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Irish Gold

The Old Bushmills Distillery is the Oldest in the World and Makes Irish Whiskeys from Blends to Single Malts
Posted: April 1, 1994

(continued from page 1)

One might have thought that the new Bushmills Malt--actually sold in Europe for the past 10 years--would have been one notch above Black Bush in character, richer and fuller altogether, but Higgins said that the distillery didn't want to alienate the strong following for Black Bush. So, they decided to make a "distinctly" fine single malt.

Nonetheless, the distillery does produce something that could easily be described as a supercharged Black Bush, the 1608 Bushmills Special Reserve (called BSR at the distillery). With an average age of 12 years, the whiskey shows complex aromas and flavors of nuts, vanilla and honey with an amazing, smoky, oloroso Sherry character. The only drawback is that it's hard to find because it's available only in duty-free shops. It sells for $28 for a one-liter bottle.

Another outstanding whiskey from Bushmills is the Millennium, a 1975 vintage single malt. The whiskey is currently being sold in America by the 53-gallon barrel and will be bottled, labeled and shipped just before the turn of the century. "About four or five years ago, we were sitting around at lunch, and someone said that the oldest whiskey we had was from 1975," recalls Higgins. "Someone brought up that 25 years from the whiskey's vintage date would be the millennium. So we blocked off some casks and developed the idea of selling it by the cask. It may be more conspicuous, but it's better than just another commemorative bottling."

One warehouse at the distillery holds the 350 barrels of the vintage malt. The price is $5,000 with a guarantee of 228 bottles at 43 percent alcohol. That works out to about $21 a bottle, although Higgins believes that by the year 2000 the rare whiskey will sell for a least double that price. The offer is unique to the U.S. market, and Higgins expects many whiskey connoisseurs to band together and buy barrels. Only the states of California, Illinois and New York have approved the sale, although orders will be accepted from residents of other states.

The whiskey should be bottled in the fall of 1999 so that it will arrive at customers' doorsteps before the New Year. However, the whiskey won't actually be 25 years old until November 2000. Regardless, it is a superb whiskey with wonderful, vivid aromas and flavors of vanilla, nuts and flowers with a refreshing, clean, honeylike aftertaste. Millennium is being matured in Sherry casks, but the distillery may transfer it to Bourbon casks for added complexity before it is bottled.

Sitting next to a coal-burning fireplace on a cold winter's night in the lounge of the Bushmills Inn, a weary traveler found that a sip of Black Bush caressed the palate and warmed the heart. The news of unrest in Belfast seemed far away as many of the inn's guests enjoyed a glass of whiskey from the Old Bushmills Distillery. Maybe there was something to what Higgins had said earlier in the day about the relationship between the British and Irish. When asked why the two countries had agreed that any whiskey made in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland would simply be called Irish Whiskey, he answered: "It goes to prove that the United Kingdom and Ireland can come to an agreement when it really counts--something as important as whiskey."


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