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Bushmills Whiskey

Every bottle of Bushmills carries the year 1608 on. This was the year that James I of England (James IV of Scotland) issued a licence to distil County Antrim in Ireland. Bushmills Distillery itself, however, wasn’t registered until 1784 by Hugh Anderson.

How old is Bushmills Distillery?

In 1860 the distillery was bought by two spirit merchants from Belfast called James McColgan and Patrick Corrigan, and they formed a limited company in 1880. In 1885 the old distillery was destroyed by fire, a perennial problem in an industry based on a highly flammable liquid, but was quickly rebuilt. At the time, the Irish whiskey industry was the largest in the world and Bushmills was just one of many distilleries in the country.

In 1922, the Irish Free State was formed while six counties in the north including Antrim stayed as part of the United Kingdom. Despite now being in a different state, Bushmills has remained close to the rest of the country’s whiskey industry which went into serious decline after independence. At one point there were only two distilleries left on the island, Bushmills and Midleton in Cork, and they were both part of the same group Irish Distillers. In 2005, having been part of Irish Distillers since 1972, parent company Pernod Ricard sold Bushmills to Diageo. The brand had been stagnant and the new owners set a goal to reach 1 million cases by the end of 2012 and invested around €45 million in the distillery itself as well as the brand. Diageo increased the production rate to five days a week and since 2008, they have implemented a seven-day week. This tripled production in just 2.5 years. Then in 2014, the distillery was bought by Tequila giant Casa Cuervo which has carried on building the brand.

The distillery today

Today the distillery operates ten copper pot stills and can produce around 4.5 million litres of spirit a year. It is a single malt distillery and triple distillation has been used since at least the 1930s and possibly earlier. Today it uses a mixture of unpeated and lightly-peated malt. Ageing takes place largely in a mixture of ex-bourbon and oloroso sherry casks as well as more unusual things like Madeira, Port and rum casks.

As the largest, and for a long time only, single malt distillery in Ireland, Bushmills has long been a supplier to blenders and other distillers on the island. Despite no longer being in the same group, Bushmills still uses grain whiskey from Midleton in its blends including Original and Black Bush which has a higher malt content. In addition to these, Bushmills produces a range of age statement bottles including a 12-year-old single malt, a 16-year-old single malt, and a 21-year-old single malt which is finished in Madeira casks, as well as limited release vintage and rare cask-finished expressions.

In 2023, Bushmills unveiled its new Causeway Distillery just a stone’s throw from Old Bushmills, leading on from surpassing one million case sales for the first time in its history in 2022. The £37 million site is part of owner Proximo’s £60 million investment in its Irish single malt distilling and ageing facility at Bushmills over the past five years. At the time of writing, Bushmills has 460,000 barrels maturing!

The 39,000 sq ft Causeway Distillery has managed to reduce energy usage by 30% while boosting material consumption efficiency by up to 10%, taking Bushmills’ production capacity from five million litres of alcohol per annum to 11 million litres. While the spirit stills are the same (7,000-litre charge) the wash stills are bigger in the new Causeway distillery, but the dimensions and profile remain the same, just scaled up. The liquid produced here will be indistinguishable from that of Old Bushmills.

Sustainability is a big part of the new Causeway Distillery, which will be run entirely on electricity from green sources, spent barley goes to local farms within five hours to use as animal feed, all while offsetting 12,500 tonnes of carbon emissions by planting 80,000 trees.

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