Eyewitness Booze Investigation: Bushmills Irish Honey

Drinking with Will Gordon

Pull up a stool next to your drinking buddy Will.


Bottom Shelf research director Emily came down with a sore throat Monday afternoon, which gave me a rare and welcome opportunity to play heroic caregiver. I don't get a lot of chances to nurse Emily back to health, because she's fairly sturdy, plus she works with a bunch of doctors and also believes a little too strongly in the healing powers of Advil and detective shows. When she's got a major problem, she has the doctors fix it; when she's got a minor problem, she has Mariska Hargitay fix it. This leaves precious little intermediate ground for me to operate in.

My medical specialties are bandage application and palliative care. Emily spends less time on monkey bars than do most long-limbed bon vivants; in fact, she tends to avoid playgrounds altogether. This means there are very few knee scrapes for me to heal, and she rarely suffers flesh wounds of any other kind, either, so my bandaging skills are almost entirely wasted on her. When it comes to general painkilling, however, I'm sometimes able to muscle the Advil aside with offers of yogurt and whiskey.

When I got word of the sore throat, I suggested she meet me at the bar for the first step in my foolproof three-part throat-healing regimen. I started her off with a pint of Long Trail Ale while I outlined the rest of the plan. Our walk home would take us by our favorite frozen yogurt shop and also the strange new honey dispensary that's sprung up in the only storefront in that part of Cambridge not dedicated to uncomfortable furniture or used music.

I've just started to fully appreciate honey after decades of ignoring it. I used to be so turned off by the texture and viscosity that I didn't even bother to distinguish between honey and maple syrup; they were just two sides of the same sticky coin, one from bees, one from trees (I was never sure which), and neither for me. But Emily's turned me on to the idea of honey's medicinal value when taken in conjunction with whiskey.

I've been content to just honey up my drinks with the stuff that oozes out of the plastic bear's head, but since real maple syrup is a thousand times better than Aunt Jemima, it stands to reason that locally sourced artisanal honey from grass-fed bees might be better than the grocery store stuff. Alas, the honey shop was closed that afternoon, but the yogurt was good and our spirits were high when we got home to prepare and administer the whiskey-honey portion of the sore throat cure.

It was too nice out for a hot toddy, so I squeezed the plastic bear until it hurt in a futile attempt to inject some life into the gorgeous-but-useless blackberries I'd foolishly bought the day before. I smashed the blackberries and honey into the last few drops of leftover Canadian Club, as planned, which produced a very handsome drink that tasted like Canadian Club with chunks of purple nothing and a bit of honey. Not bad, but not medical grade, either.

I didn't use the Bushmills Honey that had showed up in the mail the week before, because I was trying to clear room for it by emptying out some of the quarter-full bottles clogging up the medicine cabinet. In hindsight, I wish I'd opened the fresh jug of honey booze.

I have always preferred Bushmills over Jameson when it comes to Irish whiskey, but I wasn't sure I'd care for the new honey version. Even though I like honey and whiskey, I haven't had much luck with flavored alcohols. They are usually heavy-handed and gimmicky, and I wouldn't have sought out Bushmills Honey if the publicist hadn't offered it.

But Bushmills Honey is very good. It's sweeter than regulation Bushmills, of course, but not by much, because lemon seems to be prominent among the "other natural flavors" the label lists along with "real Irish honey."

It has the typically light character of Irish whiskey, with a bit of apple joining the honey and lemon. It's very smooth for 70 proof, and while I'm usually tempted to soda-down easy-drinking spirits in the interest of staying upright, I think Bushmills Honey is best taken with a couple of ice cubes and some restraint. This retails for around $25 per 750 mL, which is a fair price for anyone open to this kind of liquor alchemy.