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Visiting The Old Bushmills Distillery: The Oldest Licensed Distillery on Earth

Visiting The Old Bushmills Distillery: The Oldest Licensed Distillery on Earth

The Old Bushmills Distillery claims to be the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, but is it really?

The company that founded the distillery was formed in 1784 but a local landowner was granted a license to distill long before, in 1608.

We’ll dig into the history later! Located a short detour off the Causeway Coastal Route, the distillery offers a hugely popular tour.

Below, you’ll learn about the story of Bushmills, the new ‘Causeway Distillery’ that opened in 2023 and what to expect from a visit.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Old Bushmills Distillery

Bushmills Distillery

Photos courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland


Although Bushmills is one of the more popular whiskey distilleries in Ireland and a visit is pretty straightforward, there are some handy need-to-knows:

1. Location

Located on Distillery Road just outside of Bushmills Town Centre, the distillery is a 10-minute drive from both Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway and a 20-minute drive from the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge.

2. Opening hours

The distillery is open daily from 9.30am (9.15 in summer) until 4.45pm Monday to Saturday. Sunday hours are noon to 4.45pm. Last tours are at 4pm and the gift shop closes at 4.45pm.


3. Admission

Admission to Bushmills Distillery is £17.29 for adults with concessions for children (£6.92) and seniors (£13.83).

4. The tour

Over 120,000 visitors take the Bushmills Distillery tour every year. Your tour guide will take you through the distillery in small groups on a tour that takes about 40 minutes. Learn about the distilling process, see the barrels and casks in which the amber nectar is aged and visit the bottling hall. More info below.

5. The new distillery

In 2023, a state-of-the-art distillery called the ‘Causeway Distillery’ was opened next to the old distillery. It cost a whopping £37 million and it has doubled the distillery’s production capacity.

The History of the Bushmills Distillery

The History of the Bushmills Distillery tends to cause some confusion and this is due to two dates that are closely associated with the distillery – 1784 and 1608.

1608, which is printed on the bottles, refers to the date that a license was granted to distill whiskey. 1784 was when the company that operates Bushmills Distillery was formed.

Let’s look at the history a little closer at the most famous of the many whiskey distilleries in Ireland.


The royal license granted in 1608

So, the Old Bushmills Distillery itself doesn’t date back to 1608.

1608 was when Sir Thomas Phillips, a local landowner, was given a royal license to distil whiskey in Bushmills.

Hugh Anderson and 1784

It was many years later, in 1784, that the ‘Bushmills Old Distillery Company’ was created by Hugh Anderson.

Many argue that this is the true date that the distillery should be tied to and, if that was the case, the ‘t Lootsje’ in Amsterdam, which opened in 1575, would be the world’s oldest.


Turbulent years followed

The Bushmills Distillery closed a number of times in the years that followed. In fact, there are no records of it being open in 1802 or 1822.

In 1860, the distillery was purchased by two Belfast spirit merchants, but it wasn’t until 1880 that they formed a LTD company.

In 1885, the original buildings were scorched by fire and, while the distillery was damaged, it was rebuilt.

SS Bushmills

The end of the 1800s (1890, to be precise) saw the distillery launch a steamship called the ‘SS Bushmills’, which brought Irish whiskey to America and beyond.

The ship stopped at Philadelphia and NYC before taking a long journey to Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.


Prohibition problems

As is the case with Irish whiskey brands to this day, the American market was key to success. Which is why prohibition in 1920 caused the whiskey industry to plummet.

Despite the challenges, Bushmills managed to weather the storm.

Later years

After WWII ended, Bushmills Distillery was bought by a Scottish businessman named Isaac Wolfson. Soon after, in 1972, it was taken over by Irish Distillers.

The years that followed saw the distiller change hands on several occasions:

  • 1988: Irish Distillers, along with Bushmills, were taken over by Pernod Ricard
  • 2005: Bushmills was bought by Diageo
  • 2014: Diageo exchange Bushmills for the Don Julio tequila brand
  • 2024: Bushmills remains in the ownership of Proximo Spirits

What to expect on the Old Bushmills Distillery Tour

bushmills distillery tour

Photo via Bushmills

There’s plenty to see and do on the Old Bushmills Distillery tour that make it well worth a visit (especially if you’re nearby when it’s raining…).

Below, you’ll discover what to expect from a visit, from the production of the whiskey to some very unique features.

1. Discover the story behind the world’s oldest distillery

For over 400 years, the tiny village of Bushmills has been home to the oldest working distillery in Ireland.

Opened in 1608, Bushmills Distillery has produced fine whiskey in small handcrafted batches, creating the famous smooth taste it is known for.

Bushmills uses 100% malted barley to create malt whiskey. Some are blended Irish whiskeys which combine malt whiskey with lighter grain whiskey.


2. Learn about the production

Bushmills Whiskey is produced in small batches and each cycle requires 40,000 litres of water. The mash takes 6.5 hours and then fermentation lasts for another 58 hours in the washbacks.

The distillery uses 10 pot stills to produce around 4 million litres per annum. Each warehouse contains 15,000 casks of maturing stock.

That’s a lot of liquor! The minimum term of maturity for Bushmills whiskey is 4.5 years with aged whiskeys being matured for 10 years or more.


3. Unique features

What makes the Old Bushmills Distillery so special is that it is the oldest licensed distillery in the world.

Despite its fame and considerable output, it remains a village business built on local grit and determination.

In 2008, the distillery featured on Bank of Ireland bank notes and has been retained on the new polymer version.

Families have worked in this historic distillery for generations, creating hand-crafted Irish whiskey that’s second to none.


4. Learn about the future of the distillery

Under the ownership of Jose Cuervo, Bushmills Distillery is going from strength to strength.

In 2023, a state-of-the-art distillery called the ‘Causeway Distillery’ was opened next to the old distillery.

It cost a whopping £37 million and it has doubled the distillery’s production capacity.

One of the latest innovations is the use of acacia wood casks to give character and spice to the aging whiskey.


What to do nearby

Causeway Coastal Route Drive

One of the beauties of doing the Old Bushmills Distillery tour is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other Antrim Coast attractions.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the distillery:


Frequently asked questions

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from is the Bushmills the oldest distillery in the world to how much tickets cost.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is the Bushmills Distillery tour worth doing?

Yes, the Bushmills Distillery tour is well worth checking out. It’s packed with history and you’ll see each step of the distilling process during your visit.

When did the Old Bushmills Distillery open?

The company that operates the distillery was formed in 1784 and it has been in constant operation since a fire in 1885 required the distillery to be rebuilt.

Is Bushmills the oldest distillery in Ireland?

It is indeed. The distillery was granted a license to distill whiskey way back in 1608, making it the oldest licensed distillery on earth.

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Veronica R Morley

Wednesday 27th of October 2021

I have a family ancestor who was born in Ballyhome according to the 1881 England Census. Anthony Morley born about 1826 and 2 sons: Michael and Patrick were born in Ballyhome also before they went to settle in Blackburn England. The small town of Ballyhome is part of Coleraine now, I believe. There is an entrance to Ballyhome Road from Cloyfin Rd (B17) where there is a large entrance monument. Was it the original entrance to Bushmills Old Distillery? Do you know of any information regarding this arched gate? Bushmills Irish Whiskey dates from 1608; the company was formed by Hugh Anderson in 1784. Perhaps the date of the building of the stone arch entrance. Do you have information? It was a surprise to find this beautiful gate and I would love to know its history.

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