It’s been well over a year since I first went out to purchase this whisky.
The idea of a budget supermarket branded single malt appealed to me. I had to find out for myself what it tasted like.
Inadvertently I walked into the wrong German supermarket store and came out with Aldi’s Glen Marnoch instead.
Now in this segment of the market you have to accept chill filtering & added caramel. There is no provenance – nor terroir. There isn’t even a Glen Marnoch or Ben Bracken distillery – let alone an actual physical Ben or Glen of the same name to visit. You get what you pay for – entry level single malt.
The Glen Marnoch Islay was fine – a decent hit of peat over a rather hefty dose of caramel.
I’d actually stopped looking for Ben Bracken.
It’s reach didn’t seem to make it across the Irish Sea – and there were far more entertaining bottles to bring back from the UK.
But when it appeared in my local Lidl store in Athlone – I couldn’t really give it a miss. If only to show no favouritism towards either store.
To kick off with there’s that dark ruby mahogany shade of added caramel – but on nosing – a refreshingly clean & clear smack of peat smoke greeted me.
I found it very inviting.
The initial taste was rather soft, watery & almost insipid – but then a big waft of peat just blows in and makes it sort of alright!
My peat baby is coming back to me!
The experience left a softly drying ashiness. Like a warm & cosy seaside fire rolling around on my palate.
I’d rate this higher than Glen Marnoch.
The caramel quota isn’t as pronounced – which allows a more powerful & peaty punch to shine through.
There isn’t much else.
It’s rather one dimensional.
But if like me you enjoy a smack of smoke in your glass.
It breaks with conventional wisdom as to what an Irish Whiskey should be.
To begin with it’s double distilled.
There never was – isn’t – and hopefully never will be – a rule that states all Irish Whiskey must be triple distilled.
And it’s peated.
Again – no rules to say it can’t be.
Considering Locke’s Distillery – which is the former name of Kilbeggan Distillery – has been making whiskey in the Irish Midlands town of Kilbeggan from 1757. A town that happens to sit beside the Bog Of Allen – the biggest bogland in Ireland – and a ready source of turf – or peat. It’s inconceivable some of that fuel on-the-doorstep wasn’t used in the whiskey making process in times past.
The addition of a small percentage of peat malted barley – around 10% – lifts the spirit in the bottle with extra flavours & complexity.
There’s a slight whiff of smoke on the nose.
The smooth fruity palate has added bite & depth from the peat element.
Whilst a bit of spicy dryness at the end is most welcome.
Locke’s 8 Year Old Single Malt is always one of those standard easy drinking malts I’m pleased to see.
It also happens to be on special offer in Aldi right now. (November 2018.)
So if you haven’t had the pleasure of encountering this one before – now’s your chance!
Last Year’s Xmas Special Irish Reserve 26 Year Old set the internet alight with whiskey fans scouring both Ireland and the UK to find a bottle of the gorgeous liquid.
They’ve followed this up with another Irish Reserve bottling – albeit a much more down to earth 4 year old at only €19.
It may not have the kudos of the 26 – but I had to give it a go.
The bottle comes in an attractive green colour topped with a red screw cap. The label is very similar to the 26 year old.
There is very little information given. It’s an Irish whiskey and it’s 4 years old. That’s all it really needs to say. If you want more information – expect to pay more.
What it doesn’t say is probably more revealing.
It doesn’t say it’s a blend, nor non chill filtered nor if added caramel is used – so presume it’s all three of these. At only €19 – what else are you looking for?
The nose is suitably mellow. A hint of sweet corn initially – that grainy clarity – before those familiar vanilla & caramel notes from ex-bourbon cask maturation kick in.
The taste is grand. Smooth, sweet, no real bite at only 40%, yet a pleasant mouthfeel & soft notes from the 4 years in wooden barrels.
The finish didn’t last too long – but left a lovely warmth on the palate.
There’s no complexity or depth here.
It is what it is.
An easy drinking straight forward honest to goodness 4 year old bourbon cask matured Irish whiskey.
I’d happily drink this bottle as an everyday sipper – unlike some other single malts from similar shelves.
Good on Aldi and the team behind this whiskey.
