I went looking for the much publicised Ben Bracken trio of single malts recently released by Lidl – but inadvertently walked into Aldi instead!
What confronted me were not only 3 single malts – Islay, Highland & Speyside – but also a 12 Year Old Speyside as well as 2 double casks – one sherry finish & the other bourbon – all below £20.
As I’m a fan of bolder flavours I went straight for the Islay Single Malt to sample.
For the price – I wasn’t disappointed.
The nose was a pleasing mixture of Islay peat & muted caramelised vanilla notes.
For this category & price point, my assumed position is that caramel is added. You only need to look at some of the promotional photos of the different malts showing identical shades of golden brown for confirmation.
The taste was a bit of a non event. Soft, sweet, slightly watery & muted no doubt by that caramel – but after swirling it around in the mouth for a while, a rich peaty smoke surfaced into a pleasingly warming burn on swallowing which proceeded to develop a lovely long afterglow.
A very inoffensive easy sipping entry level malt whisky at an affordable price with just enough character to make it interesting.
I’m not sure which markets it will surface in the pan-european Aldi store area – but it will certainly fly off the shelves. It makes a decent everyday single malt for the drinks cabinet.
For good measure I compared it to another store brand offering. This time from the Co-operative Group.
The 8 Year Old Pure Malt is a blend of,
‘carefully selected choice malt whiskies from the Highlands Islands and Lowlands of Scotland.’
so says the label.
The same label doesn’t say caramel is added – but it has that same cloying mouthfeel which dulls any freshness or sharpness in the flavours on tasting. There was a little smoke – but not enough to rise above the morass of caramel & vanilla smoothness.
A rather muted dram in comparison to the smoky punch of Islay peat.
I happened to be in Scotland over the Bank Holiday weekend & used the opportunity to visit a whisky distillery.
Kingsbarns Distillery is the dream of local lad Douglas Clement who was frequently asked during his golfing caddie days if there was a local whisky distillery to visit.
At the time Fife – despite being the spiritual home of golf as represented by the St Andrew’s Links Course – as well as the spiritual home of Scotch whisky – well, at least the earliest written record as represented by the ‘8 bolls of malt‘ ordered in 1494 from nearby Lindores Abbey – had no whisky distilleries.
Well at least no sexy & sleek single malt distilleries.
Because in Cameronbridge Distillery – which happens to be the largest in Europe – I would argue Fife has the spiritual home of blended whisky.
Originally founded in 1824 as the Haig Distillery, it used the newfangled invention called the continuous still – as designed by Stein & later improved upon by Irishman Coffey – to produce gazillions of gallons of grain whisky. This heralded in the rise of blended whisky which underpins & fuels the wealth of the whisky industry today.
Cameronbridge still produces gazillions of gallons of grain whisky to this day, but like most giant grain distilleries with their industrial style of production, it is out of bounds for whisky tourists.
Kingsbarns Distillery is definitely not out of bounds.
It’s whole premise in fact could be interpreted as a visitors attraction that happens to produce whisky.
It’s early days for that whisky yet however.
Only opened in November 2014 with the first barrel of new make being filled & registered in March 2015 – it can only legally be called whisky in March 2018.
In the meantime there is a lovely delightful Spirit Drink to sample as part of the very informative & enjoyable tour.
Bottled at 63.5% this fresh, bright & clear raw whisky certainly exploded in my mouth with the high alcohol content. Yet it retained some subtle soft sweet barley notes which hinted at good things to come. Adding a drop of water only diluted the overall experience and I preferred the raw energy of the full strength offering.
All the barley used is grown locally with the water being sourced in an aquifer deep underground below the sandstone rock underneath the distillery itself.
Wemyss Malts – a long established & respected family of independent whisky bottlers & blenders also hailing from Fife – or should that be fae Fife? – are also behind the distillery. An eclectic array of their blended malts and single cask expressions are on display in the visitors entrance area.
Talking about Fay Fife – here she is singing her classic hit Top Of The Pops!
As part of the tour I sampled the Kiln Embers blended malt at 46%. A pretty little sweet smoke of a whisky.
I also bought a couple of age statement Peat Chimney miniatures – airport restriction friendly – for later enjoyment back in Ireland.
The Kingsbarns Single Malt however – when it is fully matured – will be a softer, fruity & floral bourbon cask aged single malt. Fife after all has no peat banks but is awash with lush fields of barley & fecund banks of wild flowers & shrubs which attract a rich bio-diversity of wildlife.
Even while sitting outside the well presented cafe – enjoying some locally sourced & produced fare – I was gently serenaded by Skylarks singing high in the sky above me accompanied by Pheasants rooting around in the hedgerows below.
As a visitors attraction Kingsbarns excels.
The long drive into the historic & carefully restored building from the main A917 road well serviced by the St Andrews to Leven 95 bus route. Views of the verdant countryside with the blue sea glimmering closeby. Friendly attentive uniformed staff both in the well appointed cafe & distillery. A highly informative tour that encompassed the history, geology, sights, sounds & smells of both Fife – as well as the process of whisky making itself.
I even surprised myself by correctly identifying a few of the interactive ‘aromatic world’ samples!
If this whisky was branded with an own label supermarket store logo at an attractive price I’d have been happy.
The nose was suitably soft – a slight hint of smoke being the only noticeable element.
The taste had that cloying caramel feel – common among entry level expressions – but was relatively inoffensive & pleasant.
Whilst the finish gave a soft warming kick that lasted a decent amount of time.
Overall – no real surprises here – a perfectly ordinary everyday whisky.
But this is no own label.
