Be Inspired Series
After being made redundant from his job in Northern Ireland, Colum moved to England and into cereal manufacturing before entering the drinks industry. He later began an apprenticeship at Bushmills and was appointed Master Brewer after a year.
What does your job as master distiller involve?
I've been Bushmills' master distiller since 2002, and I have a real passion for whiskey, so I have loved every minute of it. My main responsibility is to ensure every drop of world-famous Bushmills is as good today as it has been for the last few hundred years. I keep an eye on the critical production and blending stages of Bushmills Irish Whiskey, to make sure our award-winning whiskeys are consistently the best.
I also get to travel the world and tell people all about Bushmills -- mainly to the United States, as this is our biggest market.
I get to do some fun activities during this time, like closing the New York Stock Exchange, appearing on live TV, and completing a host of radio interviews.
What would a typical day be like?
No day is typical -- I am on call 24/7. The best thing about my job is the variety.
I must ensure the mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturing of the whiskey in oak barrels, as well as the blending and preparing of the whiskey for bottling, all adhere to the very high expectations and standards that have been laid down over the years.
But the team helps to make that easy. The people at the distillery are hugely passionate. They are very highly skilled and most have been making and bottling whiskey for years.
How did you get into this line of work in the first place -- have you always liked whiskey?
I think I was always destined to become master distiller at Bushmills! After being made redundant from my first job I went to England and worked in the manufacture of breakfast cereals, and then the brewing and packaging of beer. It was in England that I first met my wife Clare. She brought me back to visit her family in Ballycastle and we visited the world famous Old Bushmills Distillery, which is right on her doorstep.
I fell in love with the distillery -- its history, heritage, and magic. I later joined The Old Bushmills Distillery team and started to learn the art of distilling and processing. After a year-long apprenticeship under my predecessor, David Quinn, I was appointed Bushmills master distiller.
What qualities (personal and professional) make a good distiller? Presumably your taste buds have to be finely tuned?
Yes indeed! The ability to nose and taste the small nuances within the whiskey at each stage of the process is critical, but I think it is equally important to be very enthusiastic, proud, and passionate.
As I get to work with people every day, it is best to be able to share a laugh and a joke.
What are the biggest challenges and most enjoyable aspects of the job?
Bushmills is one of the few distilleries in the world where the entire process happens on site, so there is always a lot going on. But the greatest challenge is living up to expectations; maintaining the high standard associated and recognised with Bushmills, while trying to be bold and innovative. Consumers are discerning about what they eat and drink, and that's why we were all delighted that Bushmills was named best Irish whiskey in the world at the 2010 World Spirits competition.
Who has inspired you most in your career or life in general?
The generations of master distillers that preceded me. The history and knowledge that has passed down from master distiller to master distiller has to be preserved. I like to learn from the past, but look to the future.
What's the best bit of advice you've been given?
Always be enthusiastic, embrace change, do not be afraid to ask for help, work hard but be nice to people, and enjoy your work. But the most important thing is to be yourself.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I'm a keen golfer and enjoy catching up with friends, and spending time with wife Clare and our two boys.