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Monday, December 1, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bushmills 12 year old Distillery Reserve

I just did a pair of unplanned reviews this past holiday weekend.  My brother-in-law, Andrew, had a few interesting items on his bar shelf.  I'll post one today, one on Wednesday, and (perhaps) on Friday there will be a review of a surprise sample someone else sent me.

First up: Bushmills 12 year old Distillery Reserve.

Sold only at the Old Bushmills distillery itself in Northern Ireland, the Distillery Reserve is "mostly" matured in ex-oloroso casks.  Andrew's buddy, AJ, brought him back this bottle which was at its midpoint when I got into it.  It had been a while since I'd had any Bushmills, which was mostly due to my Diageo issues.  I used to find Bushmills White Label (aka White Bush) to be anywhere from bland to crap.  Black Bush and the 10 year old single malt were better than the White, but not enough for me to spring for a bottle.  But again keep in mind, it had been six or seven years since I'd had anything except for the White.  The good news is that the 12 year old is much better than White Label.

Brand: Bushmills
Owner: Diageo (soon to be Jose Cuervo)
Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: "mostly" ex-oloroso casks, thus probably some ex-bourbons in there too
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottle code: L2166
Thank you, Andrew!

The color is DiageoGold™.  The nose is full of fruity fortified wine notes like plum and orange.  Those are met evenly with a rush of roasted walnuts and almonds.  Smaller notes of Twix wafers and mint chip ice cream pop up.  Towards the end of the experience, a big note of dulce di leche emerges.  The palate is more reserved.  Milk chocolate, orange cream, and spearmint leaves arrive first.  Hints of lime and vanilla bean later on.  Something about it was reminiscent of Glenfiddichs 15 and 18 (though more spirity) but I couldn't put my finger on it.  The finish gets much sweeter with notes of caramel, cherry syrup, and orange oil.

Andrew's wife, Leslie, thinks this whiskey's nose the best part.  I agree with her.  The nose is great, very rich and full for a low abv whiskey.  That low abv is probably what keeps the palate from rising above 'good'.  Its texture is watery and the flavors never really lift off.  That being said, it's very drinkable.  It finishes lightly as well, dissolving and vanishing a bit quicker than I'd like.

Overall, this was a surprise.  The nose was good enough to carry this into B-grade territory.  I'll say (as I often do) that this could be a killer at 46%abv.  And since it's only sold to distillery visitors, it's not like they're exporting millions of cases.  So why not have a lighter hand with the water there, Big D?  You'd rather lessen the quality of a product so that you can squeeze out a couple hundred more bottles a year?  Of course you would.

Anyway, this is decent whiskey.  I don't know what they're charging for it, but hopefully it isn't much higher than what one would normally pay for "decent whiskey".  If you (the reader) are visiting Bushmills, see if they'll allow you to try a drip of the 12 during the "Tasting Experience" because I always encourage folks to try before they buy.

Availability - Distillery only
Pricing - around 36GBP (thanks to Ol' Jas for the info!)
Rating - 84


  1. Well, there's a bit of good news with Jose Cuervo taking ownership of the distillery. Here's hoping they actually do something with the place unlike Diageo.

    1. That's a good point, I totally forgot about the sale already. I'll update the owner notes above. The distillery lasted 18 years with Pernod Ricard and 9 years with Diageo. Should we give it 4.5 years with Cuervo?

      The brand is actually growing but not as fast as Jameson's. Diageo wanted to chase Jameson's lead in the category but their products are different. The only thing similar is the "Irish" and "Blended" words on their cheapest product's labels. Plus the White Label was awful the last time I tried it, and that's even with me giving Irish whiskey a lot of leeway.

    2. I brought this up because Diageo didn't seem to know what to do with Bushmills. Except for the really good 1608 edition, Diageo just seemed content with maintaining the present line-up of products and not release new products like Midleton's single pot still blitz. It was a similar situation with George Dickel until American whiskey began heating up.

    3. Good point about Diageo. Keep in mind though that Bushmills distillery is 1/12th the size of Midleton. So the Midleton monster can pop out new brands left and right with more ease. It's almost as if Bushmills's ownership needs to push the "single malt" part rather than the Irish part unless they're willing to build a whisky fortress to take on the leader.

