Thomson 21 Year Old

♛- Distinctive, but the oak cuts too sharply 

Score: 70/100

New Zealand can produce seriously good whisky!… pity about the quality of the casks.

One example of a superb New Zealand whisky is the Thomson 21 Year Old, though frustratingly that sharp painful jab of oak unsettles the experience. Bursts of blackberry and blackcurrant work with notes of licorice to rescue this whisky from the over-influence of sharp cutting bitter oak, as notes of vanilla and sea salt develop to create a whisky that is very complex and enjoyable. This whisky seemed to be on the brink of no return, but it appears to have been rescued from the barrel just in time. Even still, that oak influence is there. 

The Thomson 21 Year Old is a limited edition New Zealand whisky, so if you enjoy in a whisky the sharp bitterness of oak against sweet licorice and blackberry all carried by a salty sea breeze then you better hurry! It is a single cask release from the Willowbank Distillery.

I blind tasted a group of nine whiskies four times, and this group included the Thomson 21 Year Old which was certainly a stand out whisky. Its nose is superb, though its taste is less impressive. I gave its nose a high rating but its taste (3.5 stars in my opinion after a FIFTH blind tasting) dragged it down. That sharp cutting oak… such a pity. As taste is a major consideration I’ve decided to let that be the overall rating for this whisky, especially because it was downhill after an additional blind tasting with whiskies I consider to be 5 stars. 

Tasting Notes – Thomson 21 Year Old


Gusts of fresh pine and blackberry twirl around the dense spicy oak, as helpings of vanilla add creaminess to an otherwise bouquet of dried fruit. As the whisky rests in the glass its nose develops with hints of blackcurrant and raisins as a mild licorice and marshmallow weave in and out of a salty sea breeze and milk chocolate. This whisky has such a beautiful and complex nose, as nutmeg adds a buzzing spiciness.


Spicy bursts of dry oak strike the palate, and just when I think the oak has hijacked yet another promising nose in comes that spark of blackberry and blackcurrant. Heavy on the oak, this whisky would have scored higher if its fruity character was a little brighter and moderated more the bitter dry oak. Though it does dominate at the start, bursts of sweetness weigh against it to provide a character that is somewhat balanced. The milk chocolate develops into dark chocolate as the licorice gains in intensity. All the while the gentle sea breeze gently blows bringing with it a saltiness and notes of dried seaweed.

The problem is that the oak almost cuts the palate sharply, and an additional (fifth) blind tasting made it clear that this was probably not going to go away. 


The finish on this whisky is moderate, though its flavours do radiate from the tongue mildly for a long while.

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