The first official reference to the distillery was in 1784 when it was registered as a company, making it the oldest existing distillery in Ireland. Much has been written about '1608' and while the company actually uses this date on their bottles, it actually refers to when a licence was passed to distil whisky in the area of Bushmills (common throughout Ireland at this time) rather than just at the Bushmills distillery. This Irish distillery is similar to a Scottish distillery in style although it does triple distill its spirit. The floor maltings were in use up until 1972, when the company found that it would be more economical to use commercial maltings. Curiously Bushmills uses a mix of two malts - one entirely unpeated and another slightly peated. Alongside Bushmills' single malt expressions, the blended whiskies Black Bush and Old Bushmills are produced using grain from Middleton.
the following is in the line of what Fachan says:
"The logical place to start is with Ireland's oldest operating whiskey distillery, Bushmills. Exactly when it was established isn't clear. According to McGuire's thorough study of the history of the Irish whiskey industry, it may have existed as early as 1782 or it may have been established sometime during the late 18th or early 19th century (we all know that 1608 is a marketing myth, so I won't go into that now). Bushmills does not use any peat for drying its malt, triple-distils all its whiskeys and makes use of a range of cask types for maturation.
Bushmills 10yo is partly matured in bourbon casks, partly in sherry casks. Light malt, some vanilla and fudge, a touch of fruit, toffee, and a slightly drying finish. All very soft and smooth and easily drinkable. Compared to when I last tasted it a few years ago, it seems to have a bit fuller taste. Maybe a slightly higher proportion of sherry casks used recently? Bushmills 16yo is based on the same strategy of part-bourbon, part-sherry maturation, but the two constituents are then married in port pipes before bottling. The sherry clearly comes through with nutty notes. There is toffee-fudge and also some flowery notes? The port pipes impart a clear fruity-winey character and the whole is richer and with more depth than the 10yo. The Bushmills 21yo finally has a similar maturation scheme, but the bourbon and sherry matured whiskey are sent to madeira casks for their honeymoon. Less sherry and a richer nose. Cookies and wine, but not so fruity as in the 16yo Somewhat softer, with a dry finish. A tightly complex dram, the most sophisticated and balanced of the three. In a way it's also the least 'Irish' of the three and sometimes I think I detect the faintest whiff of peat smoke. Clearly, that can't come from the drying of the malt, as Bushmills doesn't use peat (although some processes during fermentation and maturation can also produce phenolics). Definitely an intriguing whiskey!"
The distillery, I infer, changed the kilning method at some point after, maybe in the early 90's.
The question about pure pot still would be a good one, especially because before around 1890 it is my understanding Bushmills made precisely that. Around that time it changed in favour of an all-malt whiskey.
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