Andy Ratcliff is the whiskey specialist for Irish whiskey brand, Bushmills, a role his career has been leading to since his days behind the stick at Sydney bar The Wild Rover. In fact, Ratcliff — whom, for reasons passing understanding, is also known around the traps as Hemingway — has spent a large portion of his career behind the bar dispensing whiskey, with a considerable chunk of it also spent at venerable whiskey bastions, The Baxter Inn and Shady Pines Saloon.
Here, Ratcliff shares with us what makes Bushmills (and their whiskey stocks) unique, dispels some Irish whiskey myths, and more.
How did you get started in the whiskey industry?
I worked in three of the best bars in the world. The Baxter Inn, Shady Pines Saloon and the Wild Rover.
Many bartenders will associate Irish whiskey with blended whiskey — but that’s not all there is to the category. How important are single malts, and what defines Bushmills’ single malts?
The Irish whiskey market is dominated by blends and single pot still whiskey. At the Old Bushmills distillery, we make a more traditional style of whiskey. We make single malt whiskey, like the Scots, only we distil a third time to create a lighter, more delicate style. We’re defined by our ability to persevere through hardship. Our distillery has survived fire, economic downturn, war and famine but we have never changed the way we make our whiskey.
Bushmills has a long history — how do you balance the traditions of that history, with creating something new for the modern whiskey drinker?
We’re very lucky because we have the historical story of our distillery along with a great deal of innovation. We have the oldest stocks of aged whiskey in Ireland and thankfully, our master blender, Helen, is an absolute wizard at experimenting with different cask finishes. You can expect to see a lot more releases from Bushmills in the coming months and years.
What is it about your job that you love the most — why do you do what you do?
That’s easy! The people and the chance to serve others. I love this industry more than anything else and being able to bring the gospel of Irish whiskey to the people makes it challenging and exciting.
Are there any misconceptions of Irish whiskey you’d like to set straight?
I think it’s more of a consumer issue but the idea that Scotch or Japanese whisky is in any way better or more valuable than Irish always perplexes me. This is just an education issue. Most people don’t realise that at one point there were over a thousand distilleries in Ireland and now we’re down to twenty six. But that number is growing and we’re seeing a lot more willingness to experiment than with Scotch whisky. I like that.
What’s your favourite Bushmills expression and why?
For everyday drinking it’s Black Bush. It’s got a really high percentage of malt to grain whiskey that’s aged in ex oloroso sherry casks, so it’s super delicious. For the sipper, I’m really into our 21yr old. That’s been aged for 19yrs in bourbon and sherry before being transferred into ex-madeira casks for a full 2yrs. That one’s a beauty!
Do you think the way we drink will have changed after this coronavirus mess, if so how? If not, why not?
Not really. We’re a nation that loves to drink and socialise. If anything, it will bring people closer together and make them realise what us hospitality people have always known… happiness is only real when shared.