I’ve made a sort of loose commitment to myself that I’m not going to drink tequila anymore. Actually shoot is more apt because I don’t plan on depriving myself of the occasional margarita – that would be needless overkill. My rationale? Why chuck back cactus juice when I could be sipping fine whisky. It’s taken me a while to unearth this pearl – age it seems has its merits – and to appreciate its simple beauty…but now that I have long may its lustre last. Tequila buzz, pah…it’s a myth.
I recently had the opportunity to put my resolve to the test – during the bachelor party of an Irish friend. The chaps in attendance had been known to pursue Mexican gold with the enthusiasm of modern-day conquistadors. Once, crazed by tequila feva, two of them pinned me down whilst I was asleep, and a third squirted tomato sauce into my mouth till it seeped out of my nose. True story. Anyhow, on this occasion I steeled myself, ignored the taunts, and meandered towards a bottle of Black Bush. It proved to be validation indeed – of the highest order.
Black Bush along with its little brother, Bushmills Original, is an unusual specimen amongst blended Irish whiskeys in that its component parts come from different distilleries. This is common practice in Scotland, but in Ireland, with its mere handful of distilleries, blend composition tends to stay in-house. Given that Bushmills has no column stills and thus cannot make its own grain whiskey it sources this instead from Irish Distillers’ Midleton distillery. Black Bush is a malt/grain blend, so it contains no single pot still – that special nectar which I suggested in my last post as being central to the Irish whiskey identity (and of which I now have a bottle, hooray!). Nevertheless the Bushmills brothers can truly claim to be the most representative of Irish whiskeys – the malt comes from County Anheim in the North, where the Bushmills distillery is located, and the grain comes from County Cork in the South, home to Midleton. I can well imagine that this would have been the dram served during the Good Friday peace talks.
This is some light-hearted conjecture on my part of course. But I thought I’d throw it into the mix. I’m reasonably confident that I’m toeing the party line. Whisky makers in my opinion are deliberately cagey about the makeup of their products; this both encourages positive conjecture amongst consumers and it keeps their options open. Marketers will tell you that mystique adds to the allure. This is all somewhat self-serving. I’m pretty sure it’s not in the consumer’s best interests to be left in the dark. When you’re shelling out hundreds of rands and more for a bottle of whisky you deserve to know – as precisely as is reasonable, and as is the case with most other product categories – what it is that you’re getting.
In this game it seems that Bushmills is no exception. The label claims that it is “matured to perfection in sherry casks” and indeed the sherry influence is its defining feature. However, I’ve struggled to definitively confirm whether it is exclusively or just predominantly matured in sherry casks. Frustratingly there are other grey areas; notably its age, and the proportions of grain and malt. Withholding the latter is hardly unusual, and indeed this may need to vary to maintain flavour consistency from bottling to bottling. In fact I really don’t mean to single out Black Bush. I’m for the moment bottling in a full-blown tirade – but springing a few leaks in the process.
Anyhow, as much as I was distracted by picking over these details, I didn’t let it deter me from fully and unreservedly appreciating this exceptional product. From the first glance at its rich maple syrup colour this whiskey exalts the sherry womb from which it (mostly?) sprang. The nose is big and fruity with a spicy undertone – I could picture a mince pie made with delicate phyllo pastry.
The liquid has a full, but slick mouthfeel, with the intense fruit persisting on the palate, and the spice, identifiably cinnamon, more prominent than before. The oak is restrained, imbuing the whiskey with a well-rounded, smooth, balanced character without ever taking centre stage. Fine stuff from start to the finish – which incidentally reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite place at the time: a high quality Turkish Delight. It was only after sampling some Bushmills 10yo, in which this flavour resonates, that the penny finally dropped.
Black Bush has undoubtedly deepened my love of Irish whiskey. To coin those famous lyrics “the pipes the pipes are calling”. I’ll be sure to answer as regularly as I responsibly can.