    4. Reading this review made decide to revisit my open bottle of Bushmills 1608 which is 46%. Now I have a bit of a cold right now but the use of crystal malt in the whiskey lends a very unique smelling nose. There's something on the nose that reminds me of fresh milk. The taste is pretty similar to Black Bush but the higher ABV means a better texture. Sadly the DiageoGold treatment means I cannot tell what kind of cask this was aged in.

    5. What would you say a good price is for the 1608? I've seen a very wide range of pricing on it.

    6. Strangely enough, I had a bottle shipped from Hi-Time Wines (your neck of the woods) because they were selling the 1608 for $60. However I later bought a second bottle for $100 (the MSRP) at BevMo because I liked the whiskey. However I think the former price was more appropriate.

    7. Incidentally I was rather confused by Jose Cuervo's interest in Bushmills UNTIL I remembered Jose Cuervo's parent company is Proximo who also happen to own LDI. So Proximo and Jose Cuervo do have experience in the whisk(e)y world.

  2. I was there this past summer. I bought a bottle of this to bring back for my sister, who wanted something unusual for her moderately enthusiastic whisky-drinking boyfriend. This was perfect for that. So, a few notes:
    •It cost around £36 or $60 USD. Pretty high for what it is, but reasonable given the distillery-only cache and the reliable sales. (Nearly everyone I saw buy ANY bottle that day was buying this.) Keep in mind that Bushmills is one of the main stops on the well-trodden Antrim Coast tourist route.
    •The tour itself is awful.
    •The tour does include a dram in their nice tasting room at the end, though. They line up tons of pre-poured drams that tour-goers trade their ticket stubs for. Again, almost everyone goes for the distillery-only option. I was with my mom who didn't want any, so I got to have two. I compared the 10 YO with the 12YO Distillery Reserve. In a comparison, the Distillery Reserve is notably richer and just better. I liked it.
    •Yes, it'd be awesome to have it at 46%. But with their tourist consumer base in mind, I think that's exceptionally unlikely.
    •And I do hope the Cuervo folks spice things up. Wouldn't higher ABV be a perfect way to distinguish Bushmills from the sea of almost always 40% Irish whiskies out there? I sure think so. The low ABV is one of the main things that keeps Irish whiskey consistently off my buy list.

    My sister's boyfriend liked it quite a bit. I hear he zoomed through it in just a couple weeks. (I, on the other hand, have yet to open the bottle of Connemara Turf Mor that I brought back for myself.)

    1. Hey Ol' Jas. Thank you for your comments and the info! I'll update the price part.

      I wonder if the tour issue is common to the Diageo distillery tours. Their distilleries are almost fully automated and they hire minimum staff. And it's all run by a big company that seems pretty aloof towards its single malt customers. Someday I'll finally do some of their tours to find out.

      I agree about a higher ABV being a way to distinguish Bushmills. Less water, more whiskey. I'm a big fan of Irish whiskey but I agree that the 40%ABVs are a big issue. Midleton/Pernod is just starting to release their Powers products at 43+%.

      The 40%ABV problem is one that I also have with Canadian whiskies, leaving them all feeling very watery and thin, to me.

    2. I found the tour of Lagavulin a bit uninspiring, but both of the tastings I did at Diageo distilleries were top notch. So unless you're a completionist, it'd be legit to skip the tours and just do the tastings. The stills are really going to be the only interesting bits and you can probably peek your head in the stillhouse doors.

    3. Good to know. I'd rather spend my time with the tastings as well. I might do one or two Diageo distillery tours just to give a try and (perhaps) to provide additional blog content.

  3. (I'm the anonymous from above.)

    I should have explained why the tour was bad: Scripted, cold, too-large group, few opportunities to ask questions, no visit to the actual warehouse, bottling not in action (though I think that last point is just a matter of chance and timing).

    Also, this is "Ol' Jas" to use my usual whisky site handle.

    Jas out

  4. The 16 yr old is fantastic dram . Try it Krav. I opened a 21 yr old Kilbeggan last night, brilliant, spicy but subtle. Shane

    1. Thanks, Shane! Definitely will try the 16yo. In fact, I'll try to post a review in January or February. I haven't actually seen a Kilbeggan 21 in the wild. It sounds great!