2011 has started off well for yours truly, and what better way to celebrate than dropping a little more than I normally would for a whiskey I know will delight. Many of us here at Sumo & Stogies are fans of one particular line of whiskeys: Bushmills.
“Bushmills you say? That’s in the North.” Says an Irish acquaintance I met once while on the road.
“Yessir, it is” I replied. “You care for a shot?”
“That’s the Protestant man’s whiskey!” he exclaimed.
Bushmills is indeed the Protestant man’s whiskey, but it hasn’t always been. Whiskey has been distilled near the River Bush in County Antrim for nearly a millennium, starting well before the Protestant Reformation. Protestants first came into play when a distilling license was first granted from King James to Sir Thomas Phillips (both Protestants, neither Irish) in 1608, making Bushmills the oldest licensed whiskey in the world. The corporation to this day identifies its start from here, but actually as it did not have a selling license the whiskey was smuggled until 1784 when Bushmills became a registered company.
A frequent consumer of Bushmills 10 year malt and the Black Bush, this time I went for Bushmills 16 year malt. Now, I don’t know if I can go back to the others, let along any other whiskey.
Like many whiskey brands, products in a series vary by the labels. The 16 year Bushmills malt comes in a maroon box and with a maroon label. Tear off the seal, pull of the cork, and the aroma is more than to be expected. Irish whiskeys always have a pleasing aroma which is part of the consuming experience. Bushmills 16 year aroma is so wonderful, they could sell cologne line of it. Enjoy the sound of it trickling into the glass, reminiscent of a fresh spring brook. Enjoy as the aroma swells. It’s half nutty, half cherry, and all goodness. Hesitate before the first sip. Relax and enjoy it. After all, you earned it, you paid for it, so make the most of it.
The Bushmills 16 year spent time maturing in American oak barrels for bourbon, Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, and lastly in Port pipes. These should come as no surprise. The 10 year Bushmills, which I love, spends all it’s time in American oak barrels, and the Black Bush is matured in the Spanish Oloroso sherry casks (oloroso means “scented” in Spanish). This, is a marriage of the two. Then on top of that, more years for aging and finishing off the process in “Port pipes.” “What the hell is ‘Port pipes,’” you may ask? It an old measurement used in Britain before the gallon was standardized. When you hear “Port pipe,” think 115 UK gallons/138 US gallons in quantity. Why should this matter? The smaller the finishing cask, the more rapidly the whiskey matures.
It’s finally time for a sip. It’s so smooth it literally goes down like spring water, but that certainly doesn’t mean it lacks in flavor. Just as the smell was rich, so is the flavor. It’s plum, it’s vanilla, and it’s even licorice! Not words most would use to describe an Irish whiskey, but it shouldn’t be considered Ireland’s ambassador malt. It was made a very Irish way, but maybe it’s the fact it’s pure malt, or it’s the 16 years it took to mature. Or is it the Protestants who made it? Nevertheless, the barley notes are still alive in the taste. It’s something Irish while all on it’s own at the same time.
I marvel at the color. The color in the bottle and the color in my glass. It’s a truth to whiskey that more years of aging means a darker color, but this is not just a darker color. It’s cherry-red in color, almost like a wine. It’s no wonder Bushmills labeled this treat in maroon.
There’s a lot competing in that taste on the pallet, which pleases because there’s always something new to note in each swig. Having said that, it does not taste anything like a complicated Scotch, as all the competing tastes have one thing in common and that’s the smoothness.
Down the hatch, it’s silky, crisp, and even refreshing. Very easy to drink, easy to enjoy, and it suits the price.
Whether celebrating the New Year, or you have a chance to enjoy a full day of sumo, adding Bushmills 16 year malt will always enhance the enjoyment. But it’s not an all-occasions whiskey; it’s special. Don’t put it in a flask, don’t water it down, sip it, and on these special occasions we can thank the Protestants for their contribution to the world of Irish whiskey.