And after we stopped being totally envious of his career (the dude tastes whiskey for a living) we wondered … exactly how does one earn the status of Irish whiskey expert? To the best of our knowledge, here are a few things you’ll need to know:
Know your grains.
Irish whiskey, like all whiskeys, is comprised of a specific formula. That formula (a mixture of grains) forms the basis of what will be fermented (mash) to create alcohol.
Irish whiskey is required to be produced from cereal grains. That means knowing all about barley, malted barley, rye, maize (corn), etc. As for John McDougall, he grew up on a farm. Guess what they specialized in growing?
From a young age, he was able to recognize the quality of the grains, paving the way for his career in whiskey distillation. Especially since most of the farm’s customers were distilleries.
Perfect your palate.
Do you ever read a description that uses words like ‘toasted caramel’ and ‘smoked honey?’ If you thought those Irish whiskey descriptions were crazy, why don’t you guess who comes up with them?
However, if you can’t decipher the right elements of flavor in an Irish whiskey, you should work a bit harder at perfecting things. You’ll also need to be able to correct a batch of Irish whiskey when something goes wrong.
During the aging process (or maturation) you’ll specifically taste and perform analysis on each barrel. You’ll be looking for a flavor profile that will be pleasing to your customers. Oh, and you’ll decide if a barrel should keep aging or be pulled for sale once it’s ready.
Get the experience you need.
John McDougall might have 48 years of experience, but he sure didn’t start out that way. His claim to fame is that he has worked in a distillery in all five regions of Scotland.
Having tasted and brought to market prize winning whiskeys from each region, he is, hand’s down, an expert. Now, he’ll try his hand at Irish whiskey in the Dingle Distillery.
For you, getting started might be the hardest part. You’ll need to work your way through the ranks before you can be properly considered an expert.
What most people don’t realize is how difficult a science lies behind the perfection of fine Irish whiskey. Far beyond the finished product, there’s even a chemical process associated with the water used in making whiskey (i.e. most city water sources contain chlorine which can skunk the yeast used in fermentation.)
Then, it needs to be taken into account that a large portion of each batch relies on the senses of the Irish whiskey expert. Smell, taste and look of the whiskey are all considered before a product goes to market.
So, while you can always strive to be an Irish whiskey expert, we, on the other hand, are going to stay strictly on the sipping side — maybe with an Irish whiskey party thrown in for good measure.
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