Belfast Telegraph

That's the spirit... laid off Ballymena man Marty McAuley turns love of whiskey into career

By Nevin Farrell

When Michelin man Marty McAuley's career was on the rocks he took a shot at a new career that warmed his heart... hosting tours - and more - to celebrate Ulster's historic links to whiskey.

The 43-year-old Ballymena man was one of over 850 employees made redundant after the local tyre factory closed last month.

When the bombshell announcement stunned the town in 2015, the firm informed workers it would help them retrain for new careers ahead of being laid off in 2018.

Marty adopted a glass half full attitude, saying he had never been unemployed in his life and was not about to start.

So, in a neat move, he embarked on a career in whiskey to ensure locals and visitors get to appreciate the whiskey of Ulster and beyond.

Galvanised by a 'can do' spirit, Marty used the training options afforded to him ahead of finally leaving Michelin, and from now on it's whiskey galore!

He explained: "I always had an interest in whiskey and obviously the interest developed because I enjoy a wee tipple myself.

"The first thing I thought of when the Michelin factory closure was announced was tourism, and I discovered that Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing drinks market in the world and that the Irish Whiskey Association wanted to increase tourism.

"In the 1970s there were only two distilleries in Ireland -Bushmills and Jameson - and now there are 14, with more starting up."

Marty went to the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Co Cork, where he was taught about distilling and how to appreciate a good drop of the 'cratur'.

He also signed up to look at Scottish whisky through the University of the Highlands and Islands.

He was asked to review whisky as part of the correspondence course and he received samples to taste.

"I was sitting in on a Friday night doing my 'homework'," he laughed.

"The man who runs the course was impressed with my reviews and said he was giving me full marks.

"I took encouragement from that."

Marty then took part in a course to get a 'blue badge' as a tourism guide - "the Rolls Royce of professional guiding qualifications" as he describes it - at Queen's University.

He set up his ulsterwhiskey.com website, which is jam-packed with quirky stories and must-read reviews about popular and obscure brands.

Marty also does bespoke whiskey tours, and visitors have travelled from as far away as Japan.

Scotch is on Marty's radar too, and one of his tours involves a high speed boat trip from Ballycastle to Islay.

On one such visit he fell in love with Lagavulin Whisky, although he says his favourite regular tipple remains Co Antrim's finest, Black Bush.

He is also doing 'whiskey appreciation' events in Belfast where participants get to sample many types.

He said: "I worked in Michelin for 23 years and loved my time there. It was emotional to leave but now I think I might just have found my true calling in life!"

Belfast Telegraph

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