whiskey at the moment is the fastest growing International spirits category.
MoM: At Bushmills, you’ve got a very rigorous cask selection process, (some £800,000 a year is invested in casks), how and where do you go about selecting your casks?
HM: Our cask selection is incredibly rigorous with an annual budget spend of £3million, as only the finest casks are allowed to mature our whiskey. The spring of each year signals the start of the selection for the Sherry, Port and Madeira casks. Annually, I travel to our chosen bodega’s in Jerez to select the Olorosso sherry. It matures in our new oak casks for up to three years. While I am there I monitor how the maturation of the previous year’s casks is progressing. I go to Porto to select the oak which is crafted into our specific cask type and select the tawny port that provides the finish to the 16 Year Old Single Malt. Finally, I spend time in Madeira selecting the rich fruity wine that gives the 21 Year Old Single Malt that final piece of extra luxury.
MoM: Are there any other exciting releases in the pipeline?
HM: A lady never tells…
MoM: Tell us about the process of creating new whiskeys from scratch…
HM: This is my favourite part of the job. A request for a new whiskey will come from within the Distillery itself or the Bushmills Brand Team. As soon as I receive this information the excitement starts to build. The whiskey produced by The Old Bushmills Distillery must fulfill all parts of the brief and take on its own distinctive personality. It also must reflect the character of Bushmills itself. Decisions have to be made on whether it is to be a blended whiskey or an aged malt. Other choices have to be made about the cask profiles and ages. We need to ensure that each cask works in harmony. We make numerous visits to the warehouses to awaken the sleeping spirit. The final decisions are made on composition, strength and packaging and the new whiskey is born. Behind all this is the hope that the new whiskey is enjoyed by many people.
MoM: For someone who’s never tried Bushmills, what would you suggest as a prime example from the range?
HM: Bushmills has a whiskey to suit everyone – like Bushmills Original with its fresh fruit and vanilla hues, or Black Bush with its deep sherry rich dried fruit tones. The Single Malts also have their own distinct character. The 10 year old has a honey sweetness, the complex 16 year old has dark chocolate notes and our 21 year old Single Malt has a praline, toffee sweetness.
MoM: You’re the first female Master Blender at Bushmills, how did you start working at the distillery?
HM: I first joined the Old Bushmills Distillery as part of an industrial placement whilst studying Food Technology and spent six months working in the laboratory. The magical mixture of the science of distilling combined with the art of maturation drew me in. I continued my education with a Masters Degree. My thesis was based on the maturation of whiskey in wood and following that I returned to Bushmills. Twelve years later I was delighted to become the Master Blender, the first female to hold the position in Bushmills and indeed within the Irish whiskey industry.
MoM: Do you have any tips for any would be whiskey makers out there looking to get into the industry?
HM: I firmly believe that the drinks industry is one of the finest industries to work in and my only tips would be to work hard, take every chance given to you and realise that you never stop learning.
MoM: How do you drink your whiskey?
HM: I drink my malt whiskies with a small amount of water added to release the flavours. I also enjoy BUSHMILLS 10 Year Old Single Malt with its bottle cooled in an ice bucket.
MoM: And have you a favourite whiskey/food pairing?
HM: BUSHMILLS 16 Year Old Single Malt with milk chocolate
MoM: Do you have any desert island whiskeys/whiskies?
HM: BUSHMILLS 10 Year Old Single Malt as it is so versatile.
MoM: Helen, thank you very much!
– The Chaps at Master of Malt –