The world’s first style of whiskey is enjoying a modern renaissance, with a number of new distilleries currently planned or under construction in Ireland, all hoping to join the roughly 35 producers already making the good stuff on the Emerald Isle. That’s great news for fans of the drink that gave us the very word for whiskey itself, which came into English from the Old Irish term uisce beatha, meaning “water of life.”
And in that historic homeland of great whiskeys, one name stands out. Bushmills, the legendary drop from Ireland’s north coast, is giving customers plenty of reason to make it their first choice for anything Irish this St. Patrick’s Day. From its unparalleled origin story to a new, consumer-friendly rebate program, Bushmills is providing for fans and helping those behind the bar. These efforts emerge from the brand’s lasting legacy, and will provide aid — as well as the next round — for plenty of Irish whiskey fans around the country.
To start, there’s Bushmills’ unique history and provenance. Just as Irish whiskey is the world’s oldest type of whiskey, Bushmills holds the title of the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. On April 20, 1608, King James I granted the original license to Sir Thomas Phillips for a distillery at Bushmills in Ireland’s County Antrim. Today, that foundation year of 1608 is still beautifully embossed on every bottle of Bushmills whiskey. (Also shown at the top of every label: the distillery’s old-fashioned copper pot stills, a highly traditional form of production known for producing whiskeys with rich, complex character.)
That role in the birth of Irish whiskey — and thus all whiskey — makes a big impression, on both customers and those who serve them, like Nate Nyberg, a bartender at Dumont’s Down Low in Austin, Texas.
“I think what makes it so unique is how long the distillery has been around,” Nyberg says. “I like the idea of being able to taste the flavors that people have been tasting for over 400 years.”
Even the distillery’s name highlights the very origins of Irish whiskey production, derived from its main water source, the River Bush, and the first industry in its region: the old grain mills that crushed the malted barley for Bushmills whiskey. When you’re that central to the story of Irish whiskey, you earn an outsize role in Irish culture itself. Americans might have the White House depicted on the back of their $20 bills, but every £20 note issued by the Bank of Ireland for circulation in Northern Ireland carries an image of the Bushmills Old Distillery.
And since most of us are celebrating holidays at home right now, that historic distillery is making a friendly Irish gesture with its First Whiskey program, offering to “pick up the tab” for its customers’ first St. Patrick’s Day whiskeys this year. Order a to-go drink made with Bushmills from your favorite local bar or restaurant, take a picture of your itemized receipt, then upload the photo to the distillery’s website. Valid receipts will receive a reimbursement of up to six dollars for whiskeys purchased from a bar or restaurant, with rebates also available on the purchase of a bottle from select retailers.
How you enjoy those drinks is, of course, up to you. The first call for most customers is probably a shot of Bushmills Original, the distillery’s easy-to-enjoy flagship, which Nyberg calls “My go-to, everyday use bottle of Irish whiskey.” Unlike a lot of whiskeys, Bushmills Original is made with a high percentage of malted barley, which contributes to its smooth and light flavor profile. If you’re a bourbon fan, try out Bushmills Red Bush, which is aged in American bourbon barrels for a more intense, bourbon finish. Keep exploring and you’re onto the rich and fruity Black Bush, an elegant reserve expression made with an even larger percentage of malted barley that is matured in former Oloroso Sherry and bourbon casks. For the grand finale, it’s all about Bushmills’ single malt collection, which just so happens to be the most awarded single malt portfolio in all of Ireland. With exquisite expressions ranging from 10, 16 to 21 years old, Bushmills’ single malts are one of a kind. In addition to their core and annual releases, Bushmills 28 Year Old Cognac Cask marks the first expression from Bushmills’ new Rare Casks series where consumers can taste and vote on different rare cask whiskeys to help inform the next limited release.
“I think Bushmills is best ‘as is,’” Nyberg says. “It’s great to shoot or sip. But I like it best with a splash of soda water, maybe some lemon peel and a block cube [of ice] if I’m on the patio.”
In addition to the First Whiskey rebate for consumers this month, Bushmills is also paying out “tips” toward the men and women behind the stick, in the form of a cash donation to the USBG Bartender Emergency Assistance Program. For every Bushmills whiskey redeemed through its First Whiskey program, the brand will submit a donation to the organization, which as Bushmills explains, is “a way to show our continued commitment to the trade community.”
So get ready to celebrate safely at home, save your receipts and let the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery pick up the tab for your first drink this St. Patrick’s Day.
After all, it’s called the water of life for a reason.
This article is sponsored by Bushmills Irish Whiskey.