N.B. – We do not provide scores for the samples we try. We review the quality of the event.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a Bushmills virtual tasting, held by Michael from L Mulligan Whiskey Shop. The event was highly anticipated as it included samples of the new cask strength Bushmills releases, which form part of the Causeway Collection. The 2008 Muscatel Cask at 56.4% abv and the 1995 Malaga Cask at 53.5% abv, the first cask strength releases from Bushmills in fifteen years, mark a change of direction for the distillery, who were acquired as the signature whisky brand for drink giants Jose Cuervo.
Helen Mulholland, Bushmills’ master blender, explained that the, ‘launch represents a bold new step for Bushmills, one that not only honours the giants and generations before us but also the incomparable natural landscape in which it’s forged. We are excited to reintroduce cask strength Bushmills single malt whiskeys to our loyal whiskey fans across the island of Ireland. With these two new exclusive releases, we celebrate our passion for single malt, showcase our rare and unique casks and honour our 400-year north coast provenance.” The limited releases were highly sought after, with the Muscatel Cask selling out immediately, making this L Mulligan tasting a very exciting prospect. As a result, they were able to sell 200 tickets in minutes.
Michael kicked off the show by introducing Seamus Lowry of Bushmills, who provided a fascinating history of the brand and the role he has played. He talked us through the history of Bushmills, its changing of hands and the impact it played on the distillery. He explained that Bushmills intend to triple their output, sitting on nearly 40 warehouses, both rackhouses and palletised, showing their potential for rapid growth. He also described the incredible growth of the Irish whiskey industry, which has grown from 3 distilleries to 33 distilleries in 20 years.
Following the insight into the brand, it was time to sample the whiskey on offer. The night began with a classic – Black Bush. The blend is not as grain-driven as other similarly priced blends, and uses American casks, both first-fill and refill, with flavours of cherries, raisins and almonds. For the price range Black Bush is at, this is hard to beat.
Next up was the 10 year old. It is fruity, fragrant, light and delicate, and comes from roughly 70% American and 30% sherry. This is classic Bushmills, and as Seamus himself states, ‘not every whiskey needs to be beefy and bold.’ At this stage the chat turned to the coastal influence of Bushmills. It was mentioned that Bushmills is a mere 20 miles from Islay, yet the whiskey is not thought of as one with strong maritime, salty notes. This was explained succinctly by the fact that Bushmills Distillery is 10 miles inland, and not as coastal as some of their marketing may allude to.
The third dram of the night was the 16 year old. Driven by wine casks, this was a serious step up in terms of quality, yet the Bushmills DNA was again evident. Following this was the 21 year old. The colour is much darker than the 16 year old, and Seamus rightly pointed out not as punchy as the 16. There were beautiful dark chocolate notes, with citrus and grapefruit. The two years spent in the Madeira Cask were evident and added a wonderful richness to the spirit. If there is any criticism of the core range it is their abv - they all sit on 40%. Again it is worth revisiting Seamus’s assertion that not all whiskey must be beefy and bold, and with this in mind, it would be hard to find many whiskies at 40% that taste as good as this.
Finally we moved on to the main event. The 2008 Muscatel Cask was everything I hoped it would be. Fragrant and aromatic, it would be very hard to detect this strong an abv on a blind tasting. The star of the show, however, was the 1995 Malaga Cask. Spending 14 years in a Malaga cask, which Seamus pointed out is not a finish but a, ‘continuity of ageing,’ there were strong notes of plums, cinnamon and pears. A stunning dram.
The night was wrapped up by Seamus and Michael, who together had provided hours of entertainment for us, and that was that. A fantastic tasting, trying a full core range, two highly sought cask strength releases, and at an affordable price. Bravo.