A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend an online Bushmills tasting. To join, I just had to buy the sample set consisting of 30ml samples of Bushmills Original, Black Bush and the 12 Year Old.
After Jameson, Bushmills is surely the next most recognized Irish whisky brand. As a result, I’m not going to repeat the marketing spiels uttered during the tasting. But, one of the more memorable lines that stuck to me was something that was accordingly said by their master distiller: “We’re not good because we’re old. We’re old because we’re good.”
As someone who doesn’t have extensive experience with Bushmills, a part of me wonders how good they really are, and whether their being the second best-known Irish whisky brand is well-deserved or simply due to being one of the Irish whisky brands for a long time. Yes, there is more competition now. But is there really a formula to find out how long it will take for the new brands to catch up to the reputation the older brands have?
A few of the more interesting things I learned about Bushmills: the name comes from the River Bush. They also use 100% Irish Malted Barley. Their barrel entry proof is 85%, which is something I’m not too fond of, as the spirit can over-extract the cask’s flavors.
Bushmills Original is said to be around five years old. It’s aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, with the ex-sherry cask percentage being small.
Bushmills Original – Review
Color: Pale gold.
On the nose: I get light, thin and muddled aromas of mostly tropical fruits. The ethanol is also a bit too prickly for the ABV. At the front are sweet corn pudding, grape-heavy fruit parfait, baked pears and star fruits. After letting this breathe more, I get additional light and thin aromas of honeydew melon, guava-flavored candy, and dehydrated lemon peels. There are even more subtle aromas of chocolate and toffee.
In the mouth: Oddly, I get the chocolate and toffee notes at the front. I feel like the top of it is drizzled with guava powder and lemon peels. The sweet corn pudding reappears with grape-heavy fruit parfait.
The Bushmills Black Bush is said to have a large amount of single malt aged from 8 to 10 years, with a high proportion of that single malt having spent time in ex-sherry casks.
Bushmills Black Bush – Review
Color: Pale ale.
On the nose: Much more peppery compared to the Original. The heavier sherry aromas are more obvious as well. Despite being more pronounced, the sherry aromas are also initially very muddled. As it slowly opens up, I get light, brief but full aromas of blood orange, dried dates, ripe plums, cherry & berry pie, raisins, and prunes.
In the mouth: Just as peppery as on the nose. But the sherry notes here are more bitter than the sweet tastes the sherry bomb lovers are more used to. I get subtle but slightly lengthy tastes of cherry-flavored lollipops, dried dates, dried figs, blood orange, goji berry, prunes, and raisins. In-between those are just as subtle but only flashes of apples, lemon peel, guava, pears, and star fruit.
at The Whisky Exchange price.
at the local price.
Firstly, this was mentioned to be an Asia-exclusive release. So, this is different from the Bushmills 12 Year Old Distillery Reserve which was reviewed by Phil before. According to Phil’s review, the Distillery Reserve is fully aged in ex-oloroso sherry casks, but this Asia exclusive is aged in three types of wood (ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-marsala).
Bushmills 12 Years Old (Asia exclusive) – Review
40% ABV. USD $50 locally.
On the nose: I instantly get very welcoming aromas. Because of the two ex-wine cask influences, there are different shades of grape aromas in this one. There are light aromas of grape-heavy fruit parfait, honey, pie crust and Sauternes. After that first layer are just as light but sharper aromas of prunes, raisins, cloves, sandalwood, leather, and peppers. At the end are even more subtle aromas of grass jelly, guava jelly, honeydew melon and dried apricots.
In the mouth: There’s a welcoming tart taste which I can’t pinpoint. It tastes like a light mix of honey and Sauternes. After this is a very, very light tingle of sulfur. Then there are subtle tastes of guava, peppermint and honeydew melon. Even more subtle tastes of lanzones come out.
There’s nothing offensive about the Original, yet there’s also nothing exciting to be excited about. It’s a light, easy-to-drink session whisky. The sherry influence is not too noticeable, but I think it also makes sure this blend doesn’t end up being flat or has a sudden drop off of flavor. Something as light as this makes me think it’ll be good as a Japanese highball.
The lack of sweetness and sulfur in the Black Bush makes me think the ex-sherry casks used here were dry, meaning there wasn’t any leftover sherry left in the cask before it was filled with whisky. That would also mean the cask would have to have been properly treated, such as being taken apart, doused with hot water, and steamed. It’s a good sign of cask management from Bushmills.
I find the Black Bush to be a full step above the Original. The obvious increase in sherry influence and aged components makes this a fuller, more complex, and flavorful whisky. Yet, there are also subtle supporting non-sherry fruity flavors that I got from the Original. Sherry bomb lovers should flock to this due to the price and absence of sulfur.
Despite the lack of an age statement, this is something I think I’ll start recommending to folks getting into whisky. Flavors from ex-sherry casks are still very attractive to most senses after all. People should take advantage of the small price difference between this and the Original.
This 12 Year Old doesn’t speak to me. It feels like the three types of wood are clashing, resulting in this whisky’s smells and tastes being muted. There aren’t any offensive flavors here. But it’s disappointing and annoying to know this whisky has more things to offer but you can’t gain access to it. Letting this breathe for 20 more minutes didn’t help it change.
So how do I find the Bushmills range? I like the Original and Black Bush. These make me want to explore more of the range, and I’m also eager to try higher ABV Bushmills… I think they’re old because they’re good.
Images courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.