A chat with Ciarán O’Donovan

28th September 2017

We had the opportunity to sit down with Ciarán O’Donovan, International Whiskey Ambassador and Irish Whiskey Academy Tutor.

You’re a tutor at the Irish Whiskey Academy (essentially the Willy Wonka’s of Irish Whiskey) – tell us a bit about what goes on down there!

The Irish Whiskey Academy is the centre of excellence for Irish Distillers in terms of education and learning about our process, brands and history. We take a variety of different people through the academy, from bartenders who want to apply the knowledge behind the bar, to whiskey enthusiasts who want to learn all they can about their favourite spirit.

Our courses range from 1 to 3 days and are very comprehensive taking attendees through the journey of whiskey, from grain to glass, covering production processes, the wood programme, tasting and much more.

Tell us how you came to work in your role as International Whiskey Ambassador and Irish Whiskey Academy Tutor.

I joined Irish Distillers through the Jameson Graduate Programme in 2012 and worked in Helsinki, Lapland (!), New York, Chicago and Kentucky – right in the depths of Bourbon Country! During my time stateside I visited lots of cooperages and distilleries and got to know plenty of people within the industry. I worked for a year in Pernod Ricard’s head office in New York where I witnessed the cutting edge of marketing Irish Whiskey and was surrounded by some of the world’s best cocktail bars. All of this experience has given me a global perspective of Irish Whiskey and I moved back to Ireland to take up my position in the Academy.

What’s your preferred way of drinking Irish Whiskey – are you a fan of Whiskey cocktails?

For me it really depends on the situation – the what, the when and the where. There are some fantastic Irish Whiskey cocktails being served in the downtown New York, Dublin and even Belfast. I love trying new concoctions from mixologists across the world, but I personally prefer a more traditional style drink. I’m partial to a hot whiskey – one of the only cocktails you can get in my home in rural West Cork! There are, of course, some Irish Whiskeys that I would never, ever mix – the likes of Midleton Very Rare I would even have ice in it, it’s just perfect the way it is.

You mentioned Bourbon earlier – in your opinion what would you say the main difference between Irish Whiskey and American Whiskey?

If you’re looking at Bourbon as a style of whiskey it’s very prescriptive in how it’s made – virgin oak has to be used, there must be at least 51% corn in the mix etc. You really have an expectation of where the flavours are going to lie even before tasting it – heavily influenced by wood, quite sweet and packs a punch. Bourbon does exactly what is says on the tin.

Irish Whiskey on the other hand is a bit more complicated – the rules aren’t quite set in stone, unless it’s a Pot Still Whiskey. You can have peated malts from Cooley or your traditional Triple Distilled Malt Whiskeys from Bushmills. Here in Midleton we make everything from really light, zesty grain whiskeys, like the Method and Madness range, to your more oily Pot Still Whiskeys, like Redbreast, to blended Whiskeys aged in a variety of casks. I’d say in general Irish Whiskey has a very broad flavour profile and offers whiskey drinkers plenty of different options.

Finally, do you have any advice for someone who’s new to drinking Whiskey? 

There is so much to discover with whiskey so I would recommend not sticking to just one style. Try all the styles, even Scotches and American styles, and find out what your favourite is. I do believe there is an Irish Whiskey for everyone, you just have to keep trying until you find the one that suits. If you’re just starting out why not give a mixed drink a go and work your way up to trying neat whiskey.

Thanks to Ciaràn for taking the time to chat to us.