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Our man on the bar stool visits Bushmills Distillery in Ireland
I’VE HAD A WONDERFUL TIME WRITING THIS COLUMN OVER the last few months, visiting the local establishments and getting to know the bartenders that make the good stuff even better. So when the call came down from the top that I should do a piece on the famous Bushmills Irish Whiskey, some letters were exchanged and the decision was made that I forgo the familiar routine and shoot straight to the source.
Tickets were printed, hotels booked, way too much preparation was made and I pocketed the passport on my way out the door. A mere shuttle ride, three airports, a bus, a night in a hotel and two trains later, I found myself at Victoria Street Station in Belfast, Northern Ireland on a brisk sunny Saturday morning looking at my guide Donal and a couple of quite fetching German coeds.
“Oof we goo,” muttered Donal, and we pulled out through city center on the way to the scenic Antrim Coast Road, one of the most stunning and occasionally nauseating drives in the world. We made a brief rest stop in my ancestral hometown of Carrickfergus where Donal instructed, “Ye batter make tha bast of tha facilates hair. Ees a wall te tha next stoop,” or something like that. About two hours and 200 really scary brushes with the edge of the constantly curving pavement later, we arrived near the town of Ballintoy to walk across the Carrick-a-Rede bridge or what I re-named “The Bridge of Eternal Peril.” What you do here is walk uphill (both ways) to a rope bridge suspended between the mainland and a volcanic plug 100 feet over the churning surf of the Irish Sea. Once this task is completed, you get a certificate that states you’re an idiot and you can frame it for all to see.
“Bak oon da bus,” chanted Donal and we set off for my original destination. By the time we swung by to take a photo of the famous Dunluce Castle at Portrush, myself and the German hotties were getting antsy. “Vy not ve been drink somesing alveady?” was mentioned by one of the frauleins. Donal got the clue and we drove across the bridge of the Bush River toward the glorious Bushmills Distillery.
Why on Earth would someone travel all that way to go to a building? For the uninitiated, Bushmills Distillery has been around a while. In 1608, King James I granted the first-ever license to distill whiskey in-the-world. This place was the first, numero uno. So it’s been putting out the water of life for 405 years. It was only interrupted once. In 1885, the distillery burned down, fell over and sank into the swamp. But the second one stayed up.
The first thing I noticed when getting out of the bus was the smell. The scent of boiling barley permeates the air in Bushmills like a warm blanket. It’s absolutely heavenly and should be bottled and shipped to every town in the world. Secondly, it’s not a huge facility. I was expecting a giant behemoth of an industrial complex. Instead there’s a four-story brick building and some smaller whitewashed ones…and that’s it. But Ireland is so proud of it they put it on the back of the ten-pound note.
We immediately made our way through the gift shop, through the cafeteria and into the bar. Now I shouldn’t even really be talking about what I had first because (tease!), you can’t get it here. Actually, you can’t get it anywhere except at the distillery. They offer a 12-year old single malt with a pretty sky-blue label that’s aged in Spanish sherry casks and it’s delicious!
What you can get, though, are several members of the Bushmills family of whiskeys that are also served at the distillery bar. The original Bushmills is a triple-distilled blend with a slightly vanilla-and-honey aroma. It’s the second-lightest sibling and is also aged in sherry barrels. This white-labeled whiskey is the most popular and available of the brand. It’s the go-to standard for true Irish Whiskey.
The next step up is Bushmills Black Bush. Now, this is a darker, 80 percent malt whiskey that’s aged seven years. There’s an immediate spicy sherry flavor and it has a more earthy, nutty aroma. This is my personal favorite of the group. Show up at your New Year’s party with this and you’ll make the other guests look like rubes with their 12-packs.
By now, Donal was getting anxious (or jealous) and wanted to get moving. We still had Giant’s Causeway to visit. I was fine with that, too, because I wanted to have my photo made climbing on the rocks like the “Houses of the Holy” album cover. Plus, the sooner we got dropped off back in Belfast, the sooner meine Freundins and I can get across the street to the Crown Liquor Saloon for more Bushmills.