On Ireland’s gorgeous northern coast, Bushmills Irish Whiskey recently unveiled their new Causeway Distillery. While the beloved whiskey brand holds the distinction of being the oldest licensed distillery in the world, Bushmills and Proximo Spirits (their owners) are investing resources that focus on innovation for the company’s future. The new building, designed by TODD Architects, brings to life the vision of Bushmills’ master distiller, Colum Egan. For the facade of the building, 23 local stonemasons hand-cut basalt rocks from the area. Inside, gleaming surfaces adorn 39,000 square feet of new whiskey-making operations. And each section of the production process has been built to accommodate expansion in the future.
Engineers at Doran Consulting and the contractor McLaughlin & Harvey were brought on to deliver the first phase of the ongoing expansion of Bushmills—in a space set up to employ thermal technology and sustainable practices. This state-of-the-art whiskey making operation houses 10 copper pot stills, eight washbacks and one mash tun, all of which are used to make the same triple-distilled spirit as their original distillery.
The distillery has been named after the Giant’s Causeway nearby. This UNESCO Heritage site has inspired Northern Ireland’s myths of giants, legends of Irish perseverance and a reverence for the elemental qualities of the hexagonal basalt rock structures. To coincide with the opening of the Causeway Distillery, Bushmills launched two new bottlings, a rare 25 and 30 year old. These luxurious whiskeys come in bespoke gift boxes, also in the shape of a hexagon. Master blender Alex Thomas explained that their goal is to continue to grow, inspire and innovate with experimentation at the forefront, while they continue to uphold their legacy.
The new era of Bushmills was ushered in with an exuberant celebration. The building was lit up with glowing lights to both highlight the stone work and signal the bright future of Irish whiskey. An elegant dinner unfolded among the copper stills. As Egan explains, “this is not just a once-in-a-lifetime thing. This is once-in-three-people’s lifetimes.” Drams of 21-year-old Bushmills were served on a chilled basalt stone in the shape of a hexagon like the iconic stone structures of the Giant’s Causeway.
For Egan, his original ideas and sketches for the Causeway Distillery project had one extremely important feature. After 20 years of traipsing around Bushmills’ historic labyrinthine operations, he envisioned a place where all of the whiskey making process would be visible on one level. “I want a single level where we can see the whole thing, because the old distillery was built over hundreds of years and we added and added on multiple levels,” he says, “and the main thing was that we want to make the same spirit. We have designed a process that we’re going to create the same spirit that we have always made in Bushmills.”
Egan’s next step was to bring his ideas to life. He explains, “I wanted local architects, local engineers and materials that were as local as possible.” In addition, people from around the world traveled to Bushmills and, due to the pandemic, stayed there to help build the distillery. Many of those individuals traveled back to Northern Ireland for the opening night celebration.
Earlier during opening day, Egan took a break to visit the causeway. “I was sitting on the rocks with a whiskey. It is genuinely my favorite place,” he says. “That’s raw. That’s nature. It’s a perfect six-sided shape. The hexagon is the only shape in nature that is regular, like honeycomb and snowflakes. It’s a perfect shape.”
With the party lights glowing off of the copper stills, Egan shares true Irish warmth and hospitality with everyone in the room. “When you have been working on this for so long you have to get this right. There are more than 50 people in the room that made this happen,” Egan says. “Bushmills has been here for over 415 years. Now we have all now contributed to that history. Everybody here, your mark is in this building.” The effort behind those collaborative marks might just see the distillery last another 415 years.
Images courtesy of Bushmills