It’s attractively packaged & presented with the wonderfully adventurous back story of Shackleton & his Antarctic exploits. The tale of how his bunch of hardy men brought Mackinlay’s Old Highland Malt with them to fortify their spirits against the freezing temperatures & biting gales. About how some of the bottles were left behind in the abandoned hut for over 100 years in the permafrost only to be rediscovered, re-engineered & recreated by the brand owners Whyte & Mackay today in this current bottling.
All fabulous stuff.
It’s just a pity the actual whisky inside the bottle doesn’t quite match up to the heroic struggles those early explorers faced on the ice-fields.
An earlier recreation of those bottles certainly had character & robustness that made you feel by drinking it you were somehow part of Shackleton’s crew. Bottled at 47.5% the 2nd edition was presented in an elaborate package including maps & photographs of the 1907 expedition and even a retro designed bottle to match the original. Now that was a whisky to sink your teeth into.
This current 40% rendition is sadly lacking.
It’s no better – or worse – than an own label brand & I was expecting something – well – more.
My only consolation is that a donation from every bottle sold goes towards the Antarctic Heritage Trust to preserve Shackleton’s Hut & encourage further exploration and adventure.
For those that would like to know more about Irish born Ernest Shackleton & his adventures, I’d recommend the Athy Heritage Centre – Museum. Located only a few miles from Shackleton’s birthplace in Kilkea House, Kildare, the museum houses the only permanent exhibition to Shackleton & shows many original artefacts, photos, cine & even an empty bottle of the recreated whisky found at the 1907 hut in the Antarctic.
Writing a blog about the future of Irish Whiskey with a headline photo of a trio of Scottish Single Malts released by the supermarket chain Lidl may seem a little askew – but it highlights an issue pertinent to the current Irish Whiskey industry.
Imagine I’m a supermarket chain of similar standing.
I want some Irish Whiskey.
Perhaps a single pot still, a single malt & a single grain to show off what Ireland has to offer.
I have the branding ready to go.
I have the bottling plant primed.
I have the customers.
Can Irish Whiskey deliver – like yesterday – to capitalise on the Scottish release?
And like the Steve Aoki song – I felt The Power Of Now.
At 57.3% it fills the mouth with an explosion of smoke sparked off by some surprisingly sweet notes & tasty flavours.
At first I suspected added caramel but no! Bruichladdich are emphatically against such practices. All the flavour results from the maturation in wooden barrels – in this instance ex-bourbon & French wine casks – hence the sweet notes to start with contrasting beautifully with the powerful – 167ppm – peat hit later into the fabulous tasting experience.
Yes there was still peat – but the dominant note of vanilla sweetness let me down.
Big, bad & bold is what I was looking for – but all I got was soft, smooth & sweet.
A bit too much added caramel I think.
A bit like Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle who hails from Derry
Interestingly both Talisker & Laphroaig add caramel too – which would explain the sweet notes I detected. I just don’t understand why they have to do this with single malts. The sweet notes turned me off all 3 expressions.
But when it comes to your age statements versus NAS – Jura came bottom of the list.
The Talisker Skye came out tops – even although I’d prefer the 10 Year Old.
I generally don’t look down on an NAS bottling – but I’m increasingly looking down on added caramel – the proof of the pudding is in the eating however. All 3 of these whiskies tasted overly sweet to me – the Jura decidedly so – which was more of a deciding factor rather than the NAS or age statement issue.
Meanwhile the more variety of styles, tastes, finishes and ages – or not – out there the better in my book.
By trying them all out you begin to appreciate the differences & start to hone down your own particular style.
If you find a whiskey you like – embrace it – regardless of what others say.
We are all individuals with our own taste preferences and idiosyncracies – much like the whiskeys we drink.
I got a little tip-off there was a new kid in town.
The town is Tullamore.
The new kid is the Tanyard Lane bar on William Street.
Housed in the old Wolftrap building, Carrig Brewing Company have moved into running licensed premises in addition to craft beer brewing from their Leitrim base.
Mrs Whiskey and myself had an opportunity to call in on a Sunday evening for a night-cap.
The premises are large and roomy & spread out over 3 main areas.
A smallish snug area on the front left, a large lounge bar with dining area on the right with an attractive walled bar at the rear.
There is an extensive food menu, a large outside smoking area behind the snug, all equipped with a modern sound system & large sports screens which were thankfully turned down low when we visited.
Carrig craft beers were obviously to the fore. but a decent array of other beer brands featured too, along with an impressive display of gins, wines and over 40 whiskeys to choose from.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to walk into a bar & find a whiskey I’ve not tasted before. Tanyard Lane had a couple of Knappogue Castles to tempt me – but I settled on an Ardbeg 10 year old for a base-line Islay peat hit.
At 46% & non chill filtered – as most Ardbeg releases are these days – I found the familiar satisfying peat hit to be the only show in town. Maybe I was expecting more from this award winning dram? In contrast, my earlier experience of the non age statement Uigeadail release sang to me on many levels & had a longer finish. It left the 10 year old rather one dimensional in my book.
The bar staff were very friendly & helpful and I got chatting with the bar manager Con who was keen to expand on his whiskey selection – which was music to my ears.
The walls were well adorned with pictures of old Tullamore, whiskey mirrors and old drinks adverts.
Kinahan’s made an appearance, along with a Three Swallow ad for Powers and a blatantly sexist ad from Old Dublin Whiskey which you’ll have to visit to see as I refuse to reprint it here.
Whiskey drinking is for both men and women.
Thankfully both were well representing drinking & eating at Tanyard Lane.