Honeyed whiskey hits sweet spot in US market

Cork-sourced honey blended with Bushmills Original

Bushmills Irish Honey  has slight sediment from the honey and is a darker colour than Bushmills Original.

Bushmills Irish Honey has slight sediment from the honey and is a darker colour than Bushmills Original.


Irish whiskey is going through a period of phenomenal growth at present and with it has come a degree of innovation.

In recent years we have had the revival of peat whiskey, a grain whiskey, whiskey matured in different barrels, even a hybrid Scotch-Irish combination brought in by the newest kid on the block, the Teeling Whiskey Company.

At the end of the day, these products are unmistakably and indisputably whiskey. Bushmills has added another dimension to the market with the launch last week of its heavily promoted Irish honey spirit.

Bushmills launched it in Whelan’s pub in Dublin on Friday night with a 14sq/ft honey hive and what they described as a “pop-up music gig”.

Combining whiskey with honey is not new. The successful and long-established Irish Mist is a combination of honey, whiskey and other spirits, as is its Scottish equivalent, Drambuie. Yet these are classified as liqueurs. Bushmills Irish Honey is also a liqueur but is marketed as a whiskey.

The honey is sourced in Co Cork. Though technically Bushmills is an Irish whiskey made in the UK, it is the only whiskey distiller to source all its raw materials on the island of Ireland.

The whiskey is Bushmills Original, which is 40 proof. Bushmills Irish Honey is 35 proof. It has slight sediment from the honey and is a darker colour than Bushmills Original. Though the honey is quite subtle it is unmistakable in the aftertaste.

Bushmills is not the first company to release flavoured whiskies. Jack Daniel’s has had considerable success with its Tennessee Honey whiskey as had Jim Beam’s Red Stage Black Cherry and Campari’s Wild Turkey American Honey.

It is the fastest-growing spirit category in the US, which is why Bushmills launched it first there last year.

Flavoured whiskies will be anathema to traditional drinkers who think there is nothing wrong with the original. Irish whiskey is renowned for its smoothness and does not have the harshness which often assails the palate when the drinker tackles Scotch.

Irish Whiskey Society of America president Richard Nagle described Irish Honey as a “real crowd-pleaser. It is very nice. They seem to have hit the right spots blending it.”

Irish Whiskey Society (Ireland) president Garry Carroll said his members had yet to taste it but his own instincts was that it was “a little bit on the gimmicky side”.

“From what I heard of it we will be approaching it as a liqueur, but we won’t be dismissing it. We generally look for consensus,” he said.

Bushmills assistant brand manager Kizzy Lilburne said Bushmills Irish Honey is part of an innovation drive by parent company Diageo.

Whiskey, at least in this part of the world, is considered a man’s drink. “We think it is going to open up the market for more women to make it a bit more approachable for them,” she said. “It still has got that Bushmills culture, but the honey makes it a bit more sweet.

“The idea of honey is to make it more approachable for people. It is not overly sweet, but you can still taste the whiskey,” she said.

“There is a trend towards trying something a bit different. Generally speaking our palates are tending towards smoother tastes. It is really about trending towards what people like.”