As an American, Irish whiskey comes across like the great underdog of imported whiskey. Scotch tends to draw the most attention and enthusiasm while Ireland’s version tends to sit on the sidelines. At least, until St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Yet I have a soft spot for Irish whiskey, even at blended level. When I was a more casual drinker, Irish whiskey appealed since it tends to work better in cocktails and mixed drinks. Now that my enthusiasm for whiskey has grown, I’ve developed an even greater appreciation for it neat.
People in my situation will typically reach for affordable staples to test the waters, and few brands (save one) come to mind for Irish whiskey as quickly as Bushmills. According to their site, Bushmills ages the whiskey used for Bushmills Original (a blend of single malt and grain whiskey) in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for five years. They also proclaim to be “the original single malt,” with a distilling license that originates in 1608. 400 years strong with no end in sight; let’s see how their base offering stacks up.
Nose: Lemon and honey. A touch earthy and yeasty. Copper, melon, lychee and light cocoa.
Palate: A bit of sherry-like fruit with a mildly creamy backbone, which contrasts oddly with the mellow graininess. Raisin/date medley with a brushing of chocolate and oak. Maybe a faint whisper of buttery Irish whiskey essence.
Finish: Faintly tannic and metallic. Honey, mild oak (sherry?) barrel, and an air of raw nuts.
This is the epitome of beginner-friendly whiskey. The flavors do a fair job representing Irish whiskey at a budget level, with one of the few missing being a classic buttery essence. If it is there, then the earthy, floral, and fruit notes drown in out, which is itself an overly strong description for such a mellow pour. Every note feels muddled together, such that the sipping experience is just as easygoing as it is unremarkable.
The more I sip Bushmills Original, the more it fades into the background. Whiskey that holds up for neat sipping while sticking to a rough $20 budget can often be an uphill battle. Bushmills flagship isn’t for the discerning neat drinker. Instead, it’s better suited for cocktails and mixers, which is by no means a knock. As long as you have the right expectations, Bushmills Original is sufficient and maybe even an easy turn-to.