Friday, 28 October 2016

Bushmills - "Steamship" Sherry Cask - Review

For too long I had stood by and watched my beloved Bushmills become seemingly stuck in the mud while every other Irish whiskey company moved onto the tarmac and planted their respective accelerators, sending them off into the Irish whiskey future.

This was of course until 2014 when the magical news came through that the evil overlords Diageo had been ousted from their Northern Irish coastal base by the family owned company Jose Cuervo. 

Now, say what you like about Diageo, but the truth is they seemed to have absolutely no interest in promoting the Bushmills brand in any shape or form.  Yes they may have provided significant inward investment into the distillery, but, without any outward activity, the brand was always going to stagnate in a market that was growing faster than any other in the drinks industry.

The arrival of Jose Cuervo was therefore a breath of fresh air and they immediately set their stall out by stating that they understood "the importance of nurturing and protecting the heritage and quality of a brand" and that they were "strongly committed to doing exactly that with Bushmills".

At long last Bushmills was back, or at least it should've been.

At various tastings I heard rumours of new ideas, and possible single cask releases, but for the better part of 18 months Bushmills seemed to remain quiet.

This all changed in February of this year when, finally, we had a new release to celebrate.

This was of course the announcement of the new "Steamship" collection, a collection consisting of three permanent “special cask matured” variants plus regular limited edition releases.

The collection itself was inspired by the historical SS Bushmills steamship and celebrates its maiden voyage in the 1890s.  After being commissioned, by then owner the Boyd Brothers, it sailed across the world, travelling as far as Philadelphia and Yokohama, returning with refilled casks of rum, fortfied wine and Bourbon.

The first release in this range was the Sherry Cask Reserve, a no-age-statement single malt Irish whiskey exclusively matured in Oloroso Sherry butts before being bottled at 40% ABV and put on sale at a price of £65.

Being a NAS whiskey, travel retail only and at a relatively high price point I had my concerns.  This wasn't exactly what I had wanted to see but I suppose I should've been grateful there was any release at all.  I only hoped the flavour, and style, of the whiskey would hold up to scrutiny.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Classic cut grass Bushmills nose.  Mashed banana on brown toast, a little candied sweetness, cinnamon lozenges, alcohol soaked raisins and light Christmas cake.  A lot more of the lighter and sweeter than the deeper and heavier, if you know what I mean.  Pressed apple juice and gentle red fruits with hints of strawberry and black cherry.  The lack of depth highlights the youthfulness and for being matured exclusively in Sherry casks it feels like the casks may have been a little "tired".  Flavours are nice but in truth I was expecting a little more.

Palate - Shockingly poor mouth feel.  Thin to the point of diluted.  What flavours you do get are some spiced sherry fruits and a little sweet orchard fruits.  This feels like a beginners whiskey.  No depth, no balance, no age and no character.  Really disappointing.  This is screaming out for more maturation, and a higher strength, but unfortunately has neither.

Finish - Thankfully short, allowing me to find something better to drink.

Well that's completely taken the wind out of my sails.  Any hope, and excitement, I had about the future of this fantastic distillery has been wiped out in one glass.

Taking over a distillery, of this magnitude, you need to hit the ground running, in a market that's growing so quickly.  Instead they have released, in my opinion, overpriced nonsense that will only damage whatever reputation was left after the dark days of Diageo.

Looking forward things aren't much better with a Port Cask release on the horizon.  Another 40% ABV, NAS bottling with another £30+ added onto the price.

What angers me even more is when you're at a Bushmills tasting, you get a sense of what whiskey they have under their control.  When you speak with the long term staff, you get a feeling of the pride and ambition they have.  When you taste certain other Irish whiskeys, that may be using Bushmills spirit, you see exactly what they could be capable of.

Instead we're left with sub-standard, travel retail only, releases that could damage Bushmills beyond repair.

I'd love to know where their aversion to bottling at a higher strength comes from?  Bushmills is a beautifully light and delicate spirit, and that can come through delightfully in some releases, but I see no harm in giving the whole range a boost by simply upping the strength to maybe 46% ABV. 

It's obvious that this Steamship Sherry Cask would've benefitted from it.

I will certainly sample the Port Cask release but there's no way I'll be buying a bottle and if the quality is similar to this release I may have to abandon sampling this Steamship collection altogether.

Until next time,



Monday, 10 October 2016 / Belfast Whiskey Walk - Review

On Wednesday 21st September 2016 I had the pleasure of witnessing the launch of two new and exciting Irish whiskey initiatives right here in Belfast. 

The first of these new initiatives was the new online hub "".  Brought to us by drinks company Dillon Bass, "" launched with the aim to create a "one-stop shop for fans of Irish whiskey" allowing them to find out more about their favourite tipple.

The website hopes to bring together all the latest news and views with a guide to Northern Ireland's best Irish whiskey bars and stockists alongside a history of Irish whiskey, whiskey event listings, blogs and much more. 

