Bushmills was one of my first reviews, number 3 to be exact, back in 2015. Given my journey since then, I’m re-tasting it as I compare to the Prohibition Blend that landed in my local bottle shop.
The Prohibition Blend has a lot going on visually as you can see by the photo at right. There are callbacks to the ‘Shelby’ company, a tie-in to The Peaky Blinders TV series. Their star, Cillian Murphy features on the Bushmills landing page for the whisky. There is a quote on the back of the bottle from a Shelby (who is fictional). We have reached a level of marketing tomfoolery seldom seen. On the side of reality, we see this is non-chill-filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46% ABV), aged for a minimum of 3 years (which is required by Irish law anyway) in ex-bourbon barrels. Also, it’s got a cork stopper; very 1920s.
Today we battle it out with two titans of Irish whisky: Bushmills white label and Jameson Irish. Both being blends they are made from grain whisky (made from any cereal grain, often maize, in a column still) and pot still whisky. To be called ‘pot still’ whisky, the formal rule states (quoted from an excellent article here from Pernod Ricard):
The Irish Whiskey Technical File lists that Irish Pot Still Whiskey must be made from a mash which contains a minimum of 30% malted barley and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley, with up to 5% of other cereals such as oats and rye added if required.
Note the use of unmalted barley, which differentiates Irish from Scotch whisky. Other rules state that the aging must be at least 3 years in oak. Like most Irish whiskies, the pot still component of both are triple distilled. The law states for a blend it must be “a mixture of any two or more of the styles of malt, pot still, and grain whiskey” (source whiskyadvocate).
Bushmills white was the first whisky I actually savored. I was young, and impressionable, and thinking myself sophisticated — yet without means of acquiring sophistication. I’d muffed an opportunity to get my life together enough for higher education, so I worked a series of jobs and looked where I could for inspiration in our small town. I had read a book by Jack Higgins, The Eagle has Landed, in which a character named Devlin (an Irish revolutionary) helps out some Nazi paratroopers. It’s an outlandish plot delivered with aplomb and I remember Devlin favoring a specific Irish whisky, Bushmills. As fortune would have it, the local liquor/convenience store across from which I worked had Bushmills in stock and a compliant late-night clerk who would sell us adult (but not adult enough for America) working stiffs some booze.