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

10 thoughts on “Bushmills 21 y.o. Review

  1. David


    People buy it for $200 at 40% chill filtered (and what about colour?).

    So why should they change it? It would cost them more to sell it at 46% and I suspect the savings on the cost of filtration wouldn’t make up the difference.

    I can understand the desire to know what is in your whisky and refuse to buy it if it is not stated. But I can’t understand the idea of accepting an age statement and ignoring the other stuff they tell you or imply (chill filtration, watered down) that shows the whisky is clearly lacking!

    While it would be déclassé of me to suggest that it would make more sense to buy an A’Bunadh (has good stuff even though it doesn’t say so) and not to buy this, perhaps I could recommend the following:

    -continue to boycott NAS
    -add to the boycott anything under 46% and anything chill filtered.

    The latter, if successful, would do more to drive change in production methods, whereas the former does nothing to change quality, just disclosure.

    1. Skeptic


      Aren’t you already doing the latter? With the exception of Canadian Whisky, do you EVER buy anything below 46%?

      The only thing I would consider buying below 46% right now would be Talisker 10. It is a very flavourful whisky that clocks in at 0.2% below the threshold.

      1. David

        You’re right, of course, I tend not to buy anything below 46%. The ban on NAS has really narrowed the choices so I can’t remember when the last time I bought a bottle of Scotch. I think I bought some Amrut single malt in August, but that was 60% (heavily discounted from original price) and while very young, it did in fact have the months and years of distillation and bottling and that, in my opinion, is close enough to an age statement.

        And yes, I would buy a Talisker 10 IF it didn’t cost $100 at the KGBO. I’ll have to wait until someone I know goes somewhere where it is cheaper.

        1. Jeff

          Good, legitimate points. Of course, pound-for-pound, A’bunadh’s a better whisky – scores here and just about everywhere else say so. Certainly good as a specific example, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that thicker whiskies are always better any more than it follows that older whiskies are always better. That said, I only disagree with the idea of “always” or it being any kind of “guarantee” – or having to be – rather than the overall direction of the premise(s): whiskies ARE aged and offered at higher strength because these measures are generally seen, and certainly intended, as quality/character enhancements. The issue isn’t really whether it always works or is some panacea, but rather what was intended and does it generally work – just like the benefits of good casking and NCF. Does that make me an “ageist” or a “strengthist”? Maybe, but it also makes me a “caskist” and a “NCFist” and I’m in good company, because a lot of distillers still haven’t got the marketing memo that age, strength and other factors are irrelevant and that they’ve been not only losing, but then giving away, cask-strength product for no discernible reason – for decades! All that said, I think current trending is toward the creation/discussion/declaration of NCF and higher-ABV whiskies and better casking practices, but usually at the increasing expense of, or somehow in compensation for, concealing age, which is why I’ve chosen my battles as I have. I definitely have my own opinions on the subject, but I’m not so much interested in telling people what’s good whisky as I am in people seeing its various contributing factors declared for their judgment.

          I fully concede the point that some people might well get too wrapped up in the implied prestige/quality of high age statements (versus just knowing what you’re drinking, young or old, for better or worse). I also agree that there are many other factors affecting whisky character yet, no, I don’t put these things on par with the significance of age or have seen the well-casked, NCF, cask-strength whisky of which I’ve ever believed its age, stated or unstated, is irrelevant to, or even not primarily responsible for, the end result.

          If someone tells me “I don’t care about age”, what they’re relating, no matter how heartfelt or accurate, is just their philosophy/outlook/take on a piece of information which the industry is increasingly hesitant to offer – they’re only talking about what they’ve decided to disregard and how they choose to react to it. When I and other people say that “age matters, not necessarily to everyone who buys whisky, but it does matter to whisky itself regardless of consumer reaction to it or to age statements”, it’s not an opinion – sorry, it’s a fact. I’ve yet to hear of, much less taste, any whisky which is shown to be “immune” to maturation and that is, quite frankly, because no one makes any – which is, in turn, why anyone continues to mature whisky at all today. People might “not care” about whisky age any more than they do NCF, ABV, casking, global warming, electricity or gravity, but that doesn’t make the effects of these various forces irrelevant because they are ignored. The central issue isn’t “do you or I care about them” but that “these things are real and what are the implications”. Those who really don’t care about age can rip off the labels at home and live in perfect unbiased ignorance of age, ABV, NCF, distiller, etc., but it doesn’t mean that these things don’t have an impact on what they’re buying/drinking.

