Monthly Archives: October 2015

Bushmills 21 y.o. Review

Bushmills 21 y.o.050

40% abv

Score:  86.5/100


40%?  Really?  I hate to beat a dead horse, but there is simply no valid argument – if you want to present a case to me that you are offering a premium single malt experience, that is – in support of releasing an old and rare(ish) whiskey chill-filtered and watered down to this sort of consistency.  If I sound rather perturbed with this one, let me explain why…

This is really good whiskey.  The nose and palate are harmonious; the nuance and profile are pleasant and intriguing; and the balance struck across all faces of this expression is impressive.  If you have that much going for you, why the hell would you opt to strip out all of the rich and oily mouthcoating fats and lipids via chill-filtration and leave us with a mere shadow of what could be?  Boost the strength to 46% and offer the consumer the true whiskey experience.  This is a perfect example of why Irish whiskey is seen as a lesser sibling to Scotch.  It doesn’t need to be this way.

Alright…let’s breathe deep and appreciate what we have here instead of harping on what we don’t have.  Shouldn’t be hard.  After all, I am a fan of Bushmills.  This is the brand I cut my teeth on.  This 21 year old single malt is one of the apex expressions in the Bushmills portfolio.  It’s a malt composed of bourbon- and Oloroso-matured spirit whish has then been further married together in Madeira barrels for a finishing period.  Sounds like some of Richard Paterson’s sort of witchcraft, but the cohesiveness of the end product is admirable, considering I usually find this sort of triple wood maturation is often close to overkill and beckoning us too deep into tannic wine country.  Not so, here.  Very adept blending.

If you can look past my initial gripes above – and the ~$200 price tag – this is a very nice dram.  Recommended in spite of myself.

Nose:  Quite gooey and jammy.  I like the fruity, spicy balance.  Raisin scones.  Black current.  A little chocolate, and a little caramel.  Barley shows through to nice effect.  A hint of wine gums.  Really good nose, all in.  Clean and appealing.

Palate:  Frustratingly thin and lacking texture, though the flavours are nice.  Grape meets licorice in a way that again reminds of wine gums.  Love the tangy effect and mix of fresh baking and quality preserves.  Faint marzipan.  Over-steeped tea.  The oak gives a slight nip here that gives a tannic feel.  Tastes like a very young 21.

Thoughts:  The nose and palate work really well together, but this one truly is hamstrung by the low abv and lack of mouthfeel.  Oh well.  Still really good, but could have been a classic.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

Caol Ila 18 y.o. Cask #11143 (A.D. Rattray) Review

Caol Ila 18 y.o. Cask #11143 (A.D. Rattray)185

55.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Good whiskies are found everywhere.  We know this because we’re constantly hunting them down and sharing the word via forums such as this.  Truly spectacular whiskies, however, are unquestionably much more scarce.  And even more elusive are truly spectacular people.  Here’s a little story of how these two things came together for me in a serendipitous little meeting.

A while back I saw a message on Twitter that showed a dram of Caol Ila.  Not just any Caol Ila, but one so deep and dark I was simply blown away by the depth of brown and red in the glass.  The colour was stunning – not that we form our opinions based on colour, mind you – and obviously spoke of a massive sherry influence on the spirit.  To date there have only been a couple of uber-sherried Caol Ila expressions that have crossed my lips.  I recall one being incredibly industrial and almost unapproachable, while another was quite spectacular.  Even that oddball industrial mash-up was singular enough to make me come back to it time and again out of sheer ‘can’t-wrap-my-head-around-it-ness’.

I started asking questions and was informed that this Caol Ila was an 18 year old independent bottling from A.D. Rattray, bottled exclusively for Wine & Beyond, and was being used by my dear friend Val Bradshaw for a whisky tasting event.  She and I discussed a bit and I walked away with an assurance that she would try to let me taste this one at some point.  Whew!  Mission accomplished.  Little did I know, though…

A long while later Val came by for a wonderful evening of friends, drams and discussion.  She didn’t bring me a sample of that Caol Ila that night, however.  She brought me an entire bottle.  A beautiful gesture from a woman with a heart of gold and an infinite understanding of both the spirit itself and the spirit inside that drives my passions.  These are the things that make a whisky unforgettable and help us cement memories and friendships that last a lifetime.  Not the gift itself, of course, but the thought behind it and the place it comes from.  Amazing.

