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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Knappogue Castle 21 year old Irish single malt

At 46%abv, triple-distilled Knappogue Castle is my preferred contemporary version of the Bushmills single malt; if it's still being sourced from Bushmills. My nose tells me that at least TPS's excellent 12yo single cask was from The Ulster, and it reports the same about today's limited edition 21 year old.

I got pretty excited about seeing this release, as well as Tullamore Dew's 18yo, just before Covid crashed, but I paused (as always) at the prices. The TD18 is around $120 but is watered down to 41.3%abv, while this 46%abv KC21 is $200. They both had limited outturns, though KC21 comes from only first-fill bourbon barrels, while the TD18 was fashioned from five cask types.

Though I haven't sourced a sample of Tullamore Dew 18, I did get in on a wee bottle split of the Knappogue Castle.

Brand: Knappogue County
Owner: Castle Brands, Inc.
Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery (probably)
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Type: Single Malt
Distillations: Three
Age: minimum 21 years
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrels
Outturn: 1,200 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? Maybe?
(from a bottle split)


Well, hey, if you told me this was the 12yo single cask, I would have believed you. There's a fruit basket in the nose: apples, pears, honeydew and apricots. Confectioner's sugar, honey and vanilla bean in the midground. Brine and mint leaves in the background. At 40%abv dilution indeed dilutes. There are some flowers, peach skins, apricot skins and lots of vanilla.

The palate is where the 21 splits from the 12. There's a combination of tannin, vanilla and apricots that's reminiscent of an oaky American chardonnay. The rest of the fruits — like tart lemons, pears and nectarines — are in the background. With time the tannins recede, while vanilla, honey and a hint of malt take over. The palate does not fade away once the whiskey is reduced to 40%abv. Oak spice and vanilla are up front, while lemons, apricots and toasted cashews are in the back.

During the early sips, the oak remains calm in the finish. Pears, nectarines and flowers make up most of the show. But after 20-30 minutes, bitter oak creeps in. Diluted to 40%abv, the whiskey's finish gets tarter and fills with vanilla.


First-fill bourbon casks are at play here. Not virgin oak or teeny casks or refried barrels. First-fill berbin containers. Thus all the vanilla, moderate barrel char and honey notes. But I'm here for the fruits, and they're loudest and prettiest in the nose. They're available in the palate and finish but have to share the stage with the white oak. It's a nice experience overall, and I could sniff this stuff all day, but I liked that 12yo single cask slightly better. And that's if they were both $40...

Availability - USA and Europe
Pricing - $190-$250
Rating - 84