As Dillon Bass state themselves: "The Development of the new Whiskey Club initiative is the latest step in the company's efforts to share its passion for Irish whiskey, whilst celebrating the quality bars and bartenders that have played a role in shaping the Irish whiskey story."

For those of you who may not be completely aware of who Dillon Bass are, they are the owners of the largest whiskey portfolio in Northern Ireland.  They are without doubt firmly in the stable of all things Midleton with such brands as Jameson, Redbreast, Powers and Midleton whiskey itself.

Here in Northern Ireland, Dillon Bass certainly seem to be at the forefront of Irish whiskey with their recent appointment of Joe Magowan, formerly of The Vineyard, Belfast, as a dedicated Irish Whiskey Ambassador and going forward they see a very bright future for the local market.

Commenting on the launch of the new initiatives, Joanne O'Hagan, marketing director for Dillon Bass stated: "We believe there is huge potential for Irish whiskey to become a bona fide tourism product in Northern Ireland.  Our visitor numbers are growing and people want to visit Irish whiskey bars when they come here."

Now, whilst this first initiative may be solely for the domain of the internet the second initiative to be launched is a much more tangible experience.

In partnership with Dillon Bass, "Taste and Tour" have created Belfast's first ever "Whiskey Walk".

"Taste and Tour" have been going from strength to strength, for some time now, bringing to Belfast tours such as the "Belfast Food Tour", "Belfast Bar Tour" and their "Meet the Brewer - Brewery tour".  Now they can add the "Whiskey Walk" to their impressive portfolio.

Phil Ervine, director of "Taste and Tour", has commented on the launch of the "Whiskey Walk", stating that it is their aim for "people to finish the "Whiskey Walk" with a new found appreciation and knowledge of Irish whiskey and the Belfast bars that serve it."

As stated, I was lucky to be invited to take part in the first tour and I have to say it was thoroughly enjoyable. 

The tour began at Belfast's Jaffé Fountain where we were introduced to Joe Magowan, not bad for a Whiskey Ambassador to be accompanying each tour, passing on his knowledge and expertise.  From here a few steps took us into "Bittles Bar" for a Jameson, ginger and lime.

Inside Bittles we enjoyed our drink while listening to the story behind, what I would say is, Belfast's best whiskey bar. 

From here we walked through Church Lane to "The National" where we were treated to a cocktail demonstration, showing us how Jameson "Black Barrel" can be used to create a whiskey sour, and of course we received our own whiskey sour to sip through.

Onwards we went, through Waring Street and on to Commercial Court, where we ended up at the iconic "Duke of York".  Here we were served up a Powers "Gold Label" while Joe Magowan took us through the background of this legendary whiskey.

Another short walk and we were into "The Dirty Onion", which itself was previously used as a whiskey warehouse many years ago.  As we entered the bar we were greeted by the sounds of traditional Irish music while the unmistakable aroma of burning peat wafted across our noses.

Here we were treated to a "Boilermaker", an old school serve consisting of a Jameson "Caskmates" alongside a half pint of local Belfast stout.  Each drink complimented each other perfectly while Joe Magowan explained the history behind Jameson "Caskmates".

Last of all we ended up in the luxurious surroundings of "The Merchant Hotel" to enjoy a fine trio of Irish whiskeys.  Here we received a flight which included Powers "Three Swallow", Green Spot and the heavy hitter that is Redbreast 12 year old.

All in all a perfect ending to an excellent tour.

I think the tour itself will grow from strength to strength as time goes on.  Undoubtedly "Taste and Tour" will see how well it is received and add or change anything they feel they need to in order to make sure the tour lives up the high expectations us Irish whiskey drinkers have. 

For me the only thing I would suggest is that the tour should maybe highlight the role Belfast played within the history of Irish whiskey.  Maybe with a small nod to the likes of Dunville's or even Avoniel.  Even if it was only to pay recognition, I still think it would be a nice touch.

I will also briefly touch upon the cost of the tour.  The price of the tour is £60 which gets you, as stated, 5 bars and 8 drinks.  Given the cost of drinks in Belfast city centre these days, and the fact that you are accompanied by an Irish whiskey Ambassador, I think the price point is just about spot on.

The fact that a company has come out with something new for local Irish whiskey lovers is worthwhile in itself and I think it should be applauded.  Hopefully the tourists also take notice of this tour which will allow it to grow and become a firm fixture in the local bar scene.

Going forward there are 3 further tours planned between now and the end of January.  The upcoming tour on Wednesday 19th October already appears to be sold out and there are still tickets available for the two other tours on Wednesday 30th November 2016 and Wednesday 18th January 2017.  Anyone wishing to book a tour can follow the link posted below.

Lastly I'd just like to thank the whole team at Dillon Bass for the opportunity to be part of these new whiskey initiatives.

Until next time,



Taste and Tour - -