By Richard Thomas
The 16 Year Old single malt from Bushmills is their most recognizable old whiskey. Bushmills White Label, Black Bush, and 10 Year Old are more frequent fixtures on liquor store and bar shelves, but those are young or middle-aged, and the point here is that one actually sees the 16 Year Old often enough for it’s maroon label to be recognizable. That isn’t the case at all from Bushmills 21 Year Old, not even close.
No small amount of craft goes into making the Bushmills 16 Year Old. Two sets of malt whiskey are aged separately, one in old bourbon barrels and the other in ex-sherry casks. They are then combined, finished in some old port wine barrels, and bottled at 40% abv. That makes this a triple-wood whiskey, as well as an aged one.
The color of Bushmills 16 isn’t that surprising, given that half of it spends at least 16 years in old bourbon barrels and all of it spends several months in port barrels. Even aged Irish whiskey tends to be pale, but all that dark wood gave this stuff a light amber coloring.
I find the better Bushmills whiskeys to be understated, and the 16 Year Old is no exception. The nose has a toasty character, with a certain almondish, nutty quality. Notes of caramel, the customary Irish toffee, and some hoary wood are in the scent as well, and overall it has a light, airy quality to it.
The toasty, woody character continues to define the palate, along with the taste of almonds. There is a dryness there, from the sherry aging no doubt, while the port finish imparts a slight dried fruits sweetness. The flavor ends on a small dash of pepper, which carries over into the finish, a short affair with a little warmth, but with a marvelous earthiness that somehow doesn’t spoil the lightness of the whole thing.
I must confess I found the Bushmills 16 Year Old somewhat underwhelming, but I tend to think that of the aged Irish whiskeys in general. It has a substantially different character from the 10 Year Old, but is ultimately only a slight improvement. It’s perfect for a gourmet beer and shot combination (if there is such a thing), but my problem with it as a sipping whiskey is that I thought the finish was the best part. You don’t sip on something first and foremost for its finish. It’s not that it’s bad, far from it, but it’s not as good as I expect something with this much time and craft invested in it.
The price tag is where Bushmills 16 Year Old is a winner. It typically retails for $65, making it very reasonable for an upper-tier Irish whiskey.