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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.