And the malt itself?  As wonderful and unique as I’d hoped.  Deeply rich sherry and earthy peat in a perfectly matched tug-of-war.  No winner.  Just a contest for the ages.  And the best part?  This one takes me right back to Islay; sipping whisky in the warehouse, right from the barrel.  Nothing like it.

I should note:  The bottle is marked as a partial cask.  Wine & Beyond took a chunk of the outturn, but where the rest wound up?  Who knows.

Nose:  Bucketloads of sweet jammy fruits and bold clouds of smoke.  Caol Ila?  Really?  I’d guess Bowmore if tasted blind.  Flint, ash and iodine.  Some rubber and tarry notes.  Menthol drops and cherry cough syrup.  Cask char.  Dark syrupy notes and strong vanilla.  Spicy tea, cold coffee and dark chocolate.  A savoury, meaty note too.  All of these descriptors are accurate (in my humble opinion anyway), but they don’t work to describe the cohesive whole.  Man, what a nose.

Palate:  Huge arrival.  Bigger than huge, actually.  Like plums and berries that have been rubbed in a tangy Asian sauce and roasted over a smoky-as-hell bonfire.  More oceanic here.  Grapeskins and good chocolate.  Ginger and cinnamon.  Dark, moist tobacco.  Again…very jammy.  Earthy, peaty and farmy.  Great juicy dram.

Thoughts:  Unforgettable, not simply due to the backstory, but because of its intrinsic nature.  Deep and contemplative.

*Sincere thanks to Val Bradshaw for the hook up on this gem.  Love ya, babe.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

Glenfarclas 25 y.o. Review

Glenfarclas 25 y.o.182

43% abv

Score:  88/100


A late night stop in a local spirit seller last night landed me a couple bottles of the old standby, Glenfarclas 15, at the rock bottom price of $65 a piece.  If you’ve been following current whisky trends (and I’m sure you have) you’ll know that quality affordable age-stated malts are pretty close to a critically endangered species nowadays.  You can imagine my delight at finding such a score just blocks from home.

It was also cause for reflection.  While I’ve drunk ridiculous amounts of Glenfarclas over the years, I’ve not yet reviewed nearly as many as I should have.  Something to be remedied in the coming days, I think.  Let’s face it…second only to Springbank, Glenfarclas is the ‘be all, end all’ in traditional whisky making, and that is something that places this distillery in the top tiers of my own personal favorites.

So having said all of that, let’s dig into an iconic malt from this old school family owned and operated Speyside juggernaut.  Here we have Glenfarclas 25.  This is a whisky that tends to get glossed over in favour of the always available 15, the bombastic 105 or the rather exceptional 40 (largely depending on your personal tax bracket, of course).  The fact of the matter is, though, that this is a great dram at a more than fair price point.  It delivers almost exactly what I’d expect, and always feels like a bit of a homecoming.  Quite highly recommended.

Nose:  Jammy sherry notes with a hint of toasted caramel and sticky vanilla pod.  Apple, stewed stone fruit and tobacco.  Spicy wood notes.  Red ju-jubes and fresh cinnamon.  Crème brûlée and grilled orange zest.  Warm and familiar.

Palate:  Oh wow.  Great delivery.  Turns to apples and oranges first before plunging deeper into dried fruits and the warming buzz of all things sherry (spice, chocolate, raisin and all things Christmas cake-like).  There is a heft of fruit peel (slightly drying) and toasted wood.  Speaking of toasted notes, perhaps some roasted marshmallow.  A slight nuttiness; walnut, I think, with maybe some almond.

Thoughts:  Not the cleanest or most exciting of the Glenfarclas range, but a great old dram nonetheless.  Always a treat to revisit.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt