Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s an old saw we’ve heard repeatedly, and as it turns out, the same goes for whiskey! I’d rank The Busker’s Irish Whiskey bottles and labels among the ugliest I’ve seen. However, inside those ugly wrappers, you’ll find drams worthy of a second look and a first taste. Unabashedly made for American consumption at the Disaronno-owned Royal Oak Distillery, The Busker goes head-to-heard with juggernaut Jameson and, by my standards, comes out the winner.
Their core line consists of four expressions: The Triple Smooth Triple Cask blend, plus three from their “Singles” collection: Single Malt, Single Pot, and Single Grain. It’s the latter three that I had an opportunity to sample, though I would venture that, based on the blend’s award collection, it’s a well-put-together whiskey.
As I mentioned, the Single Series consists of three whiskeys. For those unfamiliar with Irish whiskey terminology, the three titles represent specific distillation processes/source materials. Single malt whiskey is made from 100% malted barley by one distillery. A common misunderstanding is that “single” means “unblended.” To a degree, it’s true- it can’t include grain whiskey or malts from other distilleries, but it can be a blend of malts from the same distillery. Single Pot whiskey refers to a whiskey from a single distillery made in a “pot still” from a mash with at least 30% malted barley, 30% unmalted barley, and other unmalted cereals such as wheat and oats. Single grain refers to whiskey from a “single” distillery made in a “column” or “Coffey” still with no more than 30% malted barley. Traditionally, each style has specific intended attributes, clearly illustrated by The Busker’s trio.
The Single Grain Whiskey, aged in ex-fill bourbon and marsala casks, is the lightest of the three in color and character. Pouring pale straw, the nose starts with a cereal and grain freshness followed by ethanol alcohol, candied and dried fruit, stewed prunes, and distant leather. Alcohol-forward on the tongue, its 44.3% ABV is not “hot,” with a light body and an overall sweetness leading to more cereal notes, vanilla toffee, cooked corn, honey, and mashed bananas. The finish is soft, sugary-sweet sensation, and mildly spicy, with more bananas, white pepper, vanilla bean, and cut pineapple, plus hints of matchhead sulfur, green apples, and pie crust. I rate this a decent dram, but certainly the lesser of the three. Adding water had no benefit, though an ice cube reduced some of the forward ethanol.
The Single Pot is fuller-bodied and darker in color than the others, maturing in ex-fill bourbon and sherry casks. Deep amber in the glass, the aroma open with musty oak barrel spice, followed by intense raisin, toffee, tropical fruit salad, dark chocolate, and fig newtons. The mouthfeel is round and oily; even at 44.3% ABV, the heat is tame. Flavors begin with chocolate raspberries, more fig newtons, fino sherry, cloves, and allspice, leading to vanilla, toffee, more tropical fruit, and macadamia nut. The finish is chewy, with leather notes coming forward, followed by dark chocolate, walnuts, fresh figs, winter spices, and wine must. The finish is long and silky, with the spice and leather lingering alongside an aftertaste of sherry- elegant and refined!
In the middle lies the Single Malt- bigger than the Single Grain but less intense than the Single Pot. Golden amber in color, the nose offers honeyed apricots, honeysuckle, lemon zest, leather, and malt. Swirling releases subtle hints of barrel spice, fresh pastries, peach pie, and vanilla. The mouthfeel is mild and round, and again, even at 44.3% ABV, it offers minimal heat sensation- warm, not hot. I taste roasted cashews, candied lemon rind, caramel, chocolate-covered cherries, cinnamon-baked apples, graham crackers, and hints of winter spices and sherry. The finish is nicely balanced with a warmth that exhibits leather, spice hints, dark chocolate, roasted hazelnuts, peanut brittle and black tea, all leading to distant sherry and barrel spice hints.
I must reiterate my initial surprise- I had expected something rather pedestrian. The brash, glaring visual of the bottles starkly contrasts the more elegant juices inside. Comparisons to Jameson are warranted, and not just because of the category. Jameson has long been America’s go-to Irish whiskey, so, understandably, Disaronno is running against the brand. That said, The Busker’s expressions are unique in the genre and worthy of a look. I wouldn’t classify them as world-shaking, but if you seek a quality daily drinker that won’t break the bank or a better-quality mixing whiskey, The Busker could be a great option.