Women who shaped whisky history

8th March, 2019 by admin

Ellen Jane Corrigan, Bushmills

Usually listed in business correspondence as E.J. Corrigan, widow of Old Bushmills Distillery owner Patrick Corrigan, Ellen Jane Corrigan wielded great power. She co-­ran the Northern Irish distillery with James McColgan after her husband’s death, but she handled most of the business affairs while McColgan made the whiskey. Ellen Jane negotiated lease terms and ensured nobody used Bushmills’ water, protecting its sole access to a favourable supply.

When Ellen Jane took over in 1865, Bushmills was an extremely successful operation that produced around 80,000 gallons of whiskey a year and was already considered “the best Parliamentary whiskey in the north of Ireland”, according to a major general in 1830. The Fishing Gazette editor concurred: “We can safely say that Old Bushmills is unquestionably the finest Irish whiskey we have ever tasted.”

Ellen Jane turned this already successful distillery into a serious international company that produced 100,000 gallons a year. She helped introduce electricity to the distillery and fought the old guard on past business procedures.

At the time, distillers often sold unaged bulk whiskey to blenders and other distillers in need of supply. This clear liquid would have lacked the nutty and sweeter characteristics of Bushmills. However, every drop of Bushmills was barrel­-aged on the property, retaining its rich barrel flavours and colour.

When she sold Old Bushmills in 1880 for £3,000, Ellen Jane even negotiated a voting spot on the board of the new company. The board seat demonstrated her male peers’ respect in a country that typically did not offer women leadership positions. Not much else is known about Ellen Jane, but it’s interesting to think about how she would have ascended up today’s corporate hierarchy.

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