Thursday, December 9, 2010

In Conversation with > Helen Mulholland, Bushmills Master Blender

Helen Mulholland, Master Distiller for Bushmills Irish WhiskeyRecently we had the pleasure of meeting Helen Mulholland, Master Blender for Bushmills Irish Whiskey, at the London launch of their new premium packaging for their 10, 16 and 21 year old whiskies.

Bushmills is named after, and located in, the quiet town of Bushmills on the County Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. The distillery is located remarkably close to the famous Giant’s Causeway which is one of Ireland’s most well-known tourist attractions. Bushmills holds the oldest distillery license in Ireland (since 1608). A remarkable fact that the new packaging was created to celebrate, along with the distillery’s trademark pot still.

As we rarely get the opportunity to chat with a renowned Master Blender, and certainly not in the cosy depths of a central London bar with a glass of her whiskey in hand, we decided to grab a few minutes of her time to ask a question or two.

“How did Helen gain the prestigious title of Master Blender?”

In a similar way to all good Master Blenders, Helen worked her way into the position through years of hard work and dedication. She began working with Bushmills in the lab on a student placement that lasted 6 months. After this relatively short time, she headed off to complete her Master’s degree after which time she returned back to Bushmills. After Diageo acquired Bushmills in 2005 the role of blender was created, and with a number of years having learnt the trade of whiskey making inside and out, Helen was chosen as the woman for the job.

“What makes Bushmills so special for Helen?”

Without a second thought Helen replied “Bushmills is a place that is alive and breathing.” She clarified this by saying that every part of the whiskey making process happens on site, including bottling. They are also in the rare position of having their own Cooper on site. She feels that the team that works so hard to make the whiskey is one large family and that the malts produced feel like their children. As each malt is made and matured using natural ingredients and elements, this allows the magic of personality to form. Unrepeatable combinations of grain, water, yeast, wood for the cask, and the local climate in the warehouse, allows each cask of whiskey to develop its own unique character.

While you may expect a Master Blender would say something similar to this, Helen’s eyes light up when she talks about the team that work with her and the whiskies they produce so you quickly realise this is a woman who is proud and passionate about her job and the distilleries heritage.

“How would Helen describe the whiskey to beginners?”

Helen believes that Bushmills makes whiskies for people to enjoy – a range of whiskey that is very approachable and offers something for everyone. A sentiment that we heartily embrace. Bushmills produce a range of whiskies that apologetically aim a diverse audience while maintaining the characteristic fruity smoothness that comes with triple distillation. Their various whiskies respond well with the infinite ways that people chose to enjoy their whiskey - straight, with water, with ice, with a mixer, and more. Helen chose to prove this point in a rather unexpected manner by handing us each a glass of frozen (yes frozen!) Bushmills 10 year old single malt. This was not what either of us has anticipated. What an experience though. Freezing cold, the whiskey took on a completely different personality. It became noticeably more viscous and mouth-coating, sweet but not cloying, and took on an enhanced note of honey, something akin to a really impressive liqueur. In short, we both found it absolutely delicious and refreshing.

"Does Helen have any cool facts about Bushmills?"

Both are us are big geeks when it comes to bits of trivia that are not widely known, so we had the perfect opportunity to find a few pub quiz style facts about Bushmills. Helen was happy to provide. Bushmills is one of the most visited distilleries in the UK with over 100,000 visitors per year. We guessed this most likely has something to do with the distillery's close proximity to the famous Giants Causeway that 'links' Ireland to Scotland in folklore. We didn't realise just how close. The distillery, in fact, shares a boundary with the World Heritage (UNESCO) Site within which the Giant' Causeway is located. Not bad facts at all.

We really must thank Helen for the time she spent with us and her genuine passion for Bushmills distillery and its whiskies. We had a thoroughly inspiring and enjoyable evening.

If you are planning a trip to visit Bushmills and witness Helen's hardwork in action, arrange a tour with the distillery ( but do make sure you visit the Giant's Causeway ( while you are there.

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