Black Bush Evolution
The new Black Bush Bottle(image courtesty of G-LO http://boozedancing.
Happy Saint Patrick's day! I’m honored to be guest posting on The Perfect Whisky Match. Johanne & Graham are the BEST. This is a special St. Patrick’s day for the whisky bloggers of the world because the creative and generative Johanne McInnish has spawned a world-wide whisky blogger Flash Mob Blog (#BushmillsMB on twitter). Celebrating St. Patrick’s day means, for millions, having an Irish Whiskey and for me, growing up in the USA, that meant Bushmill's and Jameson. Bushmill’s is from Northern Ireland, part of the UK, while Jameson’s is from the independent Republic of Ireland - but Americans don’t really pay much attention. It’s all “Irish”. White Bushmill's - the cheapest and most grainy - was a sometime object of my college era “shooting sessions” and NYC St. Patrick's day celebrations of yore. Black Bush costs a more than the White, but has a lot more malt whisky in the blend making it a fine sipper. Black Bush, like most Irish whiskies is triple distilled and made from both malted and unmalted barley. The triple distilling makes it very clean and soft. The Bushmill’s distillery character is a lovely minty sweetness that tastes “green” like Ireland. Critics have been supportive. Paul Pacult said (one the way to giving it 4 stars):
“Possesses a high ratio of malt whiskey (85%, I believe)... One of the greatest whiskeys from Ireland, bar none. A delicious tot that I enjoy time and again, at home and on the road. Brilliant.”
Ian Buxton puts Black Bush at #36 on his excellent latest tome “101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die”. He also points out a high proportion of malt whisky (and mentions that the grain whisky component isn’t made by Bushmills - but is made by Midleton in the Republic of Ireland to the South). He says that the malt in Black Bush is matured for 8-10 years in Oloroso casks before the addition of the grain whiskey. He points out that Diageo purchased Bushmills in 2005 and has been “sprucing up the joint” and is planning big things for Bushmills. He concludes: “watch this space”.
Personally, I’ve been a bit less impressed. Black Bush is nice stuff, but I taste the grain and sometime in the late 1990s, I sealed up my bottle of Black Bush and put it away rested, forgotten until just last year. When I started drinking it again I wasn’t blown away. http://www.cooperedtot.
(image courtesty of G-LO http://boozedancing.
Black Bush 2013 40%
Color: full gold
Nose: A pleasant nose with light and gentle scents of ripe cantaloup, cake batter, vanilla, and powdered Turkish delight. There are some younger grain notes too, with deeper nosing, sweet straw, threshed fresh oats, ladies powder puff notes and a slight whiff of medicinal alcohol. This is way up from the White Label stuff.
The entry is sweet with malt and vinous sugars. Fulsome malt guides the mid-palate expansion, but the sweet bright clean sweetness of Irish whiskey owns the whole fore palate: sweet and gently minty and admixed with a clear influence of sherried wood. The mid-palate peak is gentle and quite tasty with juicy fruit, gentle distant grapey port wine, and the minty clean giving way to a gentle tired oaky squeak. The oak on the turn is oh so gentle. The finish is short, but pleasantly gentle: lightly oaked and slightly malty sweet. Throughout the tasting the flavors of malt dominate the grain flavors which show up as a slight medicinal burn and a lightness in density. This is the best Black Bush yet. Or is it?
Black Bush’s late 1990s bottle label (1.125 liters)
Black Bush late 1990s 40%Color: full gold (identical)
Nose: dry hay, powdered malt, some slight sulfur notes of flint that add some cumin complexity. Pear fruits and distant vanilla peak shyly out from beneath the dry spice. The whole nose is drier and less inviting than the new Black Bush's, but more complex and interesting too.
The entry is less effusively sweet and less vinous than the current version, but has an august quality in the admittedly distant sherry that somehow makes up for it. The mid-palate expansion parallels the new Black Bush with the minty sweet freshness of Irish Whisky playing sprightly with the richer sherry and light grainy burn (but owning the grain). But here the sherried notes are drier, more august with hints of rancio and age. The turn to the finish is a bit more tart, with old sherry acids and a whiff more musty wood. The finish is short - but longer than the new stuff's: more sherried and oaky too.
In an extended re-tasting I find that I like this better than I did before. It’s solid 3 stars territory. Maybe it’s the direct head to head format, or maybe it’s my more educated palate now - but I get all those lovely sherry notes.
So, Diageo has upped Black Bush's game. Black Bush is fruitier and more richly sweet now. But something has also been lost. The old sherry flavors were more sophisticated and authentic, if a tad more reticent - particularly in the nose. I'm tempted to speculate that "real" sherry casks might be too expensive now - and that Black Bush is now made with sherry conditioned casks or that younger, sweeter, and less august grape wine is involved in the sherry - but perhaps more of it. But I’m just guessing. Anyway - both eras of Black Bush are recommended. Fine sipping with a minty sherried Irish frame of mind.