It sets the benchmark for what a no frills Irish whiskey should be.
It provides a standard to compare other – usually higher priced – bottles against. To check whether if you know the distillery of origin or not, whether it’s chill filtered or not & whether added caramel is used or not you can taste the difference.
An opportunity to taste without prejudice. To judge all equally without bias to distillery of origin or mash bill. To savour & enjoy new tastes & styles in a manner echoing the ethos of the Declaration Of Independence written all those years ago.
Yet the Midlands masses were not moved and on the day there were more whiskey expressions on offer than punters to drink them.
Ah well. All the more for those that did attend.
I tried to put together a flight of whiskeys that represented as many different styles of American bourbon – to compare & contrast – within the limitations of what was readily available in Ireland.
To kick off with – a pair of entry level bourbons showed that even within the same category there were differences of taste & flavour.
To be labelled ‘bourbon’ under American rules means a minimum of 51% corn used in the mash bill. The mash bill is the ratio of grains used to make the whiskey – usually made up of the big 4; corn, wheat, rye & barley.
I twinned an Aldi own brand Clarke’s 1866 Old Kentucky Straight Sour Mash Whiskey with a market leading Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey. Most preferred the Jack – although Clarke’s wasn’t far behind.
Considering one is twice the price of the other – it just goes to show you can get a decent pour of a fairly standard bourbon at an affordable cost if you’re prepared to shop around.
The next pour moved up a level both in terms of cost and flavour – FEW Rye Whiskey. All agreed this was a far more complex, definitely a different style and a far more satisfying whiskey. The spicy rye dominated the palate yet was balanced by the sweet corn element in the mash bill.
The rye presence continued into the Brothership Irish – American Whiskey. A collaboration between Connacht Distillery in Ballina and New Liberty Distillery in Philly. It’s a blend of 10 year old Irish Single Malt & a 10 year old American Rye. A lighter & smoother start than the previous pours – all picked out the Irish malt influence – yet joyfully morphed into a lovely drying peppery spice at the end. You can pick out the 2 different styles within the same glass and marvel at how they both compliment each other in the final mix. Fabulous.
I was very much looking forward to the next bourbon.
A representative at Hi-Spirits Ireland – a distribution company handling the Sazerac, Buffalo Trace portfolio – reached out to donate some liquid for the Blind Tasting. Much appreciated.
The bottle in question also happened to hail from the Barton 1792 Distillery which recently suffered a rickhouse collapse causing much loss of bourbon & property. Although thankfully no injuries.
1792 Small Batch Bourbon.
Again – much like the Brothership – this was a whiskey in 2 halves.
To begin with a rich, deep vanilla & burnt caramel coated the mouth leading you into a drier, cinnamon spice rye body which finished in a delightfully playful prickly heat. This ‘high rye’ bourbon pleased all present – although there was no clear overall winner on the night before the bottles were revealed. Beautiful bourbon indeed.
The final offering was more of a fun product.
Buffalo Trace White Dog Rye Mash.
This is the American equivalent of Irish Poitin. Raw un-aged whiskey.
At 62.5% this White Dog certainly packed a punch – yet was extremely palatable & very enjoyable. That familiar – slightly sour – new make nose, the oiliness on first tasting proceeding to a soft dry rye spice rounded the evening off with a bang.
As part of their Father’s Day promotions Aldi have brought to the Irish market the award winning Glen Marnoch range of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
I’ve tried the Islay expression before here. The peat just managed to break through the caramelly sludge to make it a worthwhile bargain purchase – and the Highland bottle interested me next – but all that was on the shelves of my local Athlone store happened to be the Speyside Single Malt.
Now Speyside whiskies are among the biggest selling single malts in the world. They have universal appeal. They are approachable easy drinking & relatively mild. That equates to a lack of any bold flavours in my book and I wouldn’t be a fan.
With that caveat in mind – what did I find?
Caramel. Lots of it. The dominant note I got reminded me of a corn based blend – yet this is a 100% barley malt. Added caramel – or e150 if you like – is often made with dehydrated corn – so maybe that’s what I’m picking up.
It certainly is soft & approachable – no rough edges here – with a smidgen of fruity notes appearing towards the end. A pleasing warm burn gently caresses the palate on the finish.
