Ok, aside from being the location we all know and love from the cover of Led Zepplin’s “Houses of the Holy” (cue “No Quarter” here, side 2, 3rd song) the Giant’s Causeway in northern County Antrim is also the locale for some legendary antics of the Irish hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill. According to one legend, Ol’ Fionn had a bone to pick with a really, really big Scot named Benandonner and one day thought, “that’s it, I’m gonna build a causeway and go over there and kick me some plaid butt.” Build he did, but he grossly underestimated how much building a causeway takes out of a man (even if you’re a legend). He did not have a large crew or modern machinery and presumably did it all himself, by hand. That he also probably did not have a permit nor did he do the required environmental impact study is beside the point. Anyway, as you can imagine, this kind of thing can really tire a person out, so Fionn decided to go home and rest a bit before his whup-ass session.
Now ol’ Benandonner, himself an awfully poor swimmer, was both a little miffed at Fionn’s hubris and glad to have a way to cross the water without getting his hair wet. He got tired of waiting for the Irishman and decided he’d walk over himself to give Fionn mac Cumhaill what for. When Fionn and his wife saw the Scottish giant coming, they both knew he’d bitten more off than he could chew and concocted a clever, if not a little cowardly, scheme to save his ass. His wife swaddled him up like a big baby (somewhat apropos) and when Benandonner arrived at their house, she claimed Fionn was out doing brave, manly things and took the opportunity to show the giant their huge “baby”. Well, Benandonner wasn’t the brightest brick in the peat bog so when he saw this huge baby, he thought, “holy crap…that’s a huge baby…how terrifyingly big must mac Cumhaill be?” A keen sense of self-preservation took hold and the Scot Giant legged it. As he fled, he tore up Fionn’s handiwork and the resulting jumble of incredible hexagonal Basalt is what we see today as the Giant’s Causeway.
Once again, this has pretty much nothing to do with whisky, or in this case, whiskey, except that the Giant’s Causeway is just a few miles north of the town of Bushmills, which, predictably, is the home of the Old Bushmills Distillery. Old Bushmills claims to be the world’s oldest distillery, having been licensed in 1608. The distillery is currently owned by the behemoth Diageo and mainly produces two blended and three single malt expressions. Bushmills Black Bush is the premium blend, maturing for 8 – 10 years in Oloroso casks before settling into the trademark square bottle.
The Nose: Dark chocolate, caramel and subtle raisins at first mean the grain and those Oloroso casks are playing really well together. Softer chocolate ice cream notes emerge as it opens up and settles down a little with some mild oak tones and hints of baked apple pie. Despite such rich sounding flavors, this isn’t a big bruising nose, it’s rich and bright but also a little reserved and calm.
The Palate: Lightly viscous mouth feel opens with unsweetened chocolate and sweetens into chocolate brownies with more faint raisiny, fruity notes floating over the top. The honeyed-grain-disguised-as-chocolate thing stays with you right to the very end, with a mild nuttiness and a bit of oaky spice drying things out and balancing the sweetness towards the end.
The Finish: medium, oaky, but just slightly tannic, still sweet with a bit more toasted grain thrown in for good measure
Thoughts: I always think of Black Bush as a classic. It’s not quite up to Red Breast standards or some of the other “super premium” Irish whiskies out there today, but, then again, years ago, Black Bush was often the only “higher end” Irish whiskey on the shelves. So again, a classic, and for good reason, the grain & barley-forward Irish quality is there in spades, but the Oloroso maturation lends a depth and fruitiness that makes for a balanced, truly excellent Irish blend.