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Monday, March 16, 2015

Single Malt Report: Three Bushmillses

According to all of the neon shamrock stickers on store windows and cases of Guinness in storefronts, I'm going to guess that it's St. Patrick's Day tomorrow.  So, to celebrate the consolidation, conglomeration, and monopolization of the Irish Whiskey industry by Saint Pádraig Ricard in 1966, I am reviewing three Bushmills (part of Irish Distillers from 1972-2005) single malts.  I'm also doing this review to celebrate Bushmills's liberation from Diageo PLC.  If you hadn't heard, a few months ago The Big D swapped Bushmills to Casa Cuervo for Don Julio tequila, $408million, and an inanimate carbon rod to be named later.

Here's my lineup: Firstly, there's Trader Joe's 8 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey -- key phrase on the back label: "triple-distilled".  (Cooley's single malt is double-distilled, while Bushmills is triple-distilled.)  This whiskey comes to us via the generosity of Florin (a prince) who so loved this whiskey that he could not wait to give me his nearly full bottle.  Secondly, there's Bushmills 10 year old, official bottling, also courtesy of Florin (a prince) who so loved this whiskey that he encouraged me to partake in as much of it as I could carry home.  And thirdly, there's Bushmills 16 year old "Three Woods" from a sample I purchased via Master of Malt exactly two years ago.

Reviewing from left to right...

supposedly matured "in single-use, bourbon oak casks", 40% abv

Its color is light gold.  The nose starts off with pear, dried grass clippings, and paint.  A lot of paint.  Within five minutes the big paint note turns into an even larger cardboard note.  Then comes small notes of lemon peel and unripe banana.  Maybe some tropical fruit.  Orange Pixy Stix.  The palate is startling at first: loads and loads of acidic cardboard.  Eventually there's some whipped cream and flower blossoms.  Kinda garbagey.  Something between burnt meat and a fart.  It finishes acidic too, and sour.  A little bit of menthol, a pear, and fresh grass.

What did they age this in, an empty shoebox?

Availability - Exclusively at Trader Joe's
Pricing - $24.99
Rating - 65

matured "mostly in bourbon seasoned barrels", 40% abv

Its color is light gold, basically identical to the above 8yo, which gives me some hope that the e150a level was at a minimum.  As the nose begins, it's all gummy bears.  Next up, peach and Belgian witbier.  Then a bit of margarine, a hint of turpentine, and toasted wheat bread.  With a lot of air, it develops notes of hay and roses.  There's a lot of ethyl at the palate's start, like a young Irish blend (Bushmills White Label, perhaps?).  Then vanilla and tart lemons.  It gets sugarier and fruitier with time.  Think Hershey's chocolate, peaches, and oranges.  A decent lightly bitter note arises as well.  Sour vinegar in the finish, then cardboard.  An herbal bitterness helps it out, as does some sugar and peach.

I once knew a guy who loved this whiskey.  He's a Russian-American military veteran, a sniper.  I hope he doesn't read this review.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $30-$60 (holy crap)
Rating - 74

16 year old ex-bourbon & ex-sherry whiskies finished for 6-9 months in sweet port casks, 40% abv

The color is rosy gold.  Gummy bears again in the nose, and peaches (but better, riper ones here).  Then Manischewitz Concord wine, blueberry candy, fresh apricots, red grapes, and milk chocolate.  Sometimes it's a little rummy too.  With more time in the glass, it develops additional notes of prunes, orange peel, fresh ginger, and a little bit o' gasoline.  Wow, port then sherry then port in the palate.  Lots of chocolate and vanilla.  Golden raisins, lemons, and fresh grass.  With time, the chocolate and port notes take over completely.  The brief-ish finish is still almost all port and chocolate.  There's also some salt and pepper, prunes, cream, and a hint of tobacco.

A winesky, but a very entertaining one [Ed.: Is Serge writing these comments?].  The nose is zany and the palate is vibrant.  At 46%abv -- here it comes -- this would be a force of nature.  As it is, I might consider getting this at the lower end of its price range.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $55-$85 in the US; $45-$75 in Europe
Rating - 83

Longtime readers of this blog (all three of you) know that I'm a big big BIG fan of Irish whiskey, and usually give the Irishes extra high scores.  But the TJ's 8yo single malt is poor.  I'm sitting here with my fourth glass (in one week, not one night) right now and I can't even bring myself to sip it anymore.  The Whiskey Jug has a very different opinion of it, but if you look at our notes we seem to be drinking entirely different whiskies.  For what it's worth, the bottling code on mine is L14 001 288 15:37.  I recommend avoiding that one entirely.

