The Old Bushmills Distillery is a distillery in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. As of December 2014, it was in the process of transitioning from ownership by Diageo plc to Jose Cuervo. All of the whiskey bottled under the Bushmills whiskey brand is produced at the Bushmills Distillery and uses water drawn from Saint Columb's Rill, which is a tributary of the River Bush. The distillery is a popular tourist attraction, with around 120,000 visitors per year.

The company that originally built the distillery was formed in 1784, although the date 1608 is printed on the label of the brand – referring to an earlier date when a royal licence was granted to a local landowner to distil whiskey in the area.[1][2] After various periods of closure in its subsequent history, the distillery has been in continuous operation since it was rebuilt after a fire in 1885.


The distillery in County Antrim.

The area has a long tradition with distillation. According to one story, as far back as 1276, an early settler called Sir Robert Savage of Ards, before defeating the Irish in battle, fortified his troops with "a mighty drop of acqua vitae".[3] In 1608, a licence was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips (Irish adventurer) by King James I to distil whiskey.[4]

for the next seven years, within the countie of Colrane, otherwise called O Cahanes countrey, or within the territorie called Rowte, in Co. Antrim, by himselfe or his servauntes, to make, drawe, and distil such and soe great quantities of aquavite, usquabagh and aqua composita, as he or his assignes shall thinke fitt; and the same to sell, vent, and dispose of to any persons, yeeldinge yerelie the somme 13s 4d...

The Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself was not established until 1784 by Hugh Anderson.[1] Bushmills suffered many lean years with numerous periods of closure with no record of the distillery being in operation in the official records both in 1802 and in 1822. In 1860 a Belfast spirit merchant named Jame McColgan and Patrick Corrigan bought the distillery; in 1880 they formed a limited company. In 1885, the original Bushmills buildings were destroyed by fire but the distillery was swiftly rebuilt. In 1890, a steamship owned and operated by the distillery, SS Bushmills, made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America. It called at Philadelphia and New York City before heading on to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama.

A showcase at the distillery

In the early 20th century, the U.S. was a very important market for Bushmills (and other Irish Whiskey producers). American Prohibition in 1920 came as a large blow to the Irish Whiskey industry, but Bushmills managed to survive. Wilson Boyd, Bushmills' director at the time, predicted the end of prohibition and had large stores of whiskey ready to export. After the Second World War, the distillery was bought by Isaac Wolfson, and, in 1972, it was taken over by Irish Distillers, meaning that Irish Distillers controlled the production of all Irish whiskey at the time. In June 1988, Irish Distillers was bought by French liquor group Pernod Ricard.

In June 2005, the distillery was bought by Diageo for £200 million. Diageo have also announced a large advertising campaign in order to regain a market share for Bushmills.

In May 2008, the Bank of Ireland issued a new series of sterling banknotes in Northern Ireland which all feature an illustration of the Old Bushmills Distillery on the obverse side, replacing the previous notes series which depicted Queen's University of Belfast.[5][6]

In November 2014 it was announced that Diageo was to trade the Bushmills brand with Jose Cuervo in exchange for the 50% of the Don Julio brand of tequila that Diageo did not already own. The deal was expected to be completed in early 2015.[7]

Current whiskey range

Bushmills whiskey range on display at the distillery
  • Bushmills Original – Irish whiskey blend sometimes called White Bush or Bushmills White Label. The grain whiskey is matured in American oak casks.
  • Bushmills Honey
  • Black Bush – Has a significantly greater proportion of malt to grain whiskey than the white label. Spanish Oloroso sherry-seasoned oak casks mature the malt.
  • Bushmills 10 year single malt – Matured in American bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks for at least 10 years.
  • Bushmills 12 year single malt – A special edition currently sold only at the Bushmills distillery, matured mostly in sherry casks.
  • Bushmills 16 year single malt – Matured for 16 years or more in a combination of American bourbon barrels, Spanish Oloroso sherry butts and Port pipes.
  • Bushmills 21 year single malt – A limited number of 21 year bottles is made each year, and is matured in three different types of casks: first in American bourbon barrels and then in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Together it will total 19 years in these casks, after which it may lie in Madeira drums for a further two years until bottling.
  • Bushmills 1608: A special 400th Anniversary whiskey. From February 2008 it was available in Bushmills outlets across the world; however, from 2009 it will be available only in the Whiskey Shop at the distillery and at duty-free shops.[8]
  • Bushmills Sherry Cask single malt - A special edition, the first in the "Steamship Collection", only available in Belfast, Dublin and London Heathrow airports.[9] Matured in Oloroso sherry casks.

Critical acclaim

Some Bushmills offerings have performed well at international Spirit ratings competitions. In particular, its Black Bush Finest Blended Whiskey received double gold medals at the 2007 and 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competitions.[10] It also received a well-above-average score of 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute in 2008 and 2011.[10]

In popular culture

  • The band NOFX mentions Bushmills in the song "Theme From A NOFX Album" on the 2000 release Pump Up The Valuum
  • Tom Waits mentions 'Old Bushmills' in the song "Tom Traubert's Blues" (which was also covered by Rod Stewart)
  • In the third-season episode of The Wire, Back Burners, Jimmy McNulty refers to Bushmills as "Protestant whiskey" when he is offered it after being told Jameson is unavailable
  • Burt Reynolds plays a Police Lieutenant in the 1975 movie Hustle whose favorite alcohol is Bushmills
  • Todd Rundgren cites "a half a pint of Bushmills" as a poor substitute for love in his song Hungry For Love from the 1973 album A Wizard, A True Star
  • In the 1982 film The Verdict, the Paul Newman character Frank Gavin orders Bushmills and water at his neighborhood pub
  • In Rescue Me[which?] the series, seasons 1–7, Bushmills is the common whiskey shared and favorited among the entire Irish Gavin Family and referred to in at least ten episodes
  • In Jackie Brown, a bottle of Bushmills is visible in scenes in Max's office and is referenced in the script.
  • In Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum's character is seen drinking a bottle of Bushmills, lamenting the end of the world

See also



  1. ^ a b Old Bushmills History (official website)
  2. ^ Alternative Whisky Academy
  3. ^ Foley, Ray (1 January 2006). The Best Irish Drinks. Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4022-0678-8. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  4. ^ Hill, George (1877). An historical account of the plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century, 1608-1620. M'Caw, Stevenson & Orr. p. 393. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  5. ^ "Bank of Ireland to feature Old Bushmills Distillery on new Northern Ireland note issue". Bank of Ireland. 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2016-03-07. 
  6. ^ "Bank raises glass to famous drink". BBC News. 2008-04-23. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  7. ^ Taylor, Charlie (2014-11-03). "Jose Cuervo to acquire Bushmills from Diageo". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2014-11-03. 
  8. ^ Bushmills kick-starts 400th anniversary campaign
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ a b Product Review of Bushmills Black Bush Finest Irish Blended Whiskey


  • McCreary, Alf (1983). Spirit of the Age: The Story of "Old Bushmills". Bushmills, Antrim, Northern Ireland: The "Old Bushmills" Distillery Company Ltd. ISBN 0950908304. 
  • Mulryan, Peter (2008). Bushmills: 400 Years in the Making. Belfast: Appletree Press. ISBN 9781847580689. 

External links

Coordinates: 55°12′07″N 6°31′11″W / 55.201919°N 6.519648°W / 55.201919; -6.519648