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.
I had also read that serious students at the university would speak gravely when they were reading The Russians, so I quickly learned who The Russians were (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, that lot) and began ending my day with Lev Nikolayevich and a glass of Bushmills.
So, one wonders if my early search for sophistication was at all well-founded? I’d have to say at least it set my taste for whisky. I’d had bourbon now and then with friends and not liked what I found — an overpowering fruity/sweet nose. That and I overindulged once, and anything that remotely reminded me of bourbon made me ill for some years. But Bushmills has a taste very different of that from the American whiskies. It is light, clean, and refreshing compared to old-school bourbons. That’s no surprise, as the mash bill and process is quite different. Whereas the American whiskies use a lot of corn, in Ireland it is barley and barley malt that goes into their whiskies. That and the Irish triple-distillation would make a sizable difference. Finally, being a blend, Bushmills has some grain whiskies added as well.
At $22 locally, Bushmills white label is in the rotation still at my house. We call on it when a non-peated dram is desired — which, for my wife, is most of the time. I call on Teachers for a taste of smoke for that same price.
Nose: Not like any other whisky I’ve tried and I still struggle to describe it. Grassy? A bit of sweetness, a touch of green peppers, dustiness.
Taste: Distinct barley taste, just a touch of sweetness, roses, oranges, plums. Nicely balanced.
Finish: Clean and quick. A touch of oak tannins.
Bottom line: Quick on the finish but a very good dram for a non-peaty night. Great value.