Ask Alex Thomas, Bushmills master blender, to describe the aroma and taste of the latest Causeway Collection releases. Thomas will walk you through her grandmother’s garden, touching the roses that blossomed along the path and describing the flavour of the crisp apples that grow nearby.
She will cut through the layers of flavour and complexity of Bushmills whiskey with tales of friendship, discovery and the surprise of finding her place in the world as the master blender of the world’s oldest licenced distillery. It’s an incredibly refreshing experience to watch her enthusiasm for life and the job she does in the wilds of the north coast of Ireland.
Born in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, just 15 minutes from the heritage distillery, Thomas joined its team in 2004 and has spent that time honing her craft and refining her palate. Appointed master blender in 2021, she takes inspiration from her local Antrim coast and is the caretaker of these amazing whiskeys through their evolution while in the cask.
The latest releases in a new signature series of the Bushmills Causeway Collection, the first to bear her name, are a 20-year-old Vermouth cask single malt and a 10-year-old Pomerol cask bottling. Both are cask strength, non-chill filtered.
It really is a great privilege to work with the rare whiskeys in the Causeway Collection
“It really is a great privilege to work with the rare whiskeys in the Causeway Collection. Each cask shows how our delicate, fruity floral spirit can be influenced by casks formerly housing wine and spirits from all over the world,” Thomas says, adding that she is looking forward to adding her piece to the legacy.
The 2002 Vermouth Cask and the 2012 Pomerol Cask releases are exclusive to Ireland, reinforcing the importance of the home market to a company that has an international reach. (Bushmills is owned by Proximo, the multinational drinks conglomerate that also has Jose Cuervo in its portfolio.) Bushmills’ intention with the Causeway Collection is to celebrate the place of Bushmills whiskey in an increasingly premium-focused world.
The Causeway Collection, launched in 2020, is rooted in the landscape of the Giant’s Causeway, minutes from the Bushmills distillery, but with an outlook that is distinctly global. Bushmills has created a global exclusive series of Irish whiskey that fans love and some even board planes to buy. Each release is exclusive to one market, making gathering a collection of these fine single malts an incredibly exciting endeavour.
In previous releases, Australia received the 2011 Banyuls Cask, France got the 1992 Cognac cask, the 2008 Duoro Cask went to Portugal, and the 2001 Feuillette Cask was sent to the UK.
Now, Alex Thomas is releasing her first full Causeway Collection and her name is on every bottle. She chose a vermouth cask, making it the first ever Irish single malt whiskey finished in this fashion. The bottle of 48.2 per cent ABV single malt is truly outstanding. Matured in bourbon and sherry for 18 years, the whiskey was then finished for two years in an ex-vermouth cask from Italy’s Piedmont region.
The 2002 Vermouth Cask
Vermouth is a classic fortified wine, created in the 18th century and flavoured with botanicals that build a rich and sweet experience that has conquered the world. The casks that create it absorb all this flavour and aroma, becoming fused with a herbal identity that is utterly unique. When those same casks are filled with 18-year-old Bushmills whiskey, itself an already rich and complex liquid, the outcome is something new.
“Vermouth is unlike anything we have tried before at Bushmills,” Thomas explains. “But I believe perfection lies outside our comfort zones. It’s a whiskey that will undoubtedly challenge consumers to experience Bushmills in a different light.”
Its two decades in wood have conjured a whiskey that is wholly original. With a deep gold colour, its aroma is packed with sweet vanilla spice, gentle herbs and layers of rose petal. On the palate you can expect sweet honey to fold through those roses with a splash of zesty mandarin orange and dark fruits and almond. After 20 years the finish is suitably long, with a dry and rich fruitcake presence that coats the throat and warms as it grows in intensity.
Finding a sibling to partner with the intensity of the vermouth release is no mean feat. It needs to stand alone as a younger whiskey that can excite in its own right. Alex Thomas chose the smallest of all the major Bordeaux wine appellations for a cask type that would underpin her vision for flavour and personality.
Pomerol wine casks are rarely used in the ageing process, which is one of the reasons I feel this expression is so special
“Pomerol wine casks are rarely used in the ageing process, which is one of the reasons I feel this expression is so special,” she says. “The casks, with their hazelwood hoops, showcase the rich history of the Bordeaux region and it was a pleasure to bring the two traditions together.”
The 2012 Pomerol Cask
Pomerol is a red wine that uses predominantly Merlot grapes along with Cabernet Franc. They grow in a soil that is a rich mix of gravel, clay and sand; the wines they produce are highly sought after by collectors and represent some of the most expensive in the world.
“This is a stunning whiskey,” Thomas explains. “The flavour profile really compliments the smooth and approachable flavour of Bushmills. Together they have proven to be the perfect match.”
First matured for six years in oloroso sherry butts and ex-bourbon barrels, the whiskey was then transferred to the Pomerol casks for a lengthy four-year finish. This is a remarkable amount of time to devote to a finish, but it allows the red wine influence to completely marry with the Bushmills whiskey. Released at cask strength of 54.2 per cent ABV, the result is a single malt that bursts with red berry aromas and delivers lots of toasted wood on the nose.
It’s a really well-rounded whiskey, with layers of crisp green apple and fresh lemon flavours on the palate, all balanced with vanilla and ginger. Citrus continues on the finish, which is long and luxurious and offers moments of intense vanilla and oak wood personality.
In a series defined by the hand-selected casks within it, this release is a triumph and indicates a clear premium direction for the brand. The new territory, the new flavours and the diverse cask types suggest Alex Thomas has fully caught the wind of the north Antrim coast in her sails, driving the Causeway Collection in a wonderful new direction. These are the first two releases in a 10-part series that will travel the world, bringing the story of Bushmills whiskey to ever wider and more diverse markets.
The 2002 Vermouth Cask bottled at 48.2 per cent ABV, non chill-filtered (€250/£225) and the 2012 Pomerol Cask bottled at 54.2 per cent ABV, non chill-filtered (€115/£100) will be available to purchase online and through specialist retailers across the island of Ireland on Friday, August 26th, 2022.
For more, see www.bushmills.eu/causeway-collection
Enjoy Bushmills responsibly. Visit drinkaware.ie