In my (misguided?) quest to try every inexpensive whisk(e)y (under $100 or so), I have to admit that my approach isn’t quite fair. A sip of Macallan 12 – a dram made to drink neat – cannot be qualitatively compared to a drop of Johnnie Walker Red Label, which is unabashedly made to be mixed. That’s not to say that the two categories cannot cross over – some very fine whisky cocktails can be made with high-end scotch, and some ‘mixable’ blends can be quite enjoyable au naturel. I leave it to the reader to take my reviews, then, with a grain of salt. I’m no expert on mixology, and thus am not qualified to review these products based on the results of mixing them. In fact, I rarely drink whiskey cocktails. This, then, is a review of Bushmills Original solely for the purpose of drinking neat.
This is a blended Irish whiskey, which in the case of Bushmills means a mixture of triple-distilled Bushmills Irish single malt whiskey with column-still Irish grain whiskey. Unlike brands like Jameson and Powers which combine single pot-still whiskey with their grain, Bushmills uses single-malt. It’s not that simple, though. In a quest to extract the lightest possible spirit during malt distillation, the distillate is circulated through the series of stills several times – some of it much more than three times – with the excess from very narrow cuts being returned to the still again and again. The malt is then aged largely in first-fill ex-bourbon American oak barrels.
Of course, to achieve mass-market quantities and mixable price-points, the malt is diluted with a pretty standard column-distilled grain whiskey, and bottled at 40% ABV. As with any low-priced blend, you expect the lightness and “mixability” (a euphemism for blandness, in my book) to take a higher priority than quality. If you’re interested in Irish single malt, take a look at the line of Irish single-malt from Bushmills, which is definitely intended for drinking straight.
Nose: Black pepper, faint dried coconut. Asphalt. Charcoal. Oatmeal.
Palate: Mildly creamy body, with more black pepper up front, and a suggestion of marshmallow. Pleasant cereal flavors on the tongue, without any depth at all.
Finish: Some brown sugar and oats on the finish. Very short.
Overall: This isn’t awful. It’s a simple, single-note dram with no complexity, but not as faulty as others at this price point. The black pepper on the nose is interesting, and the raw grain whiskey doesn’t announce itself on the tongue like other competitors do. While it doesn’t have the brash racy flavor of Jameson, it wins in smoothness and simplicity. Still, I would not buy a bottle of this for the purpose of drinking it neat, and would rather spend the extra $10 to $20 on some inexpensive sipping whisky (starting with the lower-end single malt scotches).