Whiskey Galore: Traditional trendsetter Bushmills going back to the future
WHISKEYS aiming to make their mark in an increasingly competitive Irish market tend to emphasise either their history or their innovation.
Bushmills does both.
Famously home to the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery, even its 'innovations' are drawn from history, like the 'new' bottle shape which actually goes back almost a century-and-a-half ago.
Bushmills brand ambassador Lauren McMullan explains: "One thing that we did change recently is the bottle shape of the single malt whiskeys. The classic Black Bush bottle is a little bit taller, so the new bottles are only for the malts - only the 10, 16, and 21 will change to that bottle shape.
"In the tasting room in the distillery, one of the oldest bottles we have on site, dates back to the 1880s, the bottle shape for the malts is actually similar to that.
"So it's really nice that we're kind of going backwards, but in a way so we're honouring the tradition."
While distilleries use stills, they can't stand still, but Bushmills are about evolution, not revolution, says McMullan: "The main focus for Bushmills going forward is progressing that single malt whiskey range because we were really the pioneers of single malt.
"We always stress that it's not new whiskeys - it's the same single malts, 10, 16, and 21 that we know and love, they've just got some 'new clothes'."
The new look is a visual clue to customers, though, she says: "It is important in a way to create that distinction between the malt and the blends. We have phenomenal blended whiskeys, Black Bush is a legendary and iconic Irish whiskey, but we still have to honour the fact that we are a single malt distillery."
Yet while some 'Bush' and Black Bush are ageing in certain special casks, Caribbean rum and sherry respectively, Lauren points out that the single malt editions in marsala or sauternes casks are reflecting history, not breaking with it: "Sherry casks have more of a tradition with Irish whiskey industry, in particular Bushmills, than bourbon casks, which weren't really used in Ireland actually up until about the 1960s.
"The wine casks would have come into the Belfast shipyards, the wine would have been decanted, and the barrels would have been passed on to distilleries for them to age their spirit inside."
Bushmills - a traditional trendsetter then.