“I’ve been working on what is an immensely important project for the distillery for many years,” she says. “It’s a bold new step for us, one that not only honours the giants and generations before us at the distillery but also the spectacular natural landscape in which the whiskeys are crafted.
“We’re just a few miles down the road from the Causeway,” adds Helen, a native of Portstewart who’s now commuting to the distillery from the Rasharkin home she shares with husband Alan, an engineer, and daughter Laura (12).
“The Causeway has been a source of inspiration to Bushmills’ master distillers for centuries,” she continues. “The extraordinary hexagonal columns, each unique but perfectly locked together, form a series of steps, mirroring the distillery’s interlocked steps of triple wood maturation used in this new collection. We treasure our historic links with the Causeway and the wider Northern Ireland community and these have long shaped our approach. My aim was to create a collection of exceptional whiskeys under the new Causeway Collection brand that would showcase our links with this community in global markets.”
The world’s oldest licensed distillery, Bushmills has also chosen to differential the new whiskeys by reintroducing cask strength single malt whiskeys initially to lovers of the brand across the island of Ireland.
“With these two new exclusive releases, we celebrate our passion for single malt, showcase our rare and unique casks, and honour our 400-year north coast provenance,” Helen, who has been blending the spirit and choosing casks in which to mature it for almost 30 years, says.
A cask strength whiskey is bottled at the strength at which it’s drawn from the cask – nothing is added, and nothing is taken away. Many other malt whiskeys are diluted with water before bottling for consistency.
“The initial two exclusive Causeway Collection releases are the first cask strength Irish single malt whiskeys to be introduced by us in over 15 years,” Helen continues.
She scoured the world for unique casks in which to mature the spirit over many years. Selecting the right cask for different flavour profiles and aromas is at the heart of successful whiskey production, and her expertise and remarkable track record led to Helen being justifiably named by the influential Whisky Magazine as the first woman in its Hall of Fame, in 2018.
She’s passionate about the entire process at Bushmills, which she describes as “magical place to work”. Casks for maturing one of the two whiskeys, the Malaga, were selected by Helen around 1995, the other, the Moscatel, in 2008. Exploring different cask types, different woods, and new recipes, she says, makes Bushmills “a hugely exciting and stimulating place to be.” “We are all focused on creating premium and distinctive whiskeys with outstanding flavours for international markets.
“The 1995 Malaga cask, for example, is an excellent example of this dedication in a marketplace in which Irish whiskey has become the fastest growing brown spirit. It’s a rare single malt, aged quietly for over 10 years in Oloroso sherry butts and bourbon barrels before further maturation for an extraordinary 14 years in Malaga casks. After almost 25 years resting in oak, the triple wood maturation bestows notes of sweet spiced plum, toasted vanilla and pinches of coffee grounds on this golden spirit,” Helen explains.
“The 2008 Muscatel cask was first aged for eight years in Oloroso sherry butts and bourbon barrels, then matured in rare muscatel casks for a further four years. Permeated with wine made from the aromatic muscat grape, the muscatel cask has deep waves of flavour with luscious ripe fruit notes and a smooth sweetness.”
The exceptional nature of both whiskeys is emphasized by limited edition bottling – 1,454 of the Muscatel and 2,491 of the Malaga - and the prices reflect their exclusivity. The Malaga is priced at £390 a bottle and the Muscatel £95.
They also demonstrate the outstanding innovation which has long underpinned the world’s oldest distillery. It has won international acclaim and established Bushmills as probably our best known and most successful global brands. And it’s become a real standard bearer for Northern Ireland’s food and drink and wider economy especially in terms of global exports.
“Bushmills is all about excellence. We want to be the best we can be. While we value and respect our heritage – and will continue to do so - we are firmly focused on the future of our business,” she adds.
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