A Drink With… Colum Egan, Bushmills16th November, 2012 by Becky Paskin
It wasn’t always about whiskey for the Bushmills’ master distiller. Colum Egan tells Becky Paskin how breakfast cereal kickstarted his career.
You’re known as one of the greatest characters in the Irish whiskey industry.
I like to be gregarious and I’m passionate about what I do. Making whiskey is something I was born to do and that comes through. The passion I have affects other people at the distillery also. Their passion feeds into my passion and we bounce off each other.
It sounds like you really love your job?
I think I have the greatest job in the whole world. I’ve been in this role for 11 years and I’m very proud to be looking after 400 years of distilling tradition at the distillery.
Come on, there must be a downside somewhere?
The worst part of my job is leaving to go home in the evening, but I do have to go home to my family at some point – they do have to see me now and again.
So how did you get to become a master distiller?
I had various numbers of jobs, but each one gave me a skill I need to be a distiller. I did engineering roles, people roles, accountancy roles. I even went into breakfast cereal before coming to Bushmills.
Breakfast cereal? What skill did you gain from that?
I can tell you all about making breakfast cereals! There are some obvious similarities to whiskey-making in the sense that both develop your ability as a taster and noser. Also wheat reacts similarly to the barley we use to make whiskey. You can draw similar lines between them.
Where did your inspiration for Bushmills Irish Honey come from?
Irish Honey came out of left field. It was something I always had as a child with my parents when I had a cold. When the idea was floated around we thought it was perfect because it’s what we as the Irish drink at home traditionally.
There are so many honeyed whiskies out there – what sets Bushmills apart from the rest?
We add real Irish honey to Bushmills Original. I was really proud of it because I’ve tasted some other honeyed whiskies and they are too sweet and sickly, and don’t particularly taste of honey. We are the only Irish whiskey to make a honey, but I don’t think the others would come anywhere near what we do if they tried.
You’ve obviously made some good calls in your time, then. What qualities make a great master distiller?
You need to have an enthusiastic approach to life; you have to be passionate about what you do. You have to respect the past and be able to learn from it, but be able to adapt and look to the future. You have to be an innovator as well.
So, can you look into your crystal ball and tell us what you see in Irish whiskey’s future?
The future of Irish whiskey is fantastic. There are a lot of new distilleries coming out now, and all the new, different tastes and ranges will attract more people into the Irish whiskey category. I’m excited about the future; it’s looking good and I’m glad to be part of it.
The Irish are known for their toasts. What’s your favourite?
One of my favourite toasts is: “There are tall ships and long ships, there are ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, and may they always be! Slainte!