Interview

Island life

We send some of the whisky world’s great and good to a desert island. What will they decide to take with them?
By Greg Dillon
Michael Cowman is the business development manager and brand ambassador for Hi-Spirits Ireland. Before he was sent off to our desert island he told us, “Whiskey for me is all about the memories... My immense love for the spirit alongside the craft and nuance behind it is the reason I got in to the industry. Each whisky on this list holds a truly special place in my memory.”

Whiskey #1
Jameson 12 Years Old
No list for me would ever be complete without this bottle which really started everything for me. In my former life, as a naval officer, I spent four months attached to an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of miles from home on Christmas day, I reached for the only reminder of Ireland that I had – a bottle of Jameson 12, which was shared between friends. The rich pot still spices and light grain influences create those striking vanilla. At the time, I certainly didn’t think deeply about the tasting notes, the history of the distillery or the craft on that first sip, but I knew I’d found something special.

Whisky #2
Ardbeg Alligator Committee Release
While sitting in a friend’s whisky cellar in Johannesburg, I was treated to an extraordinary line-up, but this stood head and shoulders above the rest. The combination of barbeque, coffee and ginger provides an explosion of flavour on the palate. Surprisingly perhaps for an Irishman, I do occasionally dabble in peat and this bottle is right at the top of my list. My year in South Africa
gave me exposure to many amazing native whiskies.

Whisky #3
Three Ships 15 Years Old Pinotage Cask
The James Sedgwick Distillery is right at the forefront of world whisky. My first sip of this was at the amazing Whisky Bros bar in Johannesburg. The 15-year-old Pinotage cask stands out to me as the truest expression of the country, as Pinotage is a South African grape varietal. Tropical fruits, the earthiness you’d expect from Pinotage and a hint of cherries on the finish – this highlights how exciting whiskies from new whisky regions can be.

Whiskey #4
Bushmills 21 Years Old
Now, let’s get back to my true love – Irish whiskey! Bushmills is one of the most storied distilleries in Ireland. The height of the stills in the distillery give a lovely light, sweet spirit, which is undoubtedly accentuated by its final years marrying the Bourbon and Oloroso sherry components in Madeira oak. I sat drinking this taoscán looking out across the Atlantic Ocean in Salthill Co. Galway whilst making a life-long pact with a navy buddy that wherever life took us, we would meet once a year to drink whiskey and fix the problems of the world.

Whiskey #5
Redbreast 32 Years Old Dream Cask
This is the single best whiskey I’ve ever had the honour of tasting. Single pot still Irish whiskey and the Midleton distillery are the reasons I really fell in love with the spirit and subsequently made the decision to focus my career on preaching the gospel of Irish whiskey. This expression was specially selected by master blender, Billy Leighton as his favourite cask in the entire distillery – it really is something spectacular. Redbreast is a brand that is defined by its Oloroso sherry character, which corresponds with the depth of flavour and complexity unrivalled by anything I’ve had before. Menthol, exotic fruits, almonds, dark chocolate and a hint of barley make this whiskey truly amazing. This whiskey represents so much for me, it celebrates the immense history of Irish whiskey, but also gives a glimpse at what’s possible in the future. This is the Irish whiskey renaissance and long may it continue.

A brief final luxury
I think the one item I’d bring would be my beard trimming kit, left alone on an island nobody wants to wind up looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway, so I think I’d bring the trimmer so that I look respectable whenever pirates come to visit, or mermaids… or whomever…