Recently I took part in another fantastic Tweet Tasting, hosted by Steve Rush of "TheWhiskyWire.com", in which all involved were presented with 5 samples from the "Oldest Distillery In The World" - Bushmills.
The samples on show were the Original, Black Bush, 10yo, 12yo Distillery Reserve and the 16yo.
Bushmills is a distillery that I have had much experience of, both through it's official bottlings, and bottlings through other labels, and to be perfectly honest there's been some mixed results.
I often find that while the flavours of the spirit are light and delicately delicious, the way in which the official bottlings are presented does not do much to bring the flavours across in all their glory.
Most official bottlings are bottled at 40% ABV, and undoubtedly with the use of chill filtration and E150a, yet a lot of the other bottlings are of a higher strength and presented in their natural form.
These other bottlings I am referring to include those offered by The Palace Bar, Teeling, Knappogue Castle and The Celtic Whiskey Shop. All of which have either been confirmed as Bushmills or are very probably Bushmills due to other information to hand.
All that said, it wouldn't take very much for Bushmills to hit the stratosphere with a little bit of tweeking in their production line and hopefully, now that Diageo have buggered off, they can get on with what they do best and produce great whiskey.
Until that time though there will obviously be a transition and we will have to be patient as the new owners find their feet in the Irish whiskey industry.
While we're waiting, we still have a good range of official bottles to try and I had been looking forward to this tasting as, whilst I have tried all the whiskeys before, I had never tried them all side by side.
Onto my notes:
Bushmills - Original
Nose - Fresh green apple, light and clean with a little malted sweetness and light grains making their presence felt. "Rice Krispies" breakfast cereal and a little unripe banana. Some light perfume / floral notes appear along with a definite sweet caramel and vanilla from the oak. In time some citrus comes through but it's all very gentle and laid back. If you weren't trying you'd almost definitely miss a few of these flavours and I guess that might be the point as this makes it an easy starting point for newcomers with no difficult flavours to contend with.
Palate - Light and sweet with more emphasis on orange citrus and now some heat in the form of black pepper and chilli flakes. A little water eases the heat brilliantly and allows some dry oak spice and lemon drops to come through.
Finish - Short, clean and slightly drying.
Bushmills - Black Bush
Nose - More tropical, from the influence of sherry casks. Ripe banana, deeper orange, slight menthol, grapefruit and a sweeter, stickier malt. Brown sugar syrup, a little milk chocolate which isn't unlike "Terry's Chocolate Orange". As the nose opens up you definitely start to get the darker sherry notes. Mixed spice, dried fruits, dried fruit mix that includes dried orange and lemon peel. Christmas cake for sure and maybe some "Jamaica Ginger Cake". Right at the end I got a distinct note of crushed walnut. Excellent nose for a humble blend.
Palate - Sweet and sour arrival that moves over for lovely sherried flavours. Rich mixed spice, deep, intensely rich, orange. A little chilli shows itself again but this is much more balanced than the Original. Menthol is still present on the palate and you get a sense that the malt whiskey used in Black Bush is of a very high standard indeed.
Finish - Not too bad at all with a lovely dryness from the oak and a concentrated red apple flavour that borders on sour red apple sweets.
Bushmills - 10yo
Nose - Still some tropical banana and light pineapple but this is a great deal more "green" in it's delivery with apples and pears also on show. Some honey sweetness appears but at the same time you get a savoury feel to the whiskey, if that makes any sense?? The oak effect is here but the spirit dominates in a good way. Lemon biscuits with vanilla cream. Very fresh and summery.
Palate - Sweet red apples, good hefty kick of peppery spice and cooked oranges. Menthol with oak spice. With a little water a slight herbal note appears, this is a note I rarely find but could easily pick up in this whiskey, which to me underlines it's "green" qualities. Some malted biscuits towards the end. Again, this is all very clean and inoffensive.
Finish - Ok with apples and a little spice.
Bushmills 12yo Distillery Reserve
Nose - Honey, toffee apples, orange barley sweets (you can see the distillery spirit character flavours each time here) and banana ice cream. Just a little dusty wood lurks in the background and then the dried fruits start to appear. More cooked orange, red apple, cinnamon and creamy butter notes show through. As this sits in the glass more of the dusty continues to evolve with leather and old books.
Palate - Salted caramel, light spice and hints of blackcurrants and raspberries. More duty old sherry wood appears here with, again, cooked orange and maybe just some more chocolate.
Finish - Again, ok with warm spices and red apples.
Bushmills - 16yo
Nose - Deep, rich, buttery banana, raspberry coulis, blackcurrants, in fact most berries seem to be in here. Blood orange marmalade, brown sugar and this actually retains it's freshness quite well before moving anywhere near anything resembling old dustiness. The Port cask influence keeps this rich with red fruits and this is definitely not as musty as the 12yo. Spice is soft and easy going. This is how marriage of maturation should be done.
Palate - Intense rich berries, undiluted "Ribena", raspberry coulis and apple + blackberry crumble. Dark chocolate orange, stewed orange and mixed spice. Christmas cake, cherry bakewell tarts. Indulgent and beautifully presented, lord only knows how good this would be at 46% and un-chill filtered....I'd say it would be one of the best whiskies in the world. Huge statement I know but it really is that good.
Finish - So moreish with red fruit goodness.
Overall it was so enjoyable to work my way through the Bushmills range from, more or less, start to finish.
The winner was undoubtedly the 16yo by a fair distance ahead of the 10yo which only just pipped the 12yo. Then out of the blends the Black Bush easily won over the Original.
If I'm being honest though the 16yo is really the only one of these I would recommend with any great conviction. The rest of the range is obviously well made, and carries some lovely character flavours, but in my opinion Bushmills need to do more.
Their spirit is so delicate that I feel it needs either to be bottled at a higher ABV or matured in more extravagant casks to elevate it to a higher level. The 10yo and 12yo just don't have enough oomph behind them to really make them "stand out" whiskeys.
The 16yo gets through because of the extra influence of Port casks and I have previously enjoyed their 21yo, which also gets by due to the extra influence of Madeira casks.
When you see what Teeling (Rum amongst others), Celtic Whiskey Shop (Anima Negra Wine) and Knappogue (Marsala) are maturing their stocks of Bushmills, and then look at how well these come across at a higher strength along with the Place Bar's bottling "Fourth Estate", it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the direction Bushmills should be going.
For sure this may rock the boat with the long term, die hard fans but I honestly believe that something has to change if Bushmills are to maintain, and grow, their standing amongst Irish whiskey; and let's be honest it's only going to get tougher with the amount of new distilleries that are quickly catching up.
I'll finish with this though, and I've said it before, this is a very exciting time for Irish whiskey and long may it continue.
As always, a massive thank you to Steve at "TheWhiskyWire.com" for hosting the tasting and to Bushmills for the samples.
Until next time,
N.B. Apologies for the different shaped images but they were the best I could find.