2 September 2015
Whisky Insiders Interview - Brian Nation
Irish Distillers / Pernod Ricard
Master Distiller at the Midleton Distillery
How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I joined Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard in 1997 as an environmental engineer, before I moved to work on various projects for our current Production Director, Tommy Keane. My first role involved assisting with the de-bottlenecking of the existing distillery and helping with the delivery of a mini distillery expansion. In 2002, I then moved into production, where I began to work very closely with our Master Distiller Emeritus, Barry Crockett, who retired in March 2013 after almost 40 years, at which point I became the proud Master Distiller of the Midleton Distillery, County Cork.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Picking out just one highlight is difficult because I have been fortunate enough to work at a distillery during a time of enormous and exciting change, development and innovation. It has obviously been a huge honour to replace the highly talented Barry Crockett. Involvement in the recent expansion of our distillery in Midleton has been another highlight, particularly with the successful commissioning of our new pot stills that ensure the quality and flavour of our spirits continue to be identical to those crafted in the existing pots. Development of new distillate styles has also been a major highlight for myself. I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that.
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
My first whiskey was a Powers Gold label. It was on a night out with friends, when one of them suggested that I try it. It tasted great, and for me it was a real taste experience. However at the time, I really didn’t appreciate the craft, attention to detail and pride that goes into making this whiskey. It was only later on when I joined the distillery I realised this.
What does whisky mean to you?
I feel that whisky is a celebration of heritage, craft and passion. The whiskey from Midleton is the product of each and every person that works at the Midleton Distillery both past and present.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I hope to see myself continuing as Master Distiller at Midleton, as I am passionate and excited about all that this entails, from the day-to-day production to innovation and new product development.
What was your last dram?
Last night I had a Redbreast 15 Year Old with a group of American bartenders who were in Ireland and visited the Midleton Distillery. It was great to meet such a knowledgeable group of people who shared the same passion for our products as myself, and are true advocates of our whiskeys in the US like Jameson, Powers, Midleton, Redbreast and the Spot Range.
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
I love to cook and experiment with different flavours and ingredients. There is an endless amount of food pairings that you can have, but it’s ultimately down to the individual and their personal taste preferences. I think that the luscious rich butterscotch and spicy notes in Jameson Black Barrel works very well and compliments the nice flavours in a red meat dish.
What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
For me it always depends on the setting, the occasion and the location. What I mean by this is that I have different favourites for different occasions. When I am out with friends, I like nothing better than to enjoy a Jameson Original as a long drink mixed with ice, ginger ale and a wedge of lime, or mixed with ice soda water. When out for dinner, I usually enjoy a Jameson Black Barrel with 2 cubes of ice during the meal and generally finish off the evening with one of our Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys, usually Powers John’s Lane Release or a Redbreast 12 Year Old.
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
I think this is fantastic and innovative time to be involved in the whisky business, particularly for the Irish whiskey category. There is great potential for the continued growth of the category, mainly thanks to the popularity of Jameson, which has pioneered this growth. The opening of a number of new distilleries in Ireland over the next few years will see the continued expansion of Irish whiskey, which is very exciting. At the Midleton Distillery, we will continue to craft innovative whiskey to join our comprehensive portfolio, so overall, the horizon for Midleton and indeed Irish whiskey looks very bright indeed.
What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
This is a very difficult question to answer as a Master Distiller - it’s like being asked to choose your favourite child! If I was really pushed for an answer there would have to be three! In no particular order, Powers John’s Lane Release 12 Year Old – a distillate driven Single Pot Still Irish whiskey with very spicy and earthy flavours with a fantastic finish. Midleton Very Rare – one bottling a year of whiskey maturing for typically 15 to 22 years in all American Barrels, with subtle differences in each bottling delivering notes of sweet green pepper, garden mint complimented with vanilla sweetness and toasted wood – a real taste experience! Finally Jameson Original – a very versatile whiskey, exceptionally smooth with pot still spices, fruity and fragrant notes coupled with vanilla sweetness and nutty undertones lends itself to experimenting in different long drinks and cocktails, which for me makes it a very exciting whiskey.
Many thanks to Brian Nation. Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!