BC Yes. My father worked as a distiller all his life. He started out in the Cork City Distillery, which made Cork Dry Gin and then moved to become Head Distiller at the ‘Old’ Midleton Distillery. Only when this distillery closed in 1975 did he retire. As you know, the old distillery is now The Jameson Heritage Centre. When the
building of the present Midleton Distillery started in 1973 I was closely involved in the commissioning work.
CM What was the thinking behind building a huge new distillery at Midleton?
BC The Irish Distillers Group came into being in 1966, when the few surviving family firms (principally Jameson’s, Power’s and Cork
Distilleries) decided to combine resources to fight for a share of the world whisky market which, by this time, was dominated by Scotch. I say ‘by this time’ because 100 years before this the market was dominated by Irish whiskey! In the 1960s, the Irish government was keen to boost exports – a trade agreement with the UK in the mid-60s was the first sign of a wish to encourage free trade. Irish Distillers were quick to take advantage of this new openness. Market research into the image of Irish whiskey suggested that traditional whiskey was too ‘heavy’ for the international palate. To win market share we had to make it more accessible. This demanded a close look at plant, distilling regimes and wood policy – in truth, the brewing and distilling equipment hadn’t really changed much since the 1820s, although continuous column stills had been installed at the old distillery at Midleton distillery in 1963/64.
CM Wasn’t this a betrayal of those who loved traditional Irish whiskey?
BC Don’t get me wrong. The changes did not take place over-night. There were warehouses full of old style whiskey available to us. Even today we produce whiskey which is distilled in precisely the same way as it was in the old days. Indeed, though technically similar, the process control is better and maturation conditions are also far better: we take much greater pains with our wood selection policy. As a matter of fact, our ‘super premium’ whiskeys rely upon matching the lessons learned from the past with the benefits of control and wood selection. This is reflected in the success of Redbreast 12 or Jameson 12 and 15-years-old – all Pure Pot Still whiskeys in the traditional Irish style.
CM But how do you manage to create 30 different brands of whiskey from one distillery?
BC By varying the mash-bills, by using a combination of pot and column stills, by varying the fractionation points and by filling into different woods. We have four large pot stills (all 750 HL capacity): the first two are wash stills, there is a secondary feints still and the fourth is the spirit still. We also have five column stills for continuous distillation. Two are wash columns (analyser) and one is a rectifier. The other two are part of an extractive distillation process: the first (beer column) enables the separation of ‘high wines’ from a mash of malted barley and maize or wheat, the second (extractive distillation column) separates and removes higher alcohols by a process of extraction. In the final column (the E.D.rectifier), which has 76 trays, the potable feed alcohol is rectified and distilled to a strength of 94.5%vol. Three types of grain whiskey are currently distilled. The columns are also used to distil grain neutral spirit. The flexibility of the pot still regime embraces mashes of malted and un-malted barley in pre-selected ptoportions. The three stage pot still distillation process allows ample opportunity to select individual
fractions at each stage of the sequence. Distillation rate and cut off points all combine to enable the distillation of different favoured pot still distillates. Currently there are nine different combinations within three broad categories of flavour: light, medium and heavy. In some cases the pot stills are used in conjunction with the column stills, enabling further refinement of fractions, as required. We mature in a combination of first-fill ex-Bourbon casks, first-fill oloroso sherry butts and re-fill casks, and also occasionally in Port pipes and Madeira casks. A proportion of sherry-matured whiskey is an essential element in the Jameson range.