When it comes to tradition, Northern Ireland's Bushmills distillery has it in spades. Claiming whiskey-making origins dating from 1608 no less, the County Antrim distillery - which produces two blends and three aged triple-distilled single malts has a back story many Scottish rivals would kill for.
But tradition alone does not sell whiskey, or at least usually not in sufficient quantities, so the Diageo-owned Bushmills brand has chosen to associate itself with a younger, music-orientated consumer group, while still holding its venerable heritage dear. So it was that on a warm day in June, the distillery close to the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site became a music festival venue for the third year in a row.
'Bushmills Live' played host to some 700 music and whiskey aficionados from all over the world, but none paid for admission to the event. What were described as 'money can't buy' tickets were only available to those who entered a draw on Bushmills' Facebook page, and the crowd that gathered included festival-goers from as far afield as the USA, Bulgaria, Portugal and Russia.
Excellent music was accompanied by fine food and drink, and a novelty feature of the day was the presence of the world's largest barrel oak headphones, designed by Hollywood star Elijah Wood and his friend and DJ partner Zach Cowie.
The headphones in question were made by two local craftsmen using almost a dozen Bushmills' whiskey barrels. Standing more than 10 feet high, they formed a focal point for the music of past and present Bushmills Live artists, which was played through them during the festival.
The afternoon and early evening saw mainly acoustic and lower key sets by a number of performers including James Vincent McMorrow and David C Clements, while the high octane musical excitement was provided by Tired Pony and The 1975, more used to playing to audiences of thousands than in the historic buildings of an Irish distillery.
Tired Pony, the 'super-group' developed by Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, and featuring REM's Peter Buck and Richard Colburn from Belle & Sebastian, as well as fellow Snow Patrolman Nathan Connolly, proved a huge favourite with the crowd.
The morning after the event, Gary Lightbody explained that "Last night was Tired Pony's first gig in Ireland and it was unlike any other gig we've played before. The atmosphere was great." Meanwhile, breakthrough British band and festival headliners The !975 had the crowd bopping along to their infectiously catchy tunes before time was finally called on the festivities.
Bushmills' Master Blender Colum Egan declared that "Bushmills Live 2014 was a great success. I was looking around and everywhere people were smiling and having a great time, enjoying the wonderful music and the exceptional whiskey - in moderation, of course. The 1975 and Tired Pony were sensational and it was fantastic to continue to provide a platform for up-and-coming talent. The atmosphere backstage was like an old school reunion with so many friends of the festival in attendance - the craic was brilliant!"
Highland Park delves into its Dark Origins for major new release
Establishing a secret bunker in the hills of High Park in Orkney, Magnus 'Mansie' Eunson became a famed dark distiller back in the late 1700s, creating whisky for the people of Orkney to offer relief from the villainy of the tax collector. By day he worked tirelessly in his church providing spiritual guidance to the people of Orkney, but in the dead of night, he hand crafted what was to ultimately become the best spirit in the world, warming hearts and uniting all who tasted it.
Dark Origins, a stunning, non-chill filtered single malt with an ABV of 46.8%, will start to appear on shelves in July and roll out internationally throughout the autumn 2014.
It uses twice as many first fill sherry casks than in the classic Highland Park 12 year old resulting in a naturally darker, richer flavour with sherried spice, a chocolate twist and the signature sweet smoke fans of the Orcadian elixir have come to know and love.
Highland Park is one of the few distilleries not using distiller's caramel and so Dark Origins takes its natural colour from the interaction between spirit and cask which Highland Park believes consistently rate amongst the best casks in whisky.
Gerry Tosh, Global Marketing Manager, said: "Cask management is so very crucial to our work at Highland Park. We have strived to raise the bar, working tirelessly in sourcing the right wood and then working and finessing the balances to ensure we create single malt that is rich, warm and enticing in flavour. Dark Origins sits in the heart of our core range complimenting them perfectly - distinct in itself, but always and forever a classic Highland Park."
Colour: Rich mahogany
Nose: Sherried spice and ripe bananas combine with toasted hazelnuts and baked apple
Palate: Well-balanced, dry peat at first mellowing out to maraschino cherries, warm dark chocolate entices the palate
Finish: Enduring sweet smoke
Dark Origins will be exclusively available from Harrods from 1 July - 14 July at an RRP of £64.95. It will be available from specialist independent whisky retailers, at the Highland Park distillery and www.highlandpark.co.uk thereafter.
To learn more you can follow us on www.facebook.com/HighlandParkWhisky, on Twitter @HighlandPark and on Instagram on @highlandparkofficial
About Highland Park
Established in 1798 on Orkney, Highland Park is one of the most remote Scotch whisky distilleries in the world. For over 200 years, the distillery has combined time old tradition and the very best craftsmanship to achieve perfection. Its range of 12, 15, 18, 21, 25, 30 and 40 year old single malts is consistently acclaimed by connoisseurs and experts. Highland Park has won a string of prestigious awards across its portfolio, most recently including a category winner at the 2011 World Whisky Awards.
New Distillery at Ballindalloch
What is being described as Scotland's first Single Estate distillery is being built on the beautiful grounds of Ballindalloch Castle. This has been the family home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546 and the family have taken a hands on approach to the whole project. They see the distillery as being an extension of the estate and the dramatic 'Long Gallery' has a baronial character to the construction and decor.
The distillery is in the final stages of construction with production due to start by the end of July, in the capable hands of Charlie Smith. Concerto barley grown on estate land will be malted by Bairds, with the process and cooling water being drawn from the Garline Springs behind the site. The four washbacks and two stills are carefully fitted into the L shaped space of an old steading. Two handsome wooden worm tubs grace the front of the building and a spirit safe was gifted from local Cragganmore distillery.
The family had a few casks of Cragganmore laid down so guests will be able to enjoy a dram after their tour as it will be around eight to ten years before they anticipate being in a position to bottle.
The distillery is open, by appointment only, for visits by groups of up to 6 guests. Visits are available from Monday to Friday and prices start from £30 per guest.
Contact Brian Robinson, Distillery Host, on 01807 500 331 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
From dream to dram
The new single malt distillery under construction at Kingsbarns in Fife has passed another milestone in its development with the completion of the roof of the refurbished listed building. Director William Wemyss visited the site last week. Joining him were the Distillery Founder and newly appointed Visitor Centre Manager, Douglas Clement; new Distillery Manager, Peter Holroyd; and Director of the site contractor Colorado, Ian Bownes. "Topping out" is a tradition in the building industry when a building is being completed with its roof or top. The Wemyss party marked the occasion with a dram from the Wemyss Malts whisky range.
The new single malt whisky will be classified the Lowland region, available after a minimum of three years maturation in oak casks.