Yesterday morning, after much holding my breathe, I was able to tour the Old Bushmills distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, home of my very favorite whiskey. I was shut out all day Friday because there was some maintenance underway that required them to cancel tours, but they were able to re-open for Saturday.
It was definitely the coolest of the alcohol-related tours I’ve been on during my travels. The distillery is quite small, but what I toured is the actual factory, not a former factory or a specialty factory or a visitor center, like other tours I’ve been on. They were really making Bushmills there, and I could smell it in the air from the moment I got out of the car. The tour guide was an old-timer who really seemed to appreciate the product, and his red nose gave the impression that maybe he’d already tied a couple on, despite the fact that it was 10 am. We first saw a short film and received an introduction to Irish whiskey, including what makes it distinct from Scotch or bourbon. We then walked past the mash tuns and the fermentation tanks, most of which were in use. We also walked among the copper pots where the distilling takes place. The warehouse where they mature the whiskey is off-limits, but we passed through the warehouse where the oak barrels are stored before they are used, where the air was filled with the aroma of what the barrels used to store, mostly wines and other whiskeys. The barrels used for regular Bushmills whiskey are actually imported from the United States, we were told, where they were previously used to mature bourbon. Then we passed through the bottling facility, which was not particularly exciting because it doesn’t operate on weekends. The tour is 50p cheaper on weekends to compensate.
Last, but certainly not least, there was a glass of whiskey included at the end of the tour. There was a choice of four whiskeys: the original Bushmills, which is a young blended whiskey; a more mature blended whiskey; a young single-malt whiskey; and a special distillery reserve, which is a more mature single-malt whiskey that’s only available at the distillery. I drink the first all the time at home, and I tried the second at a pub a couple nights earlier. I decided not to try the fourth because, if I liked it, there would be no way to try it again. So I had a glass of the third. I usually drink whiskey with a little cold water, no ice. They had pitchers of cold water on the tables, but the whiskey was so exceptionally smooth that I decided to drink it neat. I would have liked to chase it with another glass of whiskey, but I was the designated driver.