Ahhhh Bushmills, the single most frustrating distillery to be an advocate for on the island of Ireland! And I only say this, because I have been one for about as long as I’ve been a fan of Irish Whiskey, so much so, that I even worked for them for a short period in my slightly naive youth. When I thought getting a job with a whiskey brand meant you could have an impact on that brand’s future; it doesn’t. Undoubtedly one of the Irish Whiskey industries crown jewels, pun intended given its relationship with the Crown, but in all seriousness, the distillery has been responsible directly and indirectly for some of the finest Single Malt whiskeys produced and bottled in Ireland. But that alone does not dampen the fire of my aforementioned frustrations with this particular brand.
Ireland’s Oldest distillery? No, that crown belongs to the Kilbeggan Distillery. Ireland’s longest-running distillery? I suppose that’s technically true, given if you count your age in days. Then they have been operating for longer than any other distillery in Ireland. It has closed sporadically throughout its history, but never shut completely. Dating back to 1608? The licence to distil, sure, along with most areas of Ireland. Although the distillery was actually built 1784 when the company was registered, which was celebrated on the packaging up until the late 80’s, when Pernod Ricard decided it no longer mattered whether the distillery had been there since 1608. I’m sure you are starting to feel the aggravations fuelling these words at this point.
Nevertheless, I am sure you are aware of all these downfalls as Phil has openly gone into deeper detail in similar exasperated ramblings about Bushmills in previous reviews on Malt. I would have to agree with his opinions on the ever irrelevant Red Bush, although there has been some glimmer of hope in the whiskeys available today with his less loathing, or more fittingly, liking of the Bushmills Acacia Finish Distillery Exclusive.
I feel it’s relatively clear to see that for a genuine lover of Irish Single Malt like myself that Bushmills can offer an excruciatingly mixed bag of emotions for any consumer when considering their recent releases and serve to bewilder and baffle those that dig into their marketing spoof with too much vigour. While I won’t discuss the ups and downs of the Steamship Collection with you all today, the whiskeys I am reviewing may suggest that Bushmills are about to alleviate these animosities further with The Causeway Collection.
In the interests of our usual transparency, I was rather flattered to receive a press pack ahead of the Irish Online Launch with Master Blender, Helen Mulholland. But, rather than be wooed by the alluring sophistication of yet another Zoom masterclass, I have tasted these releases and prepared notes for your perusal the day prior with biases left securely in their locker for animated debate with Phil in the future.
Inspired by the phenomenon that is The Giant’s Causeway, a few short miles from the Bushmills Distillery, The Causeway Collection seeks to elevate this Bushmills Single Malt releases through ‘Rare Cask-finished Single Malts’, ‘Uncommon Casks’, and ‘Unprecedented finishing’. As with almost all marketing briefs, this sends a wondrous sense of agonising impatience as to what all this actually signifies, or in other words, I don’t care, let me taste the product.
Consisting of 2 vintage releases, 2008 and 1995, which follow the recent release of The Whisky Club exclusive 2006 release in Australia, these will be the Causeway Collection releases exclusively available throughout the island of Ireland.
The 2008 Muscatel Cask edition has been initially aged in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry butts for 8 years before being vatted and re-casked in deep red muscatel wine casks for a further 4 years. It will retail for €100 per bottle with 1454 bottles available.
The 1995 Malaga Cask edition has been matured again in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry butts initially for 10 years before being vatted and matured for a further 14 years in ex-Malaga sweet wine casks. €400 per bottle with 2491 bottles available.
The initial ex-bourbon and ex-sherry maturations before being re-casked is a practice which fans of the core range Bushmills 16 year old and 21 year old release will be well familiar with.
And, forgetting what sounds like great cask selection, lengthy secondary maturations and a 24 year old release, both of this whiskeys are bottled at natural cask strength, non-chill filtered and with no added colouring. It appears that someone in Casa Cuervo has been listening to the general rumblings from the industry which could allow us to forgive how long it’s taken to begin releasing whiskeys in this format again.
Bushmills 2008 Muscatel Cask Single Malt – review
Bottled at 56.4% abv.
Colour: Rich amber with an almost orange hue.
On the nose: Firstly floral heather and biscuity malt jumps from the glass, giving a typical Bushmills start, followed by ripe bananas and vibrant alcohol but it’s refined, balanced, not overpowering. Almost as quick as I’ve gathered my thoughts the fruity, sweeter tones begin to shine, red apples, redcurrant, berries and a cayenne smoked almond intensifying the nose.
In the mouth: There are immediate texture and abundant flavour, there’s currants, touches of raisin and grilled walnuts. It has extensive aromatics teasing notes of smoked pancetta and rooibos tea leaves balanced by crisp malt and soft spice. It finishes with a touch of fig and orange marmalade with just a touch of hazelnut dust.
Bushmills 1995 Malaga Cask Single Malt – review
Bottled at 53.5% abv.
Colour: Vibrant copper.
On the nose: Fresh and full of spice, malt spice, caramelized bananas with dark chocolate shavings. There’s distinct orange zest surrounding by macadamia nuts, wood shavings, dried apricots and herbaceous blackcurrant leaf. This is all the while underlined by sweet demerara caramel and honeycomb.
In the mouth: Poached peaches and pears with a chocolate and coconut flakes sprinkled throughout. The nuttiness shines throughout the palate while the distinct malt character holds its own, still distinctly Bushmills. It’s got a hint of marshmallow which makes me think of Rocky road with a dashing of dried fruits. Traces of oloroso sherry, raisins, sultana getting darker and more intense as I draw more air through the palate. The finish has cinnamon and clove covered crisp apple slices and considerable length.
I don’t think anyone who has had the opportunity to sample some of the old Single Barrell Bushmills or who’ve been fortunate enough to taste cask samples from Bushmills will be surprised by these scores. We all know the quality which has been for too long hidden away in the warehouses at Bushmills and both these whiskeys are a shining light for malt whiskey in Ireland.
The 2008 delivers outstanding influence from the secondary maturation in the Muscatel casks, it is clear that this maturation would have been watched over carefully and disgorged just before the cask influence may have overpowered the distillery character by Helen Mulholland.
For the 1995, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it were a Malaga cask component, certainly would not have guessed 14 years maturation but it has delivered flavour in abundance, not overpoweringly sweet, great balance and a feast of layers to divulge in.
These have served to sufficiently satisfy and suppress my frustrations, for now, they’ve grabbed my attention, let’s see what comes next.
Lead image and samples kindly provided by Bushmills.