Well that was a day. Just sat down on a flight five minutes before boarding closed, five minutes after arriving at the airport. My cousin and I had planned to drive just out of Belfast to see the Giant Causeway. Around an hour and twenty minutes’ drive each way. We left around midday and had a flight to catch at 6. Well, y’know, where there’s a causewill…
There was a distillery close to the causeway where my cousin suggested stopping off for a tour. Bushmills, purveyors of fine old Irish whiskey. Of course I agreed ’cause, well, have you met me? Before the tour they settled us down in a waiting room with complimentary hot toddies. My cousin didn’t really want to drink before getting back in front of the wheel so I did the hard yards of double duty for the two of us. Somebody had to.
We went through the tour with a helpful guide. She told us about each process as we walked the factory. Let’s see how terrible my recollection/scientific knowledge is, shall we? Apparently making Scottish whiskey involves toasting the barley (which I’m sure would make Don Draper most proud), whereas Irish doesn’t. One reason that Scottish whiskey has distinct smokey taste. From mashing the barley, separating the fibrous outer casing from the nutrients inside. The casing is then used to make animal feed. The rest is fermented in these massive copper drums that hold 60,000 litres each, before being moved on towards distillation.
Is it distilled once? Nay. Twice? Nay, unlike that Scottish whiskey (the guide cheerfully explained, without entirely hiding the derision from her voice). Irish whiskey is distilled three times. Each time the alcohol content rises, since distillation essentially separates the alcohol from the water. Why? Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it rises as steam and is separated, before being reconstituted as a liquid. After being distilled, it’s put into casks and matured over a number of years. Three years, five years, ten, twelve, eighteen, twenty one. Bushmills uses different types of casks to enrich the flavour depending on which. There are old bourbon barrels, port, and something else I forgot. Let’s blame the double hot toddies, or double whiskeys I had at the end. As it ages there’s an evaporation of about 2% that’s widely known as the “angel’s share”. A process that occurs from the spirit soaking into the porous wooden casks. Those barrels giveth as they taketh away. We were then moved into the bottling factory which, due to it being a weekend, was not in operation. So instead we were treated to a Sesame Street “how it’s made” video that was just missing the snazzy brass accompaniment.
Sitting down to trial the whiskey, my cousin posited that we might not have room to visit this so called eighth wonder of the world. We sighed and nipped off to have lunch in a local pub. Stopping off in one bar that served no hot food, for some unknown reason we took a recommendation from some old codger to check out Molly’s in Ballymena. You know what? He was right. Though we were in a hurry, Molly’s was fucking great. Ordering a steak and chicken sandwich apiece found us with a sturdy slice of bread topped with well cooked, flavoured meat, lightly fried onions, mushrooms, with a thin wedge of blue cheese and sumptuous gravy. We wolfed them the fuck down and sped back to the airport, with an hour to fill up and make a 45 minute drive, or else wait three hours for the next one.
Well, you know the rest. No causeway, but heaps of causewill.