Bushmills 10 works as a whiskey-to-ignore sort of drink.  There are plenty of bourbons in the $10-$20 range which satisfy that category.  There's no need to shill out three times that amount of cash to achieve the same purpose.  And Bushmills 16 is a hoot.  If you like lots of port in your whiskey, this one might do it for you.  Probably great for dessert.

To me, ultimately the official Bushmills range really suffers from the low abv.  The textures are thin and everything seems watery.  May Cuervo consider bottling the regular Bushmills line at a higher strength someday.


  1. I sincerely hope this will not be a turning point in our budding friendship! Is there anything I can do?

    Once you graciously lightened my burden, I was able to go back to Bushmills 10. It was on the occasion of a beach trip with friends on this canicular Sunday. I was shocked how enjoyable it was from the whisky flask, straight into the collapsible whisky cups! (Very nice swag that I got with Speyburn 10 a few months back.) I hadn't noticed before the gentle sweetness and the fresh floral notes (camomille, meadow in the Spring, after the rain). This would be your "hay and roses", but with the important distinction that the hey is freshly cut. Nice light lemons to balance it out. I repeated the experience last night with similarly positive results. I also stumbled upon the slight bitterness in the aftertaste, not bothersome, but not "old whisky" bitter either. The texture is light, but oily not watery like most of the lesser blends. And I fully agree that the ultimate curse is the 40% abv. After the triple distillation and the light body the low abv delivers the third strike that takes this whisky out of serious contention - other, as you suggest, as a pleasant day sipper on St Patrick's day or on an outing with friends.

    Now that the bottle is at 1/2 mark (thank you!) I'm enjoying it much more. The initial contact seemed metallic and mouth-wateringly bitter.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the 16yo! I had it also from a MoM sample a few years back. My sample must have been tainted, that was bad whisky! I am not tempted to get a bottle of the 10yo even at K&L's dumping prices, but I might splurge for a 16yo at some point - I generally really like the whisy + port combination.

    1. A friendship torn asunder by Irish whiskey! Nah, my overenthusiasm for Irish whiskey led me to carry that entire bottle away. At least no one attempted to "correct" the 8yo's problem by dumping it into virgin oak casks. I'm going to save a sample of it to try against Bushmills White Label (the Dewar's White label of Irish whiskey) to see who wins (not me) and who loses.

      The 10yo is what I've been sipping this past week since we've had guests here. With this hot weather, it also makes a drinkable highball. It's almost the perfect definition of C-grade whiskey. I'd be happy to drink it, but I wouldn't buy it. Those collapsible whisky cups though, I'd buy 'em! Or, even better, get that Speyburn 10 gift pack.

      In case you don't want to spring for a whole bottle of the 16yo, someday in the far flung future (if the Euro is still getting its can kicked by the dollar) we can split a bottle of the 16 via a Europe order. The LAWS chaps like the 16 quite a bit too, FWIW. http://www.lawhiskeysociety.com/whiskey-profile/21/Bushmills-16

    2. Good idea! At what it sells in Netherlands combined with the rate of Euro we can even afford one each!

  2. It's funny that Serge re-reviewed the 16 today though he never once brings up the word wine-sky.

    1. I know, right? You go apricots, he goes apricots. You go roses, he goes rosehips (Yes, MAO, it's not the same thing, alright? Not even quite the same review.). I go oily light texture, he goes oily light texture. Has anybody ever met this Serge in person? What if it's an aggregating bot?

    2. A 'bot who loves some old Clynelish. And wet dogs.

  3. Better you than me.

    (If you can get the 16 yo for $55 in the US why go through the hassle of getting it for $45 in the EU?)

    1. Strateegery partially. For instance, one may need another bottle to fill out an order to get a good shipping rate. Or if one were to find it increasingly difficult to access a US retailer who sold it for $55 due to infant and traffic issues (totally hypothetical, of course). There may also be a European retailer that has it closer to $35 ex-VAT.