This is an old mini that was part of a bunch of Bushmills minis I bought at Scotch Whisky Auctions a year or so ago. They've been hit-and-miss so let's see how this compares to both another old mini of "Old Bushmills" (40% ABV) as well as to the standard Bushmills of today. Neither mini has a date on it so I'm not sure how old they are.
Note that this is not the Bushmills 1608 400th Anniversary bottling from a few years back. That one had a very different label design than this mini (this one has a purplish logo with an image of a still as well as a 12 year old age statement, whereas the 400th Anniversary bottling had a much more contemporary design); this one also doesn't indicate anything about a "400th Anniversary". The newer 1608 was partly distilled with crystal malt, which gave it a nuttier, more biscuity character than the usual Bushmills, but I suspect this older mini was not. However, I couldn't find any information online about this 43% ABV bottling, so it remains a bit of a mystery.
The colour is a light-to-medium amber. Surprisingly rich and meaty on the nose (you would never guess that this is Bushmills in a blind tasting) with tawny port, vanilla custard, light peat smoke, digestive biscuits, bovril, oiled leather and an odd off-note of malt vinegar. Water brings out more malt and a wet-campfire note. A pleasant surprise but I wonder if some old-bottle-effect has changed it somehow, adding a sour vinegary note.
The palate is a bit spicy with rich malt, sherried oak and a hint of peat smoke. Dark cherries, rich caramel and a big hit of vanilla. Nutmeg. Pipe tobacco. Nice combination of spice, sherry (or port? Or both?) and smooth vanilla/caramel in the background. Water doesn't seem to have much effect on the palate though. Interesting, but still has that odd vinegar note.
The finish is, again, rich with raisin, dates, vanilla pods and dark chocolate. I think something is off with this one - I can detect some great, old-whisky notes of tobacco/leather that you won't find in contemporary Bushmills, but a wonky sour note kind of messes the whole thing up. And compared to the others? The "Old Bushmills" is much lighter in both colour and character, but also has that odd sour off-note. Contemporary Bushmills has a colour that falls somewhere between these two old minis, and although it noses younger than those two, it has a cleaner, crisper character that omits that sourness. I wonder if that off-note is just how they made it back then (I don't imagine these minis are older than the 1980s though), or if it is caused by something in the bottle? I suspect the latter.