IN THE CURRENT SWIRL of Americans’ changing tastes, Irish whiskey’s popularity soared over the last decade, with sales growing substantially, particularly among higher-priced bottles. One of those U.S.-bound labels is Bushmills, the oldest of all Irish whiskeys, having been the country’s first whiskey distillery licensed, in 1608.
Actually, Irish whiskey began centuries before that first licensing when it was still known as uisce beatha, water of life. And as some stories have it, it was the Irish who introduced whiskey to Scotland. Today, while both countries turn out lovely spirits, they have differences. The first obvious difference: Scotland produces what it calls “whisky” while Ireland produces “whiskey.” Most Scotch-producing distilleries use double distillation while most Irish distilleries use triple distillation. Scotland tends to use peat in its production, thus producing a drink with smokier, earthier tones. Only a few Irish whiskeys involve peat, so most Irish whiskey tends to have a smoother, satiny finish.
In a tasting of Irish whiskey, I chose three of Bushmills’s most popular bottlings: a 10-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 21-year-old, all single malts.
Bushmills 10 Year Old was golden yellow, the lightest shade of the three, and exuded a bright, clear, inviting aroma that combined a touch of vanilla with a light floral hint. It was followed by a smooth taste eliciting banana and other fruits, mild nut flavors and a bit of spice … a most satisfying whiskey.
Bushmills 16 Year Old appeared bright amber in color. Its deep aroma evoked almond and vanilla while its highly flavorful taste brought to mind ripe fruits. An evolved whiskey, it offered depth of flavor and an interesting complexity with honey overtones.
Bushmills 21 Year Old ages the first 19 years in old sherry and bourbon casks and the final two in Madeira casks. With a darker amber color, it presents a deep almond aroma and a satiny body, an exquisite Irish whiskey.
Prices vary considerably: 10 Year Old, $30–46; 16 Year Old, $103–150; 21 Year Old, $125–250.
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