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Opinions about Irish whiskey

Bushmills malt whiskey tasting and the glorious 16-year-old

The summer of 2020 was a weird one. Obviously – how could it have been anything else? And for us living in Ireland, the weather was horrible too as if we needed that. But what we did get was a load of interesting whiskey releases and events.

I bought tickets for the Distilled festival, organised by L Mulligan’s whiskey shop, in mid July, and after having spent money on that as well as a few nice bottles, I had decided not to attend the Belfast whiskey week. This was a stupid decision.

I had seen several announcements about the festival on Instagram, and there it looked like the festival would be held in a pub. I was surprised, but at the time every country had its own covid rules, and UK had opened pubs so maybe it was normal for them? But I didn’t like the thought and decided to attend it next year instead. Later when I finally found their website I understood it would be held online – the only wise thing to do this year – but was sure everything was sold out and that it was too late.

When the festival kicked off, there were several posts about it on social media and it all seemed fabulous. I was informed that there were still tickets left for certain events, and I was delighted to get a ticket with dram kit for the Bushmills malt tasting. And the good news was that if you had a ticket for one event, you could attend all of them! Without the drams obviously, but it’s still very enjoyable to listen to the producers and ambassadors talk about their work.

Belfast whiskey week 2020

It’s about time I talk about Bushmills

I’ve never written anything about Bushmills on this blog. What a shame, right?! Such a well established distillery of the island of Ireland. Before this summer I had tasted the standard blend, the Black Bush, and the 21-year-old single malt. I had also attended a tasting with the Cork whiskey society, featuring cask samples from the different Bushmills components. That’s one of the best tastings I’ve ever been to. As for the ready single malts, I hadn’t had (or taken) the opportunity to taste them, other than the 21-year-old.

I was a bit sceptical at first. All whiskeys are bottled at 40% – would I enjoy them? I usually prefer higher ABVs. But I looked forward to exploring the Bushmills malt range.

My experience of the Bushmills single malts

The first whiskey to taste was the 10-year-old and it was a nice easy sipper with characteristics such as rich vanilla, shortbread, stone fruit, toast, and it also had a floral touch. This is one I’d definitely recommend to someone who isn’t a whiskey drinker but who wants to give it a try. It’s also probably lovely with some ice on a warm summer’s day or to sip while sitting with a group of friends.

The second was a 12-year-old single malt and as far as I understand this is a distillery exclusive, but my notes from the event are actually quite confusing, so I have no more details really. In my notes from the tasting, I’ve mentioned Marsala casks on this whiskey, while Bushmills website says it’s all sherry. Perhaps my mind wandered away for a moment while tasting this. If you attended this event, please enlighten me! Anyway, this whiskey was much darker in flavour, more earthy, with old wood and still some vanilla and floral characters.

The next whiskey was the 16-year-old, and I’ll come back to it further down in this post. This was my favourite of all, and after only one sip I texted my husband and asked him to go to the Off Licence and ask them to order a bottle for us!

After the 16-year-old came the 21-year-old. This is a lovely whiskey, it’s a mix of 19-year-old whiskeys, 50% from bourbon casks and 50% from sherry casks, then they’re married together in Madeira casks for 2 years. This one has a nice variety of fruity and darker flavours. I get dried red berries, vanilla, marshmallows, strawberry flavoured marshmallows (Are you Scandinavian? This is Juleskum all the way!) and some black pepper. Highly recommended!

Bushmills has another brand, Sexton, which I mentioned briefly in another post last spring. This is a younger malt whiskey matured exclusively in sherry casks. It’s a very nicely priced bottle and quite light bodied but it has a nice flavour profile with intense spice and dark sherry flavours. My notes on this one were “ridiculously good for the price”.

The last whiskey to taste was a limited edition whiskey that has spent some time in rum casks – also here my notes are quite scarce so I won’t give any details because I’m probably wrong anyway. It was a nice drop though with rich fruit, chocolate, pinapple and some other fruits – it gave me a feeling of fresh fruit in an Italian garden in late summer. It was very nice but it still did not beat the 16-year-old.

Bushmills 16-year-old single malt

Bushmills 16-year-old single malt – my favourite in the core range

I love core range whiskeys. While single cask whiskeys are usually fabulous whiskeys and obviously an important part of the industry, the beauty with core range whiskeys is that they are AVAILABLE when you want them. You can just decide to buy one, and then buy one. No need to queue, to be quick before it sells out, and all that.

This one is a beautiful core range whiskey, and it was without doubt my favourite in the Bushmills tasting provided by Belfast whiskey week. I would love to taste it in maybe 50% ABV or above, because I love the more chewy characters that usually come with a higher strength whiskey, but for a 40% whiskey this is a true beauty.

One half of the components of the 16-year-old has been matured in bourbon casks and the other half in sherry casks, supposedly for 14 years. They are then married together for further maturation in Tawny port casks. This gives it the dark, sweet, earthy, musty, spicy flavours that I like.

Nose

Vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, dark chocolate with orange. Old varnished wood, and I get some caramel in there too. I experienced a lot more depth on the nose with a Tùath glass than I did with a Glencairn!

Palate

I got a sharp flavour to begin with from the Glencairn but not from the Tùath. It has a light but not too light mouthfeel. There’s wood, orange with dark chocolate again, mixed with dried berries. A dry mouthfeel at the end, with a nice long finish, spicy and with an enormous sweetness and dark chocolate.

This isn’t your cheap core range whiskey, but it’s just below €100 so not too bad, and worth every cent. I’m happy to buy good whiskeys up to €100 but beyond that it, eh, hurts a bit more. So while I’d love to have a bottle of the 21-year-old, this one will be my go-to whiskey from Bushmills core range.

This post marks the end of my Friday dram series. I will instead present and review whiskeys under the category “Opinions about Irish whiskey” and they can be posted any day of the week, not necessarily every week but when I have something to say.

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