The Busker isn’t just a guy that plays guitar on the street. It’s now a new brand of Irish whiskey, actually part of the Disaronno company.
The Busker has at least one unusual element in its arsenal: It’s hitting the market with four variants, all built around styles of production: Single Grain, Single Malt, Single Pot Still (formerly known as Pure Pot Still), and a blend of all three. The whiskeys are distilled at Ireland’s Royal Oak Distillery.
We received all four varieties for review — none have age statements, but we do have a bit of cask type information — so let’s dig in.
The Busker Single Grain Irish Whiskey – This whiskey is intriguingly aged in a combination of bourbon casks Marsala casks “from one of the oldest Sicilian wineries – Cantine Florio 1833.” The nose is gentle and grain-heavy but a bit astringent, driven by the pungency of the Marsala wine casks. A light lemon pepper note and some old wool character dominate with time in glass. On the palate, the whiskey presents itself as slightly musty, but initially quite sweet, with some tropical notes in evidence. The chewy body evokes leather and walnut notes, while the finish falls back on the granary to do more of the heavy lifting. A mix of applesauce, buttered popcorn, a clearer wine-driven character, and a reprise of leather all work to give the conclusion a tricky but not uninteresting sense of balance. 88.6 proof. B / $30
The Busker Single Malt Irish Whiskey – This single malt is aged in bourbon and sherry casks, though the bourbon barrel seems to dominate. The nose is bolder and richer than the Single Grain expression, showing dried florals and a surprisingly savory herbal character on the nose — thyme and rosemary, namely, which grow insistent over time. The palate starts off as a bit gamy, with lots of leather and some tar notes, but it eventually moves into a character offering brown butter, toasted brioche, and a heathery, pastoral character. The finish feels clean and quite malty, leaving behind an impression of a quite traditional Irish malt, and probably the most straightforward whiskey in this collection. 88.6 proof. B /$30
The Busker Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – Single pot still whiskey is known for its inclusion of malted and unmalted barley in the mash; otherwise it is similar to single malt — and this expression is also aged in both bourbon and sherry casks. There’s no word on whether The Busker uses additional grains, which are common to the style. This was immediately my favorite of the group, with a more rounded, boldly malty nose that showcases the sherry much more clearly than in the Single Malt. Aromas of clean malt meld well with the sharper sherry note, evoking citrus peel and classic oily/nutty notes that are reminiscent at times of furniture polish. The palate is more aggressively malty, with notes of cut hay, leather, and more smoldering nuttiness with a lingering element of smoke evident. The finish sees more of the youthful characteristics of this line, with some hemp rope notes giving way to more sherry-driven citrus peel and a lengthy, oily nut character. All told it’s a fairly youthful whiskey, but it’s a solid example of the single pot still style that’s worth a look at this price. 88.6 proof. A- / $30
The Busker Blend Irish Whiskey Triple Cask Triple Smooth – That’s a big (and awful) name for a whiskey that’s really just a blend of all of the above, “combining the Single Grain with a high percentage of the Single Malt and Single Pot whiskeys.” Since the single grain is aged in bourbon and Marsala casks and the other two whiskeys are aged in bourbon and sherry casks, well, you see where the “triple cask” comes from. It’s not exactly a “best of all worlds” construction, and in fact this is the most anonymous and simplistic whiskey in the lineup. While grain-heavy but a bit astringent on the nose, the palate is more engaging, though it never really elevates beyond its toasty, granary-focused underprinnings. Eventually some sesame seed notes and, on the finish, some licorice character emerge, alongside a gentle layer of spice and some straightforward barrel char elements. It’s nothing out of the ordinary and perfect drinkable, but otherwise it feels largely anonymous. 80 proof. B- / $25
Correction: An earlier version of this review stated that Royal Oak Distillery was the home of production for Walsh Whiskey’s Writers Tears and The Irishman. These are actually sourced from other distilleries in Ireland. We regret the error.