Last year, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with the quintessential Irish whiskey – Jameson. While bourbon will always be my first go-to, there are times when I’m wanting to break up the streak or am in the mood for something different. And, since it is that time of the year – when everyone claims Irish heritage – there’s no better way to celebrate than with one of the oldest Irish distillers – Bushmills.
Oldest Licensed Whiskey Distillery in the World
Located in Bushmills, in Country Antrim in Northern Ireland, the Old Bushmills Distillery traces its roots all the way back to 1608 when it received a royal license from the monarch to distill spirits. The current distillery dates to 1784 when it was built by Hugh Anderson. In the 1860’s, merchants James McColgan and Patrick Corrigan purchased operations and continued distilling whiskey. Following a fire in 1885, the current facilities were quickly rebuilt. In 1890, the distillery owned and operated the steamship SS Bushmills which transported Bushmills whiskey to the Americas and the Far East.
Like many distilleries – domestic and international – Prohibition struck hard. Bushmills continued to manufacture and distribute product. Following World War II, the distillery was purchased by Scottish business mogul Isaac Wolfson before being acquired by Irish Distillers in 1972. In a flurry of transfers, Bushmills was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 1988 and after several hostile takeover attempts, was sold to Diageo in 2005.
What’s Irish Whiskey?
Irish Whiskey comes in four main varieties. Malt whiskey is made from 100% malted barley – often referred to as “single malt”. Others produce a pot still whiskey (such as Tullamore DEW),which can be a mix of malted barley, unmalted barley and other grains distilled in a pot still. A third variety is grain whiskey, made from 30% unmalted barley and the remainder from unmalted grains, such as corn, wheat or barley. A fourth variety comprises all of these and is a blended whiskey, combining multiple types.
Bushmills Original is triple distilled and a blend of single malt whiskey that has been matured in both bourbon and sherry casks. The result from the triple distillation is a lighter spirit with the varying barrels producing lovely fresh fruit and vanilla essences.
Bottled at 80 proof, the label does not carry an age statement, but is thought to be around 5 years old.
Eye: Light, sun-drenched straw.
Nose: Malt and lighter notes of grass and fruit (think Granny Smith apple).
Palate: Crisp and light, like most classic Irish whiskeys. There is vanilla, honey and some spicy fruit notes.
Finish: Smooth and medium-to-long. I was actually expecting this to be short and fleeting, but this hung around a bit, with clean notes of vanilla, malt and summer fruits ending in a dry finish of fresh-sawn wood.
Overall: This was quite enjoyable. While Woodford Malt is one of my go-to’s for a change of pace with its high mix of malted barley and sweet corn notes, Bushmills is an interesting alternative.
This normally fetches around $22-$24; I was able to snag this in a deeply discounted (half price!) holiday gift-pack with square shot glasses for a cool $10. Always the bargain hunter, I mumbled quietly to my wide-eyed wife when I placed it in the cart at a big-box retailer, “It’s for the blog … and it’s on clearance!”
All kidding aside, this was a great Irish whiskey and a testament to the long and colorful history of the Old Bushmills Distillery.