Before the release of the Causeway Collection cask strength Bushmills were pretty much only available from auction sites in the form of the bourbon, sherry and occasional rum single cask releases from the late 1980's and early 1990's. Then the official bottlings came to halt and instead came the norm of 40% releases across the core range.
The other options then were pseudo Bushmills (Bushmills but in disguise) - like some of the Teeling Single cask releases or independent bottlers such as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Throughout 2020 they (the SMWS) released a number of Bushmills single casks of which I purchased four with the help of the whisky do-gooder known as @whisky_rover. As I was compiling the tasting notes for this piece I realised that I also had been sent a sample of another SMWS 2020 release from Val of Waterford Whiskey Society and thought I'd throw that in for good measure too.
As there are five sets of tasting notes to trawl through I'm keeping the intro short with the individual details of each expression noted under their subsequent pictures.
SMWS 51.10 Agave Induced Invigoration
15 years old, distilled 22nd May 2002, matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon cask, 1 of 209 bottles, 57.1% abv, natural colour & non chill filtered. Price £107.
Colour: Dry Hay
Nose: A little aggressive alcohol initially. Fruit salad sweets, kiwi, peach and lemon rind. Faint pineapple with chamomile and cut hay. Butterscotch tries to force through along with vanilla cream. Water brings the pineapple to the fore, apricots too and that butterscotch.
Palate: Quite hot & spicy on arrival. Freshly cracked peppercorns & sliced green chillies. Not an overly thick mouthfeel but there is a creamy aspect to it. The initial burst of white sugar sweetness quickly gives way to sharp, tart lemon, grapefruit peel and floral agave. Definite hints of tequila blanco here. A mushroomy earthiness is prevalent too. Water - sadly not the same impact on the palate as the nose. Brings a little more sweetness in the form of cream soda but little else.
Finish: Medium length but dominated by chilli & pepper spice with tart citrus notes.
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: Immediately richer than the 51.10 sister cask. Apple tarte tatin, warm caramel sauce, icing sugar, peach, mango and milk chocolate. Shoe polish and mixed peel. Pencil shavings too. Water highlights vanilla custard, cask char and a note of cola.
Palate: Much softer arrival - Honey, all butter pastry, candied lemon & lime peel and a camphor note. Spicy oak and green peppercorns. Buttercream with vanilla pods and biscuity malt. Water turns things a little greener and more herbal with a touch of cough tincture.
Finish: Medium length with honey glazed stone fruit and warming oak spice.
SMWS 51.16 Chocolate Hazelnut Dundee Cake
16 years old, distilled 22nd May 2002, matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon cask, 1 of 166 bottles, 56.6% abv, natural colour & non chill filtered. Price £115.
Colour: Clarified butter
Nose: Citrus right away - lemon & lime predominantly with freshly squeezed orange juice, vanilla, hazelnuts and shoe polish. Time brings pineapple cubes and caramel. Slight oak spice present with white pepper. Butter there also. Water gives much more pineapple and caramel.
Palate: A decent mouthfeel. Quite zingy on arrival with plenty of heat and prickly spice. Orange flesh along with candied lemon peel. Vanilla again with sliced green apple, some banana and pineapple rings. Spiky pepper and ginger. Malt towards the end. Water tames the spices a little and enhances the pineapple along with nutmeg.
Finish: Medium length with vanilla custard and pineapple.
SMWS 51.17 A Spring In Your Step
19 years old, distilled 16th January 2001, matured in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon cask, 1 of 175 bottles, 54.6% abv, natural colour & non chill filtered. Price £150.
Colour: Light gold.
Nose: Woody spice straight away. Furniture polish, pencil shavings and sandalwood. Crème caramel, menthol, pine resin, fennel. Vanilla sponge, stewed apples and banana peel. Water brings almonds, brown sugar and mint.
Palate: A velvety arrival - sugar syrup, milk chocolate, aniseed and clove. Fresh pineapple, white pepper, lemon rind and sultanas. Water highlights barley sugar, allspice and foam banana sweets.
Finish: Pretty long with warming spice, pineapple and ripe banana.
|Picture taken from the SMWS US website|
SMWS 51.19 As Fresh As A Mountain Stream
17 years old, distilled 20th June 2002, matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon cask, 1 of 176 bottles, 55.1% abv, natural colour & non chill filtered. Price £120 - sample via @whiskeyval
Colour: Sauternes wine
Nose: Quite restrained. Drying hay, ginger beer, barley water and fresh lemon juice. Coconut shavings too. Draft, butter cream, peach, apricot and pear. Water gives fruit salad sweets, ginger and cinnamon.
Palate: Like the nose the palate shows restraint. Tangerines, lemon flesh and Tonka bean. Peach & apricots come through alongside a touch of white chocolate. Fresh ginger and almonds. Water makes things a little sweeter - sherbet dip, cinnamon and peach.
Finish: Medium again with lemon, ginger and peach.
Overall: Concisely these were all solid drams without being spectacular or really that memorable.
The least engaging of the lot was the first reviewed - Agave Induced Invigoration. A pleasant enough nose let down by a tart and overly peppery palate that lost body and structure when water was added.
Irish Danger Juice, Chocolate Hazelnut Dundee Cake and As Fresh As A Mountain stream all upped the ante showcasing Bushmills tropical fruit notes from the distillate alongside caramel and spice notes from the bourbon casks. Simple and tasty enough but not too much flavour development and considering the prices ranged from £105 - £120 I can't honestly say you are getting a great deal of value for the entry fee.
The best of the bunch was A Spring In Your Step. The extra years of maturation just brought a little more presence to this expression. If tropical fruit bombs are your thing you'll lap this up. Again though I do feel that the entry fee of £150 is slightly exorbitant for what you get in return.
While it has been great to see cask strength Bushmills in a relatively unadulterated form, this vertical tasting just strengthens my opinion that Bushmills distillate benefits from fortified wine cask exposure. Sherry, Madeira, Malaga, Muscatel etc just seem to bring Bushmills to life as demonstrated by the Causeway Collection.