Black Bush surprised me. I expected the usual response that entrenched businesses (blended whisky) have to perceived threats (innovation in craft whisky): pale imitation. Instead I found a very drinkable, very accomplished, very well-balanced approach to a sherried blend. The fruit notes that you expect, in a package that mixes extraordinarily well with both cocktail ingredients and ice. Oh, and it’s damn cheap.
I actually keep coming back to the bottle of Black Bush that I bought on a whim. At first for cocktail fodder, and then for something to splash into a glass of ice. I even bought a second bottle (rare for me).
Black Bush is, according to Bushmills, a blend of 80% malt whiskey to 20% grain whiskey, a particularly high percentage of malt for a blend under $40. The whiskey is aged “up to” 7 years in a combination of oloroso sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. The result is obviously sherry-influenced, but not overly sweet or fruity.
It’s bottled at 40% ABV. Note that Black Bush was previously aged more in the neighborhood of 11 years, and has since lost some of that maturity, probably as of the most recent bottling revamp. Really, though, it’s still quite good for the price.
Nose: A gentle sherry presence greets the nose – with fresh apple cider, young fruity red wine, and champagne grapes. A hint of cereal grains and bakery goods, like scones, but not overly sweet.
Palate: Mild and thin. A bit of grape jelly, and more non-sweet baked goods… English muffins? Otherwise, same notes as on the nose. A bit sweeter on the tongue – with more caramel than anticipated. A hint of acetone, but only a hint.
Finish: Medium-long. The grain is more present here, with a bite of young, medicinal grain alcohol, but that passes quickly and the finish fades pleasantly with grape skins and red wine tannins.
With Water: A splash of water wakes up more fruit notes, with red currants, unripe figs, and dried cranberries. However, it makes the palate dreadfully thin and watery. At 40% ABV, this hardly requires watering. Note that while Black Bush makes quite nice cocktails and is excellent on the rocks, it does suffer a little from melting ice. Try a large ice cube or a straight-up cocktail rather than something with a lot of water.
Overall: Black Bush is probably the most successful inexpensive blended whisky on the market that I’ve had, with the sole exception of Bank Note which wins only because it has a lot more round caramel and stands up to mixing better. I vastly prefer Black Bush to Bushmills Original, Bushmills 10 year-old single malt, and any other blended Irish whiskey that I’ve had, including the similar Concannon, aged in red wine casks. If you haven’t settled on an Irish Whiskey for your “everyday” dram or cocktail cabinet yet, give this one a serious look.