Like so many whisky makers, Helen Mulholland didn’t set out to work in the whisky industry. A food technologist by education, it was only during a placement with Bushmills while studying at university that her interest was kindled. Starting out as a lab technician, she worked throughout the site and, as she learned the distillery’s grain-to-glass production process, she became part of what she describes as the ‘Bushmills family’. Around 15 years ago, Helen took on the role of master blender, becoming the first woman in Irish whiskey history to achieve this. Since then, she has been recognised for her work a number of times by various publications and awards bodies, and in 2018 she became the first woman to be inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame.
10 Years Old
When I create whiskies, I think in general they should all be about memories. They should be about families and places and friends. They should be about fun. I talk about all my whiskies building layers, and that’s part of the friendship and the intermingling of ties and things like that. The 10 Years Old is matured in both sherry and Bourbon casks, and when you combine those together what I find about this whisky is that ‘toffee apple’ flavour – those vanilla and honey notes – they remind me of coming home from school, from university and then from work. When I’m working with the casks that make up 10 Years Old, it’s an absolute labour of love.
21 Years Old
The 21 Years Old has this beautiful silky feel to it. It’s matured, again, in Bourbon and sherry, and then when it’s 19 it’s
re-casked into Madeira casks. It has these big Christmas cake flavours: orange peel, praline. It’s a whiskey to just sit back, sip, and watch the world go by in peace. It has all these big flavours, but it’s just Christmas in a whiskey. Whereas the 10 Years Old is incredibly subtle and easy to drink, the 21 Years Old is full of big, full-bodied flavours. It’s just got a lovely richness to it.
1608 Anniversary Blend
Number three is completely different. It’s in the front of my very precious whiskey cupboard, and the reason why I would take this one is that it was my very first globally released, new-to-market whiskey that I created. It was to mark the 400th anniversary of the original grant to distil in Bushmills and the surrounding area. Even though it was released many, many years ago – 13 years ago – it still holds an incredibly special place. There was a crystal malt portion of the whiskey that was used, and it actually remains one of my favourites, even today. It’s a lovely, chocolatey, creamy malt. There was just a small portion of grain whiskey used in it, and it creates a lovely sweetness.
Causeway Collection – 1995 Malaga
This has spent around about 11 years in Bourbon and sherry and then was refilled into Malaga casks. The Malaga gives this lovely black coffee and spiced plum note to the whiskey. It combines with woody notes to create something very different. And again, it is a very special whiskey in the fact that it was launched at Bushmills and launched for Ireland as part of the Causeway Collection, which has been an absolute dream of mine since I became a blender at Bushmills – to create this series of aged, special malts. The Malaga was one of the very first and, again, is incredibly special to me.
Black Bush is a blend, but it’s more than 80 per cent single malt and the majority of the single malt has been matured in sherry casks. So Black Bush is kind of an enigma, and it’s very much a whiskey for every occasion. If we’re on the beach with our feet in the sand, it can do that, but it can also be the moment for an occasion. In Ireland, whenever you give Black Bush as a gift, you kind of get a nod. It’s accepted as a really well-loved whiskey. We’re back to that dried fruit richness coming through, lovely rich flavours, and a bit of spiciness.
A final luxury…
I probably would bring my 10-month-old Border collie pup, Jack. He was going to be a working farm dog, but has decided to remove both ‘working’ and ‘farm’ from his title. He’s scared of sheep and cattle but loves the nice things in life, and I think he would provide great entertainment and exercise for me.