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Whisky Reviews

Bushmills 12 Years Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV


Bushmills, one of the most recognisable Irish whiskey brands, probably also as the brightest star power of all its compatriots. This is thanks to its frequent nods in popular culture a long time since. It recently collaborated with the creators of the Peaky Blinders TV series to release a “Prohibition Recipe Irish Whiskey” in a stroke of imaginative marketing, promoted to be the closest you can get to the Bushmills that would have sat behind Thomas Shelby’s favourite bar. Bushmills has made cameos in the movies too, including in the 1996 hit "Independence Day" alongside Jeff Goldblum, and also in James Joyce’s 1920 masterpiece, “Ulysses”.

While records are a little sketchy, the brand is fond of constantly reminding you that it is, by most accounts, the world’s oldest continuously-operating whiskey distillery. Every bottle of Bushmills has the year 1608 imprinted on the glass, this being the year it was officially granted the royal license to begin distilling.

But perhaps the most unique aspect of Bushmills’ history is that it’s always stayed faithful to the single malt style despite being an Irish whiskey. You might be familiar with “Irish Pot Still Whiskey,” a distinctive style which distinguishes the Irish from the Scotch. One of the more well-known brands of Irish pot still whiskey is Redbreast, known for its distinctive lightly spicy kick and rich, oily mouthfeel.


At a time when beer was seen as a clean and essential source of hydration over disease-ridden water, the English introduced a tax on the production of malted grain which made beer production expensive. This led to widespread unhappiness and riots in Scotland. 


This popular style of whiskey became associated with the Irish after the English Crown decided to impose malted barley taxes on distillers. This caused an uproar and eventually a big shift in the Irish whiskey industry in the late 1700s to early 1800s – many Irish distillers, in an effort to reduce their taxes, started using less malted barley and replacing it with unmalted barley or other grains like corn. But not Bushmills. They stuck to their guns, continuing to use 100% malted barley even if it meant higher taxes because they believed this method yielded superior whiskey. This commitment many hundreds of years ago makes Bushmills one of the few Irish brands that is known to traditionally make single malts – something that seems paradoxical on the surface.


(Source: Distillery Trail)


More recently, Bushmills ventured into blended whiskies by releasing an entry range “Classic” blended Irish whiskey. The use of the term “Classic” is perhaps a bit ironic in this context because as we’ve discussed, if we look far back enough, the historical style of Irish whiskey has always been the single malt.



Then comes the 1900s which brought its own challenges. While American thirst for whiskey led Bushmills to become an international brand, the Prohibition period came in the 1920s which hit Irish whiskey exports hard. Bushmills eventually weathered the storm, sending their largest ever shipment to the U.S. as soon as prohibition ended in 1933. By 2008, Bushmills had marked an incredible 400 years of production since 1608. The Bank of Ireland honoured this milestone by featuring the distillery on its banknotes – which pretty much cements Bushmills place as a national treasure.



This decade, Bushmills and Irish whiskey as a whole are currently riding another wave of global popularity with sales on a steady upward trend. To meet this burgeoning demand, Bushmills went as far as to open a new Causeway Distillery this year, which doubles Bushmills’ production capacity. It has also expanded its core product range to feature older whiskies. All very exciting and stuff that speaks volumes about the confidence in the future of Irish whiskey.


(Source: Cool Hunting)


Now, turning our attention to the Bushmills 12 Years Old Single Malt we’re reviewing today. This is part of their core range and triple-distilled from 100% malted barley. This is also aged in a bunch of pretty rich casks, starting with a minimum of 11 years in sherry and bourbon casks, and finishing off with 6-9 months in Marsala wine casks.

Bushmills 12 Years Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV – Review



Colour: Amber.

Nose: Thick, syrupy and sweet, and pretty indulgent with some depth. Starts out with thick treacle, maple syrup, unfolding into heavy dusting of warm cinnamon then some really dry woodiness that I imagine you’d get if you took a whiff of tree bark.

Palate: Palate is somewhat lighter but still flavourful (and I wrote this was before I realised the 40% ABV). Leads with bright honey that seamlessly transitions into cherry-flavoured fruit jellies. Sweet green grapes emerge that add a fruity dimension, then the experience is rounded off with a sprinkle of spice and a subdued cinnamon.

Finish: Moderate in length, with lots of classic Sherry influences. Dark cherries and dustings of cocoa powder quickly fade, while the aftertaste is left with some more intriguing savoury notes. There’s a bready yeastiness, earthy brie cheese rinds and a faintly bucolic element that reminds me of a dairy farm, and then a slight sulphuric note that somewhat points to the wine cask influence.



My Thoughts:

Thick and enjoyable. It leans heavily on its European oak influences, bringing forth a jammy sweetness coupled with a touch of complexity in the finish. Thankfully, it also steers clear of the really dry tannins. The balance and approachability is good and it packs a decent amount of flavour, especially for a whiskey at 40% ABV.

Personally, I feel a slight increase in concentration to around 45 or 46% ABV would elevate this to something I really like, but hey, this whiskey isn't crafted just for my preference.

Rating: 7/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.