Andy Ratcliff is the Bushmills Australia Whiskey Specialist and is the epitome of a whiskey expert. His love for the ‘water of life’ began when his father gave him a wee dram at the age of 21 and since then, his appreciation for whiskey has grown into a true passion.
Andy has worked behind the bar at some of the country’s leading whiskey venues including The Wild Rover, Eau De Vie, Shady Pines and The Baxter Inn. His interest in Irish Whiskey began when he ran the bar at The Wild Rover, renowned for its whiskey club, The Whiskey Co-Op.
Here he was often called upon to run the Irish Whiskey tastings and masterclasses.
Andy is now Bushmills Australia Whiskey Specialist. In this role, he is the local authority for the Bushmills Irish Whiskey range. He will train and educate his peers, consumers and the media on the brands and whiskey in general. He is also responsible for designing new Bushmills Irish Whiskey signature drinks and serves.
We sat down with Andy for a few minutes to get to know him a bit better!
Q: What is your favourite aspect of your job?
A: The travel! Seeing new places and meeting as many people as possible.
Q: What does an average day in your role in the whisk(e)y industry look like?
A: There is no average day for me. One day I could be in a basement bar in Melbourne talking about whiskey and chocolate, the next I could be in a pub in Newcastle matching beers with whiskey.
Q: What is the best way to break into the ‘whisky as a job’ life?
A: I was incredibly fortunate enough to spend several years behind the bar at The Baxter Inn. I worked under Stuart Morrow and Ross Purnell. Those guys are encyclopedias of knowledge, and lucky for me, incredibly patient tutors. I don’t think there is a conventional way into this role. I was just lucky enough to meet the good people of Bushmills and maintain a healthy relationship with them!
Q: Which whisk(e)y first got you into whisk(e)y?
A: Laphroaig. My Dad loves drinking it by the campfire and offered me some. I remember looking at him after the first sip and saying, ‘It’s like a river of fire running down my throat.’ That was a nice time.
Q: What are the main aspects of Bushmills’ heritage, ingredients, story and production methods do you share with your audience?
- We’re really, really, old. The oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. We have 1608 on the bottle but one of the first things our distiller, Colum Egan told me is that they’ve been distilling around the Bushmills area for the better part of a thousand years.
- It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world. We’re located on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, just near the Giant’s Causeway. There are castles, beaches and beautiful forests to explore and it’s only an hour out of Belfast, the best drinking town in Ireland (sorry Dublin).
- We use 100% malted barley which is locally sourced, we use copper pot stills and water that runs directly through our distillery from the river Bush.
- We’re not good because we’re old, we’re old because we’re good!
Q: Which of these aspects resonate most with the consumers you speak to?
A: Probably our heritage and how long we’ve been able to keep a distillery running, despite all the hardship along the way. We’ve dealt with taxation, famine, prohibition, a fire burning the distillery to the ground, Brexit and now the dreaded Corona virus!
Q: Which aspect/s resonate most with you as a whisk(e)y professional?
A: I love the fact we never bowed to peer pressure. We’ve always made triple distilled, single malt whiskey. It’s a wonderful style of whiskey and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Q: What makes Bushmills unique as an Irish whiskey?
A: Unlike a lot of other Irish whiskies (which changed the way they made whiskey to avoid taxation), we have always produced single malt whiskey.
Q: What makes Bushmills unique as whiskey?
A: Our heritage is incredibly important. Being there, you really get to understand a time and place in history that was integral for establishing whiskey as a category.
Q: Bushmills is the home of Whiskey. Irish whiskey seems to be back on the rise with more and more distilleries opening after a long time of only three – what do you believe is driving this resurgence and what does this mean for Bushmills – one of the ‘stayers in the Irish whiskey industry?
A: It’s so encouraging to see all the new distilleries. Not a month goes by without me hearing about somewhere new opening up or in the planning stages. For Bushmills it’s just business as usual. We don’t alter our whiskey to bow to trends. We’re not about to start making heavily peated malts because it’s cool. We will continue to innovate and experiment with different casks. Our master blender, Helen Mulholland is an absolute genius when it comes to finding the right casks and then blending the right malts. There’s a reason she was the first woman inducted into the whisky magazine’s hall of fame.
Q: How important are age statements in Whiskey?
A: If the whiskey tastes great does it really matter? We have a non-age statement whiskey called Black Bush that has a high percentage of malt aged in ex-sherry casks. It’s incredible and I’ve never heard anyone ask how old it is during a tasting.
Q: Why do you think there are so few age statement Irish whiskies available, Bushmills aside?
A: Up until the late 80’s there were only two distilleries left in Ireland. The industry almost collapsed! Thankfully with a lot of investment, we’re seeing more distilleries. We have a lot of catching up to do as a category.
Q: What are the best ways to enjoy the Bushmills core range?
A: It depends on the person. If you’re new to whiskey you may want to try a Black Bush in a whiskey sour cocktail or an old fashioned with our 10 year old. If you’re drinking the 16 year old or the 21 year old, I’d drink that one neat or with a few drops of water. Despite what the old man in the tweed suit tells you, there are no rules to drinking whiskey.
Q: Which of the core range Bushmills whiskies is your favourite and why?
A: I’m torn between Black Bush (for its gorgeous simplicity and ability to pair with every beer ever!) and the 16 year old (which is a port cask finish).
Q: When you are taking a break from Whiskey, what is your go to beverage? Wine, beer, cocktail?
A: I love red wine (particularly Barolo). I do also love a good (or flavourless) beer.
Q: If there was just one thing you wanted whiskey drinkers to know about Bushmills what would it be?
A: If you get the opportunity to pick up a bottle or go to a tasting, just do it! You won’t regret it.
Thanks Andy for taking to time to chat with us! You can follow and chat to Andy on Instagram @andy.bushmills.