          1. Bob

            I agree…I don’t care about age.

            To me, the stated age of a whisky is less important to me than what is inside the bottle. Cases in point…Octomore, Amrut single cask.

            In fact, for a peat blast, I would trend towards a younger whisky. That’s probably why Caol Ila CS, Peat Monster, and Laphroaig QC are so good.

            Of course I don’t know that for sure…. that’s why I agree with Jeff.

            *note the 2 “cases in point” are young, AGE-stated expressions.

          2. Jeff

            You’re cagey, Bob, but my point is that “not caring” about a whisky’s age isn’t the same thing as saying age doesn’t have an effect on whisky, much less that such effects are, or can be, label dependent. Whether anyone “cares” about the age of Octomore or Amrut, they are still products of it (and other factors) and would be different whiskies, for better or worse, if their age, declared or undeclared, was changed. Not picking one’s whiskies BY age statement vs. quality (which I don’t recommend either) isn’t the same thing as saying age is irrelevant to whisky, otherwise whiskies of any age could be placed behind those magical labels and the products would still come out the same on the basis that “this is Octomore” or “this is Uigeadail”. If you prefer young profiles, those profiles aren’t accidental (many are just presently undisclosed), so age matters to what you’re drinking and should be reflected on the label.

          3. David

            Well Jeff,

            I don’t think Bob was saying that age doesn’t matter. He was just saying he doesn’t care about the age as long as it’s good.

            I don’t care that Amrut single cask aged its whisky for less than 5 years. I care that it was aged ENOUGH to taste good. I like Octomore (the 2 times I tried it). I care more about the price tag than the youth.

            None of which is to say the age shouldn’t be on the bottle, of course.

          4. Jeff

            Bearing in mind, of course, that trading product information “because it’s good” is an illusory bargain because it isn’t as if a producer “can’t” give you the former if they can give you the latter.

          5. Bob

            Sure, but you could tell me it’s 40 years old…if I don’t like it, I won’t buy it.

            So yes, maturation of which one function is time does matter. But it matters differently depending on the distillate and the quality of the cask, as well as the ambient conditions.

            So sure, put the age on the label, but if I have to choose one bottle to buy, telling me it’s 5, 10 or 15 years won’t help me unless I know the distillery, ABV, colour, filtration, type of cask (volume, previous contents, how many times used, etc…), and place of maturation. Some people would even want to know where the barley came from.

            I’ll sooner buy a 5 year Amrut (at 60%) than a 12 year Glenfiddich at 40% (or a 18 for that matter).

            But then again, most people are not anoraks like me.

          6. Jeff

            So now we go full circle again – “age doesn’t tell you everything”, but no one said it did. At least we’ve come to the point, kicking and screaming, that, yes, age does matter to whisky whether people “care” to know about it or not. People would rather buy a good whisky than one that isn’t as good? I might not be an anorak, but even I get that.

            “I’ll sooner buy a 5 year Amrut (at 60%) than a 12 year Glenfiddich at 40% (or an 18 for that matter).” – me too, but what if the industry’s attitude to ABV was the same as its current attitude toward age: “you don’t need to know it as long as it’s ‘good’, depending on what info we want to use for marketing”? Would, or should, consumers acquiesce to that nonsense because experts do, or should they call it for the cheap double-dealing stunt that it is on the basis that ABV, like age, obviously matters to all whisky? Just as well that ABV is in law so we don’t have to find out the hard way. I wish age was – and, yes, beyond three years.

            Anyway, any producer who can give you quality (which is only an opinion in the eye of the beholder) can also give you an age information (which is a fact, not an opinion) and every whisky ever produced by anyone has had its quality, however assessed, affected, for good or bad, by its age (which is also a fact, not an opinion). I’ll settle for that (and I need a drink).

            Still, you are cagey, so hats off and cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s