“[Whiskey] commands a respect which is built over time but it’s still something that can be innovative.” – Aine O’Hora
Aine O’Hora is the head distiller at the newly opened Boann Distilley in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland.
In this Whisky Women interview, she speaks about her inspiration behind getting involved in the whisk(e)y industry, why she’s not surprised there’s been a boom in Irish whiskey distillery openings, and what she’s most proud of in her career so far.
How did you first get interested in whisk(e)y?
All of my Mother’s family are from Midleton, Co Cork (the historical home of Irish whiskey), so whiskey is something that has always been a part of my life. I remember stories of the mysterious wash that used to make my Granddad’s greyhounds run better and seeing all the small barrels that used to sit on every bar. So really, I can’t remember ever getting interested in whiskey, the interest has just always been a part of me.
What made you want to pursue it as a career?
I suppose I can accredit the ambition to three things really: first, the fact that for as long as I can remember, whiskey has always been a part of my surroundings; second, an interest in traditional sciences; and, finally I suppose a little bit of luck.
Throughout school I really enjoyed practical science and so I decided to complete a degree in Biotechnology. As luck would have it, every year the brewing and distilling project was given to me and I really took a shining to it. When I finished college, I thought I should try my hand at some other biotechnologies and so I went into pharmaceuticals. However, I soon realised that my passion was in the alcohol industry and I went back to Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh to complete an MA Degree in Brewing and Distilling. I’ve never looked back.
What inspires you about whisk(e)y?
It’s such a wonderful spirit; it’s complex, elegant, refined and bold, all at the same time.
It commands a respect which is built over time but it’s still something that can be innovative.
What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
For me, the biggest challenge is managing the blend of old-meets-new and getting it exactly right. Irish whiskey is steeped in great tradition, which is something that as a distiller and brewer, you simply must uphold. That said, with the rejuvenation of the industry and the introduction of so many modern recipe twists and new technologies, it’s an exciting time to be distilling in Ireland. It’s just important to know what to use and where!
What are you most excited about in regards to the new distillery getting going?
It’s difficult to pick just one thing, working here is like a distiller’s playground. I get to be part of a brand new Irish whiskey, giving me the chance to be involved from the ground up. It’s so exciting (and a pretty steep learning curve) to build a distillery and all the services that go with it, then you get to sit down and design your whiskey and watch it all come to life.
What are you most proud of in your career?
What I’m about to do with the Boann Distillery. It’s an amazing privilege to be asked to contribute to a new generation of Irish whiskey. We’re looking to create our own drop of Irish heritage in an industry which we as a nation are internationally renowned for.
Ireland’s whisk(e)y scene is booming. Has the Renaissance surprised you?
Not entirely, you could see that craft revolution happening across the globe, especially in the food and beer industries and people are back focusing on local produce once again. I suppose the speed at which it’s all happening is a bit of a surprise. It’s great to see such a superb tradition racing back into our culture with every province now home to its own whiskey once again.
Do you think more women should or could work in whisk(e)y?
Of course yes on both accounts. In ancient times it was always women who made alcohol, so we’re just getting back to the industry. Women also have a more discerning palate allowing us to bring an extra dimension and a different complexity to whiskey. Apart from that, it’s a really enjoyable industry to work in.
Why would you recommend someone get involved in the whisk(e)y industry?
Because it is an awesome industry, full of passion and excitement. It has a long past and a very exciting future ahead, which I’m happy be a part of.
What’s one of your favourite memories involving whisk(e)y?
Sitting in my Uncle’s house that overlooks Lough Mask in Co Mayo. My Uncle, brother and myself all watching the sun go down (and come back up, truth be told) over the Lough, all while sampling some of his ‘Top Shelf’ range of whiskies. We put the world to rights over great whiskies; it was a great time.