The Old Bushmills Distillery is a distillery in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is owned and operated by Diageo plc of London, United Kingdom, and is a popular tourist attraction, with around 110,000 visitors per year. According to the company, a distillery by this name was first recorded in 1743, although at the time it was "in the hands of smugglers" (in a quote attributed to Victorian whiskey journalist Alfred Barnard).
All of the whiskey bottled under the Bushmills whiskey brand is produced at the Bushmills Distillery. A licence to distill in the area was granted to Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1608 by King James I, and the 1608 date is printed on the labels of the Bushmills brand whiskey.
The Bushmills Distillery claims to be—and is almost unanimously considered to be—the oldest licenced distillery in the world
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". In 1608, a licence was granted to Sir Thomas Phillipps by King James I to distill whiskey.
The Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself was not established until 1784 by Hugh Anderson. 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. Belfast spirit merchants Jame McColgan and Patrick Corrigan bought the distillery in 1880, and 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, the S.S. Bushmills, made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America. It called at Philadelphia and New York before heading on to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama.
In the early 1900s, the USA was a very important market for Bushmills (and other Irish Whiskey producers). 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. This is in contrast to the serious neglect that the brand suffered during its time under Irish Distillers, during which the whiskey stocks at Bushmills were severely decreased. 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.
1608 Original Grant to Distil
King James I grants Sir Thomas Phillips a royal licence to distil ‘uisce beatha’, the gaelic for 'water of life', or whiskey as we know it today, in 'the territory of the Rowte' in Co. Antrim. This is the first official recorded evidence of whiskey-making in the area that was to become Bushmills.
1743 In the hands of smugglers:
The first recorded reference to the Old Bushmills Distillery is in 1743. At the time it was "in the hands of smugglers", according to Victorian whisky journalist Alfred Barnard.
1784 Officially registered:
The Old Bushmills Distillery is officially registered as a company and the pot still becomes its trade mark.
1850 A new tax:
A new tax on malted barley means many Irish distillers change the recipe for their whiskey, to use both malt and un-malted barley in the mid 1850s. But Bushmills stays true to the grain, confident that using 100% malted barley makes for a superior whiskey.
1885 The distillery burns:
The distillery burns to the ground. But having already earned world-wide fame and won numerous prizes at international spirits competitions, Bushmills whiskey is in such high demand that the distillery is rapidly rebuilt and soon back in full production.
1890 The S.S. Bushmills:
S.S. Bushmills, the distillery's own steamship, makes its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America. It calls at Philadelphia and New York before heading on to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama
1933 The end of Prohibition:
Throughout US Prohibition Bushmills is one of the few distilleries to continue production. In fact, Samuel Wilson Boyd buys the distillery in 1923 and gears up for expansion. With the repeal of US Prohibition, 10 years later, Bushmills has ample whiskey ready as reportedly, the biggest shipment ever to leave an Irish port sets sail for Chicago.
1942 World War II:
Distilling has to stop during World War II, but Bushmills stays busy: the distillery is partly converted to accommodate American and other Allied forces servicemen
2008 400 years of heritage:
Bushmills toasts 400 years of local distilling heritage with a special, limited edition Irish whiskey, Bushmills 1608.
Bushmills Original: Irish whiskey blend—sometimes called White Bush or Bushmills White Label. The grain whiskey is matured in American oak casks. This is the base of the distillery's portfolio and it is a great bottle to have in stock for "everyday" use. Bushmills Original is a blend of triple distilled malt whisky and a light Irish grain whiskey that is aged for at least 5 years in used American bourbon an Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. The inviting whiskey is rich with spicy vanilla and oak notes that beg to be mixed in almost any drink you can think of.
•40% alc/volume (80 proof)
(Sources: Bushmills.com, Wikepedia)