For the price – added caramel & chill filtration are the norm – the name of the distillery is also not stated either – you get what you pay for.
Having said that – over in rivals Lidl – the Dundalgan Charred Cask Irish Whiskey sells for the same price.
It’s also soft & approachable. It has a far more warming – even inviting – bourbon vanilla & caramel nose – and packs more flavour too. All this from a blend.
For a fiver more you get the Dundalgan 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey.
Compared to the Speyside this is in a different league.
It’s cleaner, crisper, packs more flavour, more fruit & has a far more balanced appeal about it altogether.
Even in the bargain basement range there are enjoyable drinking experiences.
Not something I can say about the Glen Marnoch Speyside.
The Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey Trinity pack is one of the most attractive & innovative designs I’ve come across in the whiskey world.
The three separate expressions that make up the complete Trinity come in individually designed bottles that fit into one another to give the impression of one complete bottle.
Neat! Or should that be Neat Neat Neat?
Clontarf Irish Whiskey – or 1014 to commemorate the Battle of Clontarf – is one of the brands developed by Castle Brands Inc. They are an NDP (Non Distillery Producer). Like many others – at home and abroad – they source their whiskey from an Irish distillery and add their own signature to the expression.
I’ve come across Clontarf before. Mainly in Aldi – at least in Ireland – but this Trinity pack I picked up in Mullingar’s Old Stand off licence. I did notice they have made a reappearance at the Loop Dublin Airport too when I last flew out.
So what is actually inside the attractive packaging?
There are 3 expressions.
The Clontarf Classic Blend.
The Clontarf Reserve and
The Clontarf Single Malt.
All are presented at 40%. Probably chill filtered with added caramel.
I’ve had the Classic Blend before. It’s the entry level blend. I found it a rather robust straight forward bourbon cask matured malt & grain blend with a decent nose, taste & a healthy bite to it. No nonsense stuff with a bit of character. It is what it is and I found it rather appealing for that.
The Reserve comes over a bit softer & smooth. More subtle and cultured yet lacking the attractive bite of it’s sibling. There is no age statement on any of the Trinity bottles – although I have come across a 10 Year Old Signature Reserve before. It had much the same taste experience.
The flagship of the Clontarf Trinity is the Single Malt. At least that’s what you’d expect.
What I found was a soft, even muted nose. A very approachable mellow malt with a smooth delivery together with a gently warming finish. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just found it lacking in character.
Rather oddly for this trio of whiskeys – my favourite would have to be the full tasting full on robust entry level Classic Blend. The vibrancy & honest character of this blend appealed to me over and above it’s more balanced & smoother siblings.
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
Mindful I’ve been bigging up the excellent Aldi 26yo Irish Reserve. In the interests of fairness & partiality I couldn’t leave out seeing what the other German retailer Lidl had to offer on the whiskey front.
The pre-christmas special on the shelves seemed to be their own label Dundalgan 10yo Single Malt – which I eventually got round to sampling.
Being a supermarket release – I’m not expecting ‘non chill-filtered’ anywhere on the label. Nor am I expecting any sense of provenance – let alone the name of the field or even the variety of barley used for the terroir.
What I am expecting to find is exactly what it says on the rather plain & simple label.
At 30 euro – what else would you be looking for other than the basic legal requirements?
Oh! It does add ‘aged in bourbon casks’ – but there is no mention of added caramel – (which is probably in there) – nor the distillery that made it – (Cooley would be my guess) – because it doesn’t have to. If you want that kind of information – buy something else.
On the nose it’s very inviting. Soft, smooth, the usual vanilla & caramel notes, whilst Mrs Whiskey found pleasant floral aromas with hints of orange & spice.
It didn’t disappoint on tasting either. A very easy mellow vanilla to begin with, hints of maltiness, followed by a lovely growing heat with just a dash of peppery spice to give it a lift.
A rather gentle medium finish rounded off this extremely pleasant & easy drinking single malt.
It doesn’t have the depth of the Aldi 26yo – but then it’s under half it’s age and 60% the price – and I certainly found the Dundalgan 10yo surprisingly enjoyable.