The market for flavored whiskey has seen some significant growth and attention recently with a number of products of varying quality hitting the market. Many of these flavored products have come from American Whiskey producers including Tennessee Honey from Jack Daniel’s, Red Stag from Jim Beam, Wild Turkey American Honey, and Fireball from Buffalo Trace.
Honey is one of the flavors that is naturally apparent in some whiskeys: it comes through the interaction of the spirit with the barrel, which is also where you get vanilla, caramel, and many of the spices in whiskey like cinnamon. Honey is a natural choice for spirit companies when they’re looking at adding flavors to their whiskey.
Combining malt whiskey along with honey and other flavorings isn’t anything new – Drambuie has been doing this in the liqueur space since the 1800’s. However, few Scotch or Irish producers have really shown much interest in the modern flavored whiskey space, and so it was a little bit of a surprise to see Bushmills Irish Honey hit the market.
Bushmills Irish Honey (35%, $24.99) is a blend of Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey and Irish honey. The bottle indicates “other natural flavors” but the exact flavor(ing)s aren’t mentioned or stated on the bottle. We suspect it’s something in the fruit family – either apple, pear, or both. The nose on Bushmills Irish Honey is sweet with very clear honey top notes backed with strong pear, apple, and an undercurrent of cereal grains. The entry is extremely soft and lightly sweet. It’s hard to believe at first that this is 35% alcohol / 70 proof. The honey is there in the opening but so, too, are the pear and apple notes, which are both quite strong. In the mid palate the grain from the whiskey begins to make its way through the sweet and fruit notes. It’s when all these elements come together that Bushmills Irish Honey really works. That moment passes, though, and the finish shows off the youth of the underlining malt with a slightly spicy finish that leaves a slightly sour honey-beer note on the palate.
Bushmills Irish Honey is kind of an oddball in the flavored whiskey space. It’s hard to see it being used as a chill shot or finding its way into the spots where people are seeking out lighter, sweeter whiskey alternatives. We’ve been longtime fans of Bushmills and regularly recommend Black Bush Irish Whiskey, but Irish Honey doesn’t seem like it’s going to move the ball much for Bushmills. Instead of presenting Bushmills Irish Honey in packaging that might appeal to the target market, Bushmills has put it in a bottle that looks very simular to Bushmills Original, which leads us to ask, who exactly do they think will be drinking Bushmills Irish Honey?
Ultimately, Bushmills Irish Honey will have to go head to head with other specialty releases in the Irish whiskey category, a space where the market leader, Jameson, clearly dominates. While Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey is tasty, it’s perhaps a misstep in a market that’s been leaning more towards smokey (with things like Jameson Black Barrel, Black Grouse, and Johnnie Walker Double Black) than sweet.