This review is part of a St. Patrick’s Day Flash Mob Blog effort. Scroll to the end for a list of all participating blogs.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t know much about Irish whiskey. It’s not the sort of thing one drinks when spending a year in Scotland. The Water of Life Society hosted a small tasting of Irish whiskies but only because our president was Irish—and I unfortunately missed out on that one. I’m pretty sure the only Irish whiskey I’ve tasted is Jameson—and that was long before I knew how to drink whisky, back in my days of shots and vomit.
So I’ve got some catching up to do when it comes to that other uisce beatha. What better time to start than in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day? The brilliant Canadian blogger and germinatrix of ideas Johanne McInnis of The Perfect Whisky Match suggested on Facebook that we—the whisky bloggers of the world—unite in the first-ever whisky blogging flash mob (first ever blogging flashmob in general?). We settled on St. Paddy’s as it gave focus in terms of whiskey type (Irish) and tie-in with an existing holiday. Bushmills Black Bush was selected as an easy-to-find (for most) and relatively inexpensive Irish whiskey, perfect for accommodating as many bloggers as possible. (A few folks couldn’t find Black Bush in their country or weren’t able to buy an entire bottle—ahem, that’d be me—and other bloggers generously sent samples of their own—ahem, that’d be the ever-gracious, kindest of the kind Joshua Feldman of The Coopered Tot. Just another day of friendliness and generosity in the Whisky Fabric!)
I enjoyed this tasting, then, because I started with a fresh slate. Inevitably, I compared my impressions to Scotch, but I tried hard to nose and taste sans expectations. This tasting was especially fun because I had two different expressions of Black Bush to try. Josh had an old bottle from the ’90s that he’d not drunk much of over the years, and handed it off to me for the project and “for shots when novice drinkers come over.” (I’ve had some disappointing experiences giving good whisky to rubes who shoot it back without a second thought. Sad face.) He also gave me a generous sampling of today’s Black Bush to taste side-by-side with the old stuff.
Were they different? Yes, and no. The flavor profiles had a lot in common but each emphasized different aspects.
Bushmills Black Bush (late 1990s expression)
Nose: Leather, mocha, apples, and lots of spice: cinnamon, allspice, cloves. A sweet vanilla note and light floral topnote, as well as fresh wood or pencil shavings.
Palate: Strong wood pervades throughout the duration of the flavor. Spice, especially black pepper, on the midpalate which fades disappointingly quickly. Slight sweetness and a surprising flash of banana along with more expected citrus. Overall, the oak overwhelmed the more interesting flavors in this dram.
Finish: Oak and more oak. A bare hint of lingering spice but not enough to suit me.
Bushmills Black Bush (contemporary expression)
Nose: Vanilla, cloves, apple bread, pears, cardamom, clean pencil shavings. Light, sweet, and fruity, with a slight mocha or chocolate undercurrent.
Palate: Sweet with vanilla and counterbalanced with oak. The most prominent spice is a gentle cinnamon bark, with baked apples and a hint of banana.
Finish: Again, lots of wood and not much else. There’s some dark chocolate (like unsweetened, 100% cacao) at the back of the tongue but otherwise, it disappoints.
Overall, I found that neither dram fulfilled what I enjoy most in a whisky, but I was glad for the chance to find that out for myself. My opinion wavered as to which I preferred. In the first round, the new stuff came out on top; but round two found me preferring the older version. Neither would be my post-dinner dram of choice, but the 1990s version made a lovely hot toddy, and I’ll surely keep the remainder of the bottle around for future mixing or cooking use.
Flash Mob Bloggers: