By Richard Thomas
Sometimes Irish whiskey is parsed along sectarian lines, and with its distillery in County Antrim of Northern Ireland, Bushmills is firmly on the protestant side of that whiskey divide. The Bushmills Old Distillery Company opened in the 1780s, and while it has suffered from periodic closures during its storied history, it remains the oldest licensed distillery in the world. The “1608” on the bottle refers to an older royal license that was given to a Sir Thomas Philips, which was the first license to make whiskey in the area, but this has no direct connection to the actual Bushmills label.
Bushmills Black Bush is just a step up from the company’s entry-level whiskey, Bushmills Original (sometimes called “White Bush”). It is a blended whiskey made mostly from the malt whiskey which is Bushmills signature relative to other Irish whiskeys. In the mid-19th Century, the British crown imposed a tax on malted barley, and most Irish distillers responded by reducing the amount of malted barley used in their mash recipes, a choice that continues to be reflected in Irish whiskey to this day. Bushmills was the exception, and continued to use hefty amounts of malted barley. The malt whiskey is aged in used Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and then blended with a touch of single grain whiskey. Bushmills Black Bush is bottled at 40% alcohol.
Bushmills says their Black Bush has a “full, rich fruitcake aroma,” but I thought the nose was like a full, rich blend of sweet toffee and caramel. While that is a cake-like scent, if there was any actual fruitiness in there, I must have missed it. On the palate, the toffee and caramel retreat into the background, creating a mildly sweet and spicy flavor. The spice has a hint of fire to it, so in terms of bite Bushmills Black Bush is a nipper. The whiskey finishes with a blend of oak, sweetness and warmth. Bushmills Black Bush has a coloring reminiscent of old, well-polished brass.
Bushmills Black Bush can usually be found on store shelves priced between $28 and $32.