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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

A visit to the Old Bushmills Distillery is one of the more popular things to do in Antrim.

And it’s a fine little detour for those of you looking to tackle the brilliant Causeway Coastal Route (it’s the oldest working whiskey distillery in Ireland, after all!).

Close to the River Bush, the quaint whitewashed and brick buildings and Visitor Centre are steeped in history.

In the guide below, you’ll find info on everything from the Bushmills Distillery Tour to what to visit nearby.

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

bushmills whiskey tour

Photo via Bushmills

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

The village of Bushmills is well worth a visit in its own right, as well as being home to the famous Bushmills Distillery. It is 6 miles east of the end/start of the Causeway Coastal Route, close to Dunluce Castle and the Royal Portrush Golf Course.

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 a modest £9 for adults with concessions for children (£5) and seniors (£8). The admission price includes a fun guided tour around the site so you can see how the very best Irish whiskey is made. The tour ends with a tasting experience.

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.

The History of the Bushmills Distillery

Local Bushmills resident, Sir Thomas Phillips, was granted a royal license from King James I to distill whiskey back in 1608. However, the amber spirits have been produced in the area for centuries before.

Records back in 1276 show it was used to fortify troops even then! Located on the River Bush, the distillery uses local water drawn from the Saint Columb’s Rill along with malted barley to create the famous whiskey in small batches.

Where it all began

The company that operates the distillery was formed in 1784 by Hugh Anderson. It has had several owners and survived many ups and downs, even closing several times. However, it has been in constant operation since a fire in 1885 required the distillery to be rebuilt.

America was an important market for Bushmills and other Irish whiskeys. In 1890, a steamship owned by the distillery (SS Bushmills) made its maiden transatlantic voyage carrying Bushmills whiskey.

A global movement

After unloading some of its precious cargo in Philadelphia and New York City, it headed to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama. However, Prohibition in the 1920s curtailed all US imports for a time, which came as a blow to the company.

The distillery survived WW2 and changed hands several times before before bought by Diageo in 2005 for £200 million. They later traded it to Jose Cuervo, famous for tequila.

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 quaint 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. A new distillery is being built next door and methods continue to be modernised while still retaining the traditional ingredients.

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

What to do after the Old Bushmills Distillery tour

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 (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Visit the Bushmills Inn

The olde-world Bushmills Inn is a a delightful part of the village. This coaching inn dates back as long as the distillery itself and includes inglenook turf fires, cosy snugs and an excellent menu. The bar hosts regular Trad music sessions so it’s well worth a visit.

2. Causeway Coastal Route attractions

Dunseverick Castle antrim

Photo by Ondrej Prochazka (Shutterstock)

There’s so much to see along the Causeway Coastal Route just a short spin from Bushmills. Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway are less than 10 minutes by car. There’s Dunseverick Castle (11 mins), White Park Bay Beach (13 mins) and the unique Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, 17-minute drive away.

3. Portrush

whiterocks beach

Photo by John Clarke Photography (Shutterstock)

The lovely resort of Portrush includes three beautiful sandy beaches, Blue Flag waters and fantastic surf. It’s also home to the Royal Portrush Golf Course, plenty of local shops, accommodation and some great cafés, pubs and restaurants.

FAQs about visiting the Bushmills Distillery in Ireland

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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