Whiskey expert with a taste for success
The former master blender at Irish Distillers is the go-to man if you want a seasoned opinion on a new drinks product or help to make it better
BARRY WALSH IS not a household name, but anyone who enjoys a glass of Irish whiskey has reason to remember it and be grateful. He is the man responsible for the taste of a roll call of Irish whiskeys, from Jameson and Middleton to Bushmills and Paddy.
Walsh was the master blender at Irish Distillers for 22 years, and although now retired, he is still helping to shape the taste of Irish spirits. He is the man today’s entrepreneurial drinks producers call on when they want a seasoned opinion on a new product or help to make it better.
He has had an input into products from independent drinks companies such as Cooley, Tullamore Dew and Castle Brands. Most recently he has been working with fledgling West Cork Distillery preparing its Drombeg, Lough Hyne and Kennedy products for market.
“Barry is enormously respected within the field and is the undisputed expert on the taste of Irish whiskey,” says company co-founder, John O’Connell. “For a new company like ours to be able to tap into his vast knowledge and expertise was invaluable. As newcomers we lacked a certain amount of confidence. Barry gave us a real belief in what we were doing. It also brought a level of credibility to our products as people in the trade have a lot of time for him.”
Walsh describes his much sought-after palate as “middle of the road” rather than highly developed. “In the tasting business an overly sensitive palate is a drawback,” he says. “You need a palate that can pick out the key elements that need changing. A very sensitive palate will pick up too many small things that ultimately don’t matter.
“In the case of West Cork Distillery, I helped them mellow the flavour. Theirs is a niche product, somewhere between a liqueur and a whiskey. It needed to retain a sweetness while decreasing the woodiness, which was too strong.
“I think innovative projects like West Cork Distillery are very brave but also very important for this country. There is a long history of distilling here and world recognition for it which new products can benefit from. My advice to anyone starting up is make quality and integrity the hallmarks of your product. If you try to do things on the cheap you’ll end up in trouble. Put the investment into developing something good from the outset and stick with it.”
Walsh is evangelical about quality and says Pernod Ricard (which owns Irish Distillers) shared this commitment. “When Jameson was designated as the major export brand for the future, they put a lot of thought and money behind developing a Jameson standard with peerless quality as key and this has paid off,” he says.