I managed to get along to the company’s Irish whiskey tasting last year, which featured Midleton’s brands, so was keen to attend when the invite came through for this one, especially as I do not have a vast amount of experience with Bushmills.
Down for the tasting from the Northern Irish distiller was brand home supervisor Robert Galbraith, who took the very full room through a whopping seven whiskeys – which are already a part of the brand line-up – along with a sample of the new make and two others straight from the cask.
Unfortunately, due to a bit of a delay on the tube I missed the first 15 minutes of the event. But, I managed to catch up enough to sample all of the drams and learn a bit about the company’s history.
As background, Bushmills distillery has been located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland since the late 18th century. The bottle carries the year ‘1608’ on it, however, because King James I actually granted a licence to distill in the area in that year. The Old Bushmills distillery was up and running in 1784 and stayed in the same spot until a major fire in 1885 destroyed it entirely. It was rebuilt and continued running with only a few breaks through mergers and acquisitions, Prohibition and the two world wars. It is now owned by Diageo.
According to Robert, the distillery has had a huge impact on the town where all 1,300 residents are related through “blood, marriage or drink.” In his family, his grandfather was a mashman.
The evening’s line-up was full-on and included the new make spirit, Bushmills Original and Black Bush blended whiskey, Bushmills 10, Bushmills 1608, the Distillery Reserve (available only at the distillery), the 16-year old Three Wood and the 21-year old.
As I’d arrived late, I didn’t get to try the new make right at the start, but went back to it mid-way through the tasting. I was worried that it would seem very harsh compared to the whiskeys I’d sampled by that point so was surprised to discover that on the nose it had wonderful notes of pears and fresh flowers and was surprisingly gentle. On the palate, there was a sweet freshness to it, with honey and malt notes. It was well-rounded and I noted overhearing many people speaking about their enjoyment of it on the night.
Of the array of whiskeys, my top two favourites were the Bushmills 1608 and the 16 year old three wood.
The Bushmills 1608 was first released in honour of the 400th anniversary of when whiskey was permitted to be distilled in the area. Made from single malt, grain and a special crystal malt (which comes from barley that has been toasted and where the sugars are crystallised in the malt before kilning to create an end sweeter wash) it is comprised of a mix of first fill bourbon and ex-sherry cask matured whiskey ranging from eight to 10 years of age. With an ABV of 46% this non-chill filtered expression won the world’s best no-age statement Irish whiskey at the World Whiskies awards in 2008 and 2012.
On the nose it was an easy-going dram, with notes of pears, cedar boxes and stoned fruit (possibly plums?) that together reminded me of “Christmas”. There was a wee, teeny hint of sulphur too for me. On the palate, it was very sweet but had a great, rich depth that hinted at cinnamon sticks, brown sugar, chewy wood and oranges, plus a little something vegetal at the back. The finish was of candied fruits and it was a whiskey I really enjoyed, showing that, yet again, blends can be complex and intriguing.
My next favourite was the Bushmills 16 year old Three Wood. This is made by taking batches of whiskeys that have matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks and batches that have matured for 16 years in ex-sherry casks and marrying them together in port casks where they further age for six to nine months.
Coming in at 46% ABV the whiskey was a beautiful rich amber in colour. On the nose there was a gummy note of black wine gums, and a hint of wood and blackcurrent jam. It was almost sticky in its character – all very attractive. The palate was wonderfully balanced, with a bit of that blackcurrent sweetness emerging at first, before reduced red wine and finally tropical fruits came through.
With such a long history, Bushmills is one to explore if you’ve not yet had the chance. I have also reviewed the Black Bush whiskey on this post, so feel free to check that out for more thoughts on the brand.
And thank you to The Whisky Exchange for arranging yet another fabulous whiskey tasting celebrating all things Irish!