Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by The Busker Irish Whiskey. This in no case, by our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the purchase link at the bottom of this review, our site receives a small sponsorship payment which helps support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Busker Irish Whiskey. It reminds me of a bottle of whiskey on the street. Maybe the full line-up as a small group… Anyway… I’m watching the full line-up of Busker Irish Whiskey, owned by Disaronno International, produced at the Royal Oak distillery. Originally released in 2020, they now include four bottlings to represent the four legal styles of Irish whiskey. These styles are blended, still, malt and grain whiskies. It is important to remember that these classifications mean different things when talking about Irish whiskey than when talking about Scotch.
If you’ve ever been interested in the minutiae of Irish whiskey, I recommend you check out Ireland technical file. For those not interested in reading a legal document, I will summarize a few key points. The use of the word “single” in the style of Irish whiskey means that it comes from a distillery. Pot Still Irish Whiskey contains a minimum of 30% malted barley, a minimum of 30% unmalted barley and only up to 5% other grains. Malt Irish Whiskey must be 100% malted barley. Pot Still and Malt Irish whiskeys must be distilled in pot stills and have a flavor and aroma derived from the ingredients used.
Grain Irish Whiskey must contain malted barley, but no more than 30% of it may be malted barley. The rest of the mash bill can be made from unmalted whole grains. This should be distilled in column stills and have a flavor that reflects the ingredients and method of distillation. All three styles must be aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks on the island of Ireland. Blended Irish Whiskey is a blend of two or more of the above three styles.
Royal Oak Distillery is one of many undertakings revitalizing Irish distilleries. A quick glance Wikipedia shows a solid list of active distilleries, but you’ll notice that a significant portion were founded after 2015. With a minimum aging requirement of three years, many of them don’t even have a product on the market yet or don’t have only recently introduced whiskeys. The Busker seeks to differentiate itself through its choice of casks, such as the use of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-marsala casks in different combinations.
Although not my favorite Irish whiskeys, The Busker range do steal well. These are interesting expressions that give a good basis for seeing which style of production or classification you prefer.
Tasting Notes: The Busker Single Malt
Vital Stats: 44.3% ABV, Irish single malt whisky, aged in bourbon and sherry casks, $39.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Golden straw color. Layer the glass thinly and make several large tears before slowly falling.
Nose: Smells of lemon and barley at first. Notes of scones and Luxardo cherries underlie these initial fragrances.
Palace: I get a maple sweetness that fades to caramel in the mid-palate. There are some subtle hints of dried cherry and apple. The finish is long and light with a very present grain and just a little black pepper which helps it. The more I drink, the more a little sulfur is felt. The water brings out more of the grain and just an overall sweetness with a hint of vanilla becoming apparent in the back. The finish becomes even lighter without the hint of pepper.
Tasting Notes: The Busker Triple Cask Triple Smooth
Vital Stats: 40% ABV, Irish blended whiskey, aged in bourbon, Marsala and sherry casks, $26.99 per 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Yellow with a golden tint. Thick streaks form on the glass followed by small, slowly falling pearls.
Nose: Baked apple and sherry are first impressions. But as I keep coming back to it, I get apple cider vinegar and some Marsala wine. It was hard to place until I read about cask finish.
Palace: It has a very light flavor profile with a watered down caramel sweetness. The sherry and marsala flavors are behind this, providing just a hint of tannin. The finish leaves a slight sulfur and white pepper. It doesn’t need water; the addition repels much of the subtle flavor it has and makes it taste like grain alcohol.
Tasting Notes: Busker Single Grain
Vital Stats: 44.3% ABV, single grain Irish whiskey, aged in bourbon and Marsala casks, $42.99 per 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Pale straw yellow colour. Forms a thick ring that slowly beads up to form large slow tears.
Nose: Alcohol and grain on first inspection. While the ethanol continues to be present in the nose, there are hints of dried fruit, including pineapple, candied orange and golden raisin.
Palace: Light in the front with a bit of bite at the end. Delicate flavor profile to start with hints of honeysuckle, a yeasty quality that reminds me of champagne and just a drop of caramel. Just before the finish it gets a bit biting with a big burst of pepper and a hint of sulphur. It quickly fades into a mellow finish with just a hint of that lingering sulfur along with a bit of what I can only describe as mushrooms cooked in dry wine. Adding water makes the flavor profile less interesting, but still very enjoyable. The flavors remain subtle. I get a lot of sweetness up front with hints of caramel, cotton candy and toasted cereal. The finish gets clean and very smooth with just a hint of grit that I’m left with.
Tasting Notes: The Busker Single Pot Still
Vital Stats: 44.3% ABV, single pot still Irish whiskey, aged in bourbon and sherry casks, $42.99 per 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Very light golden honey in color, it forms a fine ring on the glass with tears that are slow to form and slower to fall.
Nose: The alcohol is present but less pronounced than in the monograine. There’s something overall a bit musty about this one, but it has sweet crunchy peanut notes as well as hints of dry sherry.
Palace: This one is thicker and richer in the mouth than the others. Caramel and grain dominate the palate, but do not become sweet. The finish leaves me chewing on a kind of meaty quality with just a hint of that peppery tannin. It’s a very tasty finish. The water flattens the front of the palate but keeps the caramel and cereal notes. The finish is a little less flavorful, bringing that quality of roasted, herb-glazed meat without any meaty flavor.
Final Thoughts: I think The Busker is stronger as a full line than any of the individual bottles. It was a fun and interesting flight to drink side by side. Worth checking out, but definitely not replacing my favorites. However, it’s something I might recommend ordering a flight at a whiskey bar or enjoying with a group of friends. Each individual bottle holds up well on its own, but the variety really shines through when you can compare them.