The Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, describes itself as the oldest licensed distillery in the world, and no one seems able to mount a serious challenge to that assertion. The license to distill in that spot was granted by King James I in 1608.
As with my previous considerations of Jameson and Tullamore Dew, this review is only concerned with the plain, common man’s variety of Bushmills Irish Whiskey; i.e. the Bushmills Original blend, sometimes known as Bushmills White Label or just White Bush (there being another popular but pricier blend by the same distiller called “Black Bush”). And as with Jameson and Tullamore Dew, Bushmills is a triple-distilled blended whiskey, and that’s enough on the technical end.
Speaking of Bushmills cannot but be a little personal for me. I was relatively young when I decided (or realized) that I was not cut out for drinking beer. One is always fine, but any more than that is just too much liquid. I find it wearying to consume. So, I looked to the spirit world for guidance. To order a mixed drink all the time seemed like it might be a bit fey, not to mention the link to monster hangovers. Being of Irish stock, I made a try of drinking Jameson, but as my review would’ve hinted, it did not ultimately please. I think I went straight from there to Scotches. I tried single-malts occasionally, but my standard go-to in a bar became the blended J & B. It was unostentatious, and quite sturdy enough for my youthful palate, although a little problematic to order in a loud bar since it was sometimes misheard as “Jim Beam,” which I found wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Continue reading Bushmills Irish Whiskey→
Jameson Irish Whiskey is easily the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world. It has long been a fixture as such; if a bar stocks only one Irish whiskey, it is almost certainly going to be Jameson. I’m not the sufficient historian to know how and why this came to be so. But it likely has something to do with the fact that Jameson was one of the few survivors of the destruction of a once-thriving international market for Irish whiskey, caused by a trade war with Britain and worsened by the era of prohibition in the United States, both events occurring early in the twentieth century. In addition, being a whiskey manufactured in the Republic of Ireland, Jameson has arguably generated loyalty from many Irish expatriates and their descendants, as opposed, say, to the “Protestant” Bushmills Irish Whiskey from Co. Antrim.
Whatever the reasons for Jameson coming to connote “Irish whiskey” in much of the world, I do think that Jameson’s dominance explains why Irish whiskey has had such a low status for so long. (This has been changing in recent years with a proliferation of good quality new and resurrected brands.) Jameson—and here I am speaking of the plain, ordinary type and not the single-malt and aged varietals—is simply not a good whiskey.
Before I get more specific about my dislike of it, however, I’d like to indulge in a brief reminiscence that perhaps shows how even bad liquor finds its appropriate place.
Those who traveled back and forth between Ireland and the U.S.A. in past years and decades would undoubtedly remember a strange feature of the trip: the forced stop at Shannon Airport. That is, if you had booked a flight from the U.S.A. to Dublin (the capital city on Ireland’s east coast) you would fly across the Atlantic for six and half hours or so, and then, with your destination about fifteen minutes away, the aircraft would descend and land on Ireland’s west coast, at Shannon, a place that seemed more of a glorified airfield than a true, busy international airport. Passengers would be required to leave the plane, for perhaps an hour and a half or so, and then would have to get back on so the plane could take off again for one of the shortest jaunts a jumbo jet would ever make, over what seemed just a few fields and rivers to Dublin city. Although Shannon was at one time a standard refueling stop, nobody was fooled as to why this stopover was maintained as a compulsory one for modern transatlantic airliners; its purpose was only to provide work to the employees of that airport, and to get the travelers to open their wallets in various ways. Indeed, duty free shopping originated at Shannon Airport. And that is not the only thing that Shannon Airport gave to the world. Continue reading Jameson Irish Whiskey→
St. Patrick’s Day is days away, and what better way could there be of celebrating the conversion of the Gaels to Christianity than to meditate upon some Irish whiskies. Indeed, were it not for Irish Catholic angst (speaking from some experience) the whiskey industry might never have flourished in that country at all.
The very word whiskey (or whisky) in English is derived from the Gaelic term for the same substance, namely uisce beatha (pronounced ishka bah-ha), which is translated literally as “water of life.” Drop a mouse in a bowl of whiskey and you’ll see how long it lives; nevertheless, even poison has its place in God’s creation, as Proverbs 31:6-7 tells us:
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Indeed. It is not for yours truly to review any top-shelf whiskies; I am just not a top-shelf kind of guy, as my friends would readily attest. Instead I plan on looking at three of the old mainstays: Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew—the plain versions, not the new-fangled single malt variations and such.
I will begin with the latter of the three. Tullamore Dew is a blended Irish whiskey. It shares the most common characteristic of Irish whiskies, namely that it is triple distilled. (Rumors that St. Patrick used the process of triple distillation to explain the Holy Trinity seem unfounded, however.) And as opposed to most Scotch whiskies, peat is generally not featured in the Irish malting process, resulting in a smoother-rather-than-smoky finish. (I will not go further into all of the more tendentious distinctions between various types of whiskey.)
Tullamore Dew is certainly nothing if not smooth. It is so smooth that it is best appreciated neat, or with the merest splash of water, or poured fairly generously over a single ice-cube. You will hear it described by educated tasters as medium-to-full bodied, light-straw in color, featuring notes of wood and honeysuckle, with a long finish. I’d endorse all of these descriptions, emphasizing again that it needs to sipped nearly or entirely straight in order to bring its personality to the fore. Continue reading Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey→
A young Irish filmmaker named Nicky Larkin went to Israel and the West Bank with the intent of making a film exposing Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians, something which was treated as gospel truth by the bulk of his peers in the Emerald Isle. After seven weeks, and thanks to a mind at least open to being open, he went home with a dramatically different perspective. Continue reading Change of heart on Israel: Nicky Larkin→