Welcome to the second half of my feature on the Old Bushmills distillery, last time I took you through where they are today in terms of the distillery, the recent sale to Jose Cuervo and a few factoids in between. This piece is all about the whiskies, sampled in one sitting in the VIP tasting room at the distillery. Here goes.
VIP tasting room? Sounds a bit posh / wanky – correct but it also looks the nuts, decked out in luscious chesterfield sofas, a private bar, a cask that’s been converted into a drinks cabinet and glass cabinets full of bottles past and present to celebrate the brand’s evolution.
Ben had led us into this happy place of Irish whiskey across the courtyard from the main visitor centre, he did not know this but I recognised it from the otherwise-relatively-weak TV show Lord of the Fries where Freddy Flintoff goes around the country peddling fish and chips, one stop being the Old Bushmills distillery for a comparable tasting to what I was about to embark on.
Oh, and Prince Charles and Camilla spent time around this very table too sampling the wares of the world’s oldest distillery.
Ben introduced himself, explained he had been there for around ten years having moved into the area from Eastern Europe and has since been working at the distillery and loving it.
He told us that the initial success of Old Bushmills was around the year 1850 when a new malt tax was brought in leading to many producers changing their recipe and alienating consumers whereas Bushmills decided to take the tax hit and retain the consistently loved flavour they had developed over the years.
Intriguing distillery stories were revealed such as the fire in 1885 that put the distillery out of operation for two years, the management buyouts and mergers that have happened over the years from family to venture capitalists to Seagrams to Pernod Ricard to Diageo and now back in the hands of a family business, albeit another family from the exact opposite side of the world.
Then we got down to business.
Dram 1 – Bushmills Original – 5 Year Old Blend – 40% ABV
A blend of grain and malt, accounts for between 60 and 70% of Bushmills sales and has been exclusively matured in bourbon casks.
A light body, this dram was all about vanilla and honey for me.
Nose: Fresh green apples big time
Palate: Spicy, warming, green apples again and white pepper
Finish: Red apples and pepper
Adding one drop of water made this even smoother, and in my view much better which is rare for when you add water to whiskies in the 40% strength range.
I did not see the next part coming but I then sampled this whiskey side by side Johnnie Walker Red (their best selling whisky) and Jim Beam Original (the best selling bourbon in the world) and it was interesting, adding a bit of flavour and context to the Bushmills range.
Dram 2 – Black Bush – 8 Year Old Blend – 40% ABV
Sherry cask maturation as well as bourbon cask, silky smooth.
Nose: Fruity, sherry notes
Palate: A little tingle to tell you there was something different going on but mostly smooth, fresh and highly quaffable
Finish: Shorter than I expected but impressive nonetheless
Dram 3 – Bushmills 10 Year Old – 40% ABV
High malt content, bourbon cask maturation
Nose: Apples, citrus, malt
Palate: Incredibly balanced, creamy, dare I say a chewing whisky, chocolate notes,
Finish: Dry but almost like a journey in a glass
Dram 4 – Bushmills 16 Year Old – 40% ABV
Likely my favourite of the range, bourbon and sherry cask aged then married together in port casks for 6 – 9 months to create a flavour explosion in your mouth.
Nose: Spices, juicy fruit
Palate: Lots of port, sweetness, vanilla, very dry
Finish: Port again, bit too much port for my liking but it worked in unison with the spicy undertone
Dram 5 – Bushmills 21 Year Old – 40% ABV
Very interesting, luxurious, maybe trying a bit too hard for me but a highly entertaining dram.
Nose: Fresh mint and raisons
Palate: Minty, dark chocolate, dry, spice
Finish: Long finish, very dry, wood notes but almost wanted more from this one
Dram 6 – Bushmills Cask Strength Sample – 60% ABV (yes, 60%)
Bourbon cask matured.
Tasting notes simply read: Holy WOW.
And with that we chatted through what was liked and maybe not liked as much then headed to the bar to try the distillery exclusive 12 Year Old and oh my that was incredible, there are now two bottles of it in my cabinet I was that impressed.
Thanks to Bushmills, particularly Ben for hosing the session and giving me such an in depth introduction to the range, the passion and excitement behind everything you said impressed as much as the whiskies did.