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.
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.
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.
We were gently awoken from our slumbers by the gurgling waters of the River Corrib that once powered the machinery of Persse Distillery on Nun’s Island. This long closed Galway distillery inspired the members of The Galway Whiskey Trail to successfully launch The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey at last evenings extravaganza.
If our hotel room had been around about 100 years ago we could have inhaled the rich malt aromas hovering in the air as the distillery was only a stones throw across the river.
As it happened it was the enticing smell of a freshly cooked breakfast that eventually got us out of the bed to face the day ahead.
Apart from a few drunkenly made arrangements to meet up with some of the launch party crew – which always seem a bit ambitious in the cold light of day – our time was free. Herself however had plans to purchase a new rig out for an upcoming wedding so out shopping it was. Luckily after a few boutiques I made my excuses and headed to another kind of shop more suitable for my tastes – McCambridges.
Being a member of The Galway Whiskey Trail – which I’d previously visited in January – I knew they had an extensive range of whiskeys in their off-licence department. Also knowing The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey hailed from West Cork Distillers – I was curious to find out what their own label West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt tasted like in comparison.
McCambridges had plenty of Galway Bay in stock but had sold out of West Cork. Luckily there was still some spirit left in the sample bottle so a small taster soon appeared before me.
Now a 10 year old aged in ex-bourbon casks is going to be a bit vanilla sweet – but this was way too sweet.
A look at the small print on the back confirmed my suspicions – E150 – or added caramel to you and me.
I’ve read that added caramel is a tried and tested practice mainly used to darken light coloured blends to give a uniform colour across many barrels and vats.
I’ve read that in small quantities you can’t taste it.
I’m afraid to say – as Heather Greene implies in her highly informative book “Whisk(e)y Distilled” – that as you’re palate develops you can.
There’s just too much added caramel in this single malt for my liking which gives it an unbalanced taste experience. It may have been a perfectly fine whiskey without E150 so why add it?
West Cork Distillers seem to quite like using caramel. They are not alone.
Just the other day I bought a bottle of budget price Scotch by the name of Glen Orchy from a German Supermarket. On tasting some I immediately thought it had the flavour profile of a Richard ‘The Nose‘ Paterson blend all over it. Soft, mellow and caramel sweetness. On doing some research into it’s origins I found it shared the common Glasgow postcode with many other whisky brands – G2 5RG. Suffice to say the headquarters of Whyte & Mackay are based here too – along with Dalmore, Jura and 30 others.
I’m sure there is caramel in Galway Bay – but the port finish gives it a much more balanced result.
1 nil to Galway Bay.
Satisfaction piqued – I met up with Mrs Whiskey. A tentative suggestion of drinks and a snack in the warm sunshine outside one of the Galway Whiskey Trail venues was accepted so Tigh Neachtain‘s won out in this instance.
A white wine for the lady was duly ordered along with the appealingly named Bogman Irish Craft Ale I hadn’t encountered before.
Bogman turned out to be very enjoyable indeed. Not too strong at 4.9% ABV with a satisfying malty flavour. Good work from those at Spiddal River Brewery. Herself enjoyed her wine too!
We wondered if anyone else would bother to turn up from the night before – and then one appeared – followed shortly by another!
There were warm greetings all round with banter about the Galway Bay launch where we had all met followed by yet more drinks – and a tasty lunchtime meal.
I had another whiskey this time. Te Bheag is an entry level peated Scottish blend from Skye which I’d previously encountered at Whiskey Live Dublin. My palate has obviously developed as unlike my previous tasting – I got a dose of added caramel sweetness this time round.
Having the craic and shooting the breeze couldn’t have been more enjoyable. During the course of our stay on this busy pedestrian intersection many people came and went. An immaculately groomed – both male and female – wedding party stopped by for a pint and some photos. I had a chance to chat with the barman after walking out without paying on my last visit! We met one of The Galway Hooker skippers from the whiskey launch lastnight and to crown it all – a stunningly blue eyed musician serenaded one of our party after a throw away comment.
Turns out Thomas Wesley Stern are a travelling band from the Pine Barrens region of New Jeresy who had only arrived in town from Sligo and were heading to Lisdoonvarna later.
They soon had a small crowd of admirers outside Tigh Neachtain’s and garnished much applause – along with a pint for their troubles. Here they are singing a whiskey related song.
Alas a short downpour interrupted the proceedings and broke the spell.
Thoughts of returning to the real world with it’s attended chores clouded the mind and goodbyes with promises to stay in touch were exchanged.
The Galway Whiskey Trail certainly lives up to it’s description in providing an experience you cannot buy.
Together with the fabulous launch of The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey it had been an absolutely stunningly entertaining weekend.
The combination of festivities, friendliness and fun are what it’s all about.
When will you visit the trail to capture the craic for yourself?
It’s not everyday you pop into your local supermarket for some messages and come out smiling – but that’s exactly what happened to me the other day!
When I’m out shopping – whether it’s local or not – I generally always take a look at the whiskey shelves to see what’s on offer or changed since my last visit. On this occasion I was rewarded by a selection of new whiskey expressions at my local Dunnes. What caught my eye were a couple of whiskeys from one of the very few new Irish distilleries to have been around long enough to release their own product. None other than West Cork Distillers.
Now these Distillers have a bit of a reputation of being a little “unforthcoming” when it comes to whiskey aficionados about what they are up to down in Skibbereen – at least that’s what I’ve read. I don’t know why – but I do know their very bold and striking black bottle with simple white lettering on it stood out from the crowd.
The Pogues The Official Irish Whiskey – are the stark words emblazoned across the front of the bottle.
Marketing a whiskey after such a band – with a lead singer who has a somewhat legendary relationship with drink – too much of it perhaps – is a bit of a brave move to say the least. But the packaging style of the bottle bucks the trend of being able to see the whiskey inside. The Pogues also bucked the trend of the time when they first appeared by combining traditional Irish music with raucous punk – and look at them now – world famous!
Anyway – I couldn’t resist buying a bottle.
Price wise at 33 euro it’s a bit above your standard blend range. For around 23 euro you can have Kilbeggan – Paddy – Powers or White Bush. Add some more and for 40 euro you can have the excellent Powers 3 Swallow release in the Irish Whiskey sale at O’Briens. But hey – it’s new – it’s bold – it’s striking. I gotta have it.
Oh – did I say The Pogues Irish Whiskey was a blend? There is no mention of it on the bottle – although the website does say so.
On pouring a glass – after putting away the shopping – I was struck the rich dark brown colour. A bit too dark for such a youthful expression? Three years and a day the bottle says – but hey what’s this?
Farven justeret med E150a
To you and me it’s added caramel.
Question. When the whiskey is in a black bottle you can’t even see it – so why bother?
Does it affect the taste?
For a full appraisal of added caramel in whiskey I suggest you read Dramming’s Blog here and make up your own mind.
Despite all the above – the aroma was very pleasing. Rich and oaky to me. This followed through into the taste together with a little spice – which I like – and a lovely long warm finish.
I was worried that using the Pogues name as a marketing tool would cover up a substandard expression. On sampling this whiskey I think I’m sadly mistaken as this is a very enjoyable tipple.
It certainly brought a smile to my face;
On spotting it at the supermarket
on reading about it and most importantly
on drinking it.
Quite what Shane MacGowan makes of it will have to wait for another time.
Good on ya West Cork Distillers. I’ll have to check out your other releases on the strength of this!