Bushmills: Ireland's Single Malt Distillery
In the small village of Bushmills, settled on the banks of the river you'll find The Old Bushmills distillery, the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery.
FROM 100% MALTED BARLEY
The Old Bushmills Distillery is one of the few distilleries in Ireland to use 100% malted barley to handcraft triple-distilled whiskey, which creates the smooth taste that is our house style.
SMALL BATCH, HAND CRAFTED
The Old Bushmills Distillery is committed to small batch blending. We use just 10 copper pot stills to produce limited batches each and every time.
Bushmills Irish Whiskey is made by the hands of the close Bushmills community and has been for centuries – the secrets of whiskey making have been passed from generation to generation.
GRAIN TO GLASS
The distillery is ‘grain-to-glass’, meaning that every part of the process is crafted on site, from the mashing through to distillation and bottling, and overseen by our Master Distiller, Colum Egan, and our Master Blender, Helen Mulholland.
More About Bushmills
Bushmills Irish whiskey is made by and at the Old Bushmills Distillery. Old Bushmills Distillery is a long established Irish whiskey distillery, located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, roughly 100 kilometres northwest of Belfast. They lay claim to being the oldest licensed distillery in the world and make reference to a license to distil granted in 1608 to the then governor of County Antrim, a Sir Thomas Phillips.
Who are they?
Bushmills is a brand of Irish whiskey made by and at the Old Bushmills Distillery. Old Bushmills Distillery is a long established Irish whiskey distillery, located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, roughly 100 kilometres northwest of Belfast. They lay claim to being the oldest licensed distillery in the world and make reference to a license to distil granted in 1608 to the then governor of County Antrim, a Sir Thomas Phillips.
Old Bushmills are currently owned by the Casa Cuervo group. The distillery itself has operated almost entirely uninterrupted since being rebuilt a short time after a catastrophic fire in 1885.
What do they make?
Old Bushmills make Irish whiskies (we go into more detail below in the ‘How do they make it’ section) under the Bushmills moniker. The whiskey is aged, blended (in some cases) and then bottled as a variety of 'expressions' (fancy way of saying different products).
The four most common expressions of Bushmills in Australia are:
The Original Bushmills - a blended Irish whiskey composed of 55% malted barley whiskey made at Bushmills and 45% grain whiskey from Midleton distillery. Aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks for a minimum of 5 years (although no age statement is declared on the bottle).
Black Bush - another blend, this time 80% malted barley from Bushmills itself and 20% grain whiskey. Aged in a roughly 70/30 split of sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. Aged for a minimum of 8 years (although no age statement is declared on the bottle).
Bushmills 10 Year - a 100% single malt whiskey. Aged in barrels previously containing bourbon (seasoned), for a minimum of 10 years (age on a whisk(e)y bottle refers to the youngest whisk(e)y in the bottle).
Bushmills 16 Year - once again a 100% single malt whiskey. The 16 Year Old is aged for a minimum of 16 years in a combination of Oloroso Sherry and bourbon seasoned casks before being 'finished' in port barrels for several months. Finishing is a term used to denote a further, normally short term maturation of an already mature whisk(e)y.
We've had a few sips of each and will talk about what we found in a future write-up.
How do they make it?
Old Bushmills Distillery have an estimated output capacity of 4.5 million litres of spirit per year, which is made possible by the use of vast stainless steel mash tuns, wash-backs and ten large pot stills.
Bushmills, using this set-up, produce a triple pot distilled single malt whiskey using barley sourced from all over the globe and water from Saint Columb's Rill - a tributary of the River Bush. The way the spirit is made shares similarities with Scotch single malt distilleries and other Irish whiskey distilleries with some important key differences;
Bushmills make a single malt spirit in a pot still like a lot of Scotch distillers, but unlike their Scots brethren, the spirit at Bushmills is distilled three time vs the typical Scotch single malt distilleries who distil twice.
Firstly, a lot of Irish whiskey is made on a continuous column still set-up, the most popular variant in use being based off a patent from 1830 by Irish inventor Aeneas Coffey. Stills based on this design were found to be more efficient and had far less downtime than the traditional copper pot setups and have found favour all over the world, in particular the United States, Scottish grain distilleries and Ireland. Old Bushmills use the traditional, much older copper pot still often seen in single malt distilleries in Scotland and these days Australia.
Secondly, triple distilled whiskey like that made at Old Bushmills is common in Ireland, but using 100% malted barley to do so is far less common. A rather onerous tax on malted barley introduced in the 1850's saw a lot of Irish distilleries switch from a pure malted barley mash-bill (technical term for the grain recipe that makes up a whisk(e)y) to a combination of malted and un-malted barley (un-malted barley also called green barley) or even other grains altogether.
The whiskey made at Old Bushmills is then either aged as is, one day growing up to be a true Irish single malt whiskey, or in the case of Bushmills blends like the Black Bush and Original, the triple pot still single malt is combined with grain whiskey from Midleton.
How long have they been making it?
Although the site has been licensed since 1608 the first official distillery didn't appear until 1784 when a gentleman by the name of Hugh Anderson registered the Old Bushmills Distillery and for good measure made the Pot Still it's registered trademark.
The distillery has survived many trials and tribulations, such as the tax on malted barley introduced in the 1850's, the aforementioned fire in 1885 and prohibition in the United States which started in 1920 – which saw a massive decline in demand from what was one of Irish whiskey’s largest markets.
During World War II production was halted as the distillery and its grounds were used to billet Allied troops. Sadly the head office in Belfast was bombed and all of the distilleries historical documentation were destroyed.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were 37 whiskey distilleries across Ireland and Northern Ireland, but a few decades later, Bushmills due to a combination of good fortune and planning was one of only three whiskey distilleries left on the whole island. In 1972, all three remaining distilleries, Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton were controlled by one company - the Irish Distillers Company. Ownership subsequently changed hands to Pernod-Ricard in 1988, Diageo in 2005 and then to its current owners, Casa Cuervo in late 2014.
Who is it for?
Irish whiskies are generally known for being less harsh (or 'smooth') and beginner friendly. This is most likely a by-product of being triple distilled vs double distilled - like a typical Scotch. The extra run of spirit through the stills and condensers results in a 'cleaner’, more rounded spirit. These are typically bottled at lower alcoholic concentrations which seem to be less daunting for the uninitiated.
Bushmills being an excellent example of Irish spirit, is a great entry point to whisk(e)y in general as they have a range of interesting blends and single malts with a decent amount of character and flavour at very competitive price points. Original and Black Bush start at $49.00 as of time of writing and the core range tops out with the excellent Bushmills 16 for those with a bit more money to spend – without breaking the bank.
Bushmills whiskies are great served neat, over ice and work really well in cocktails, especially the blends. Black Bush or Original with a dash of soda water in a high ball, or with ginger ale and garnished with some fresh mint works a treat and is perfect to trojan horse a non-whisk(ey) drinker into the fold or to unwind on a balmy summer afternoon.
All of the expressions hold their own served neat too - but the 16 year old steals our heart here. It's an excellent whiskey in its own right but definitely in our top 3 when it comes to core range Irish whiskies.
TL:DR recap - Bushmills make affordable, tasty, easy to drink Irish Whisk(e)y that will satisfy whisk(e)y newcomers and old-timers alike.
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