One of the great things about having visitors from abroad is you get an opportunity to experience attractions that you take for granted.
Up until late last year I’d never been on the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery tour, despite having been brought up about 15 miles away and also having worked in the local inn when I was younger. In 1608 King James 1 granted local landowner, Sir Thomas Phillips a licence to distil, making it the oldest in the world. It has now become an iconic, internationally renowned brand and is available in hostelries across the globe.
The tour of the distillery starts in the room where the grist, made from malted barley, water from the local River Bush and yeast is cooked in a mash tun or a contraption that looks like a big bubbling pot. It looks like runny porridge and smells quite ripe! The mix is then distilled in beautiful shiny copper stills and aged in barrels. The alcohol that evaporates from the barrels during the maturation process is known as the “angel’s share” and accounts for about 2% of the product in a year. It can increase in hotter countries but that’s not really an issue here.
The tour guides at Bushmills are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and most have a genuine connection with this local treasure. I took my friend James from Boston and he’s still raving about the tour, a first for both of us, and he doesn’t even like whiskey!
When I cook abroad I like to surround myself with produce from here. It’s a comforting thing to be reminded of home and also an opportunity to show off what we do best. There’s always a couple of 100ml plastic bottles in my luggage with decanted Bushmills in it! I was doing a demonstration in Borough Market in London last week and used the amber liquid as a glaze for lamb. It has slightly spicy notes when added to honey brings out the natural sweetness in the lamb. I cooked this same thing earlier in the year in Kansas State University. They had ordered 4 litres of Bushmills especially for the occasion and I reduced it down to a thick syrup with a jar of honey that had travelled from Garvagh to the mid west in my luggage. You can imagine my reaction when one of the helpers in the kitchen, not recognising the substance, threw it down the drain! Someone was dispatched to the local liquor store to get replacements and $300 later the town of Manhattan Kansas was officially out of Bushmills whiskey!
I’ve included the lamb recipe this week along with a southern states inspired dessert. Julep is a refreshing cocktail made with sugar syrup, bourbon and mint.
Our local whiskey makes an interesting change from smoky bourbon and the recipe transfers it into a fresh and cooling sorbet.
Apricots are bountiful and beautifully fragrant at the moment.
Mint and apricot make a delicious paring and the hint of whiskey adds a little spice.