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James Massiah on partnering with Bushmills’ Singular Tales campaign

Interlacing words and whiskey, London based poet, James Massiah, who was previously commissioned by Prince Charles, has collaborated with the world’s oldest distillery, Bushmills to create a bespoke work. “I To You” is part of Bushmills’ Singular Tales campaign to celebrate the coming together and sharing of stories over a considered dram of Irish whiskey. Here, Massiah shares insights into the creative process with Douglas Blyde.

Have you ever collaborated with a whisky brand before?

No, this is a first. I love the Bushmills’ Singular Tales concept – celebrating the power of storytelling and craftsmanship and how they connect us. The Irish are masters of poetry and performance of course, and I’m proud to honour this and lead the second chapter of the campaign, following George the Poet last year. The fact that I like whiskey also helps – and I’m now a die-hard fan of Single Malt Irish Whiskey!


How important was it to actually visit Bushmills and Country Antrim when preparing your ode to it?

So important. Before visiting, I spent time with Bushmills Master Distiller, Alex Thomas – understanding her craft, how she patiently channels and harmonises flavours, all the people, and the wider community that have shaped who she is today – her passion is incredible. Then to visit the distillery and understand the absolute pride all feel in being custodians of and passing on of 400 years of excellence in whiskey-making was a one-off. The sense of community, the dramatic landscape and the stories shared were genuinely moving and inspiring.


What struck you about the atmosphere of the distillery?

The setting is truly stunning: the picturesque River Bush, the historic buildings, the warehouses full of gently ageing casks were all impressive. And the warmth and friendliness of the people there. Alex and most at the distillery have grown up in the local area and they love what they do and their whiskeys. For example, I met third generation coopers father and son Alistair and Chris Kane whose in-house cooperage is unique in the industry. And chatting with them about their craft, seeing them in action was fantastic.


And of the Giant’s Causeway nearby?

To walk across and absorb the beauty and myths of the UNESCO site and perform at such a spectacular location, was really an honour. A singular experience, for sure.


Which is your favourite expression of Bushmills?

My favourite expression is the 16 Year Old. I have a sweet-tooth and it has a deliciously smooth sweet and spice complexity aided by the maturation process of Bourbon barrels and sherry butts.


What is the most striking part of your poem? 

The most striking stanzas for me are:

‘The days have brought us 

Closer still
And all those times
Of toil and ill 

Make sweeter taste 

The present day 

Side by side
Along the way’ 

It’s bitter sweet, reflecting on the joy of getting together and sharing stories and how this has never felt more precious given the last couple of years we’ve all experienced. Creating memories together making them count is all – and never better than over a dram.


Watch “I To You” here:


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