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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
One of the joys about travelling to a different country (Australia in this example) is not just tasting the award winning single malts that are produced there – of which there are plenty – but also sampling some of the everyday blends, brands and bourbons not normally found in my home market of Ireland.
My musical interlude comes from a giant of Australian music – and in the context of a wedding – the response is ….I do.
The wedding itself – our reason for travelling in the first place – took place in The Willows on St Kilda Rd. Arriving early to the venue for a pre-event drink we were politely refused entry and sent around the corner to a nearby cafe/bar. Unlike in Ireland where the wedding venue would gladly have you in before and after the event – in Australia the custom is to strictly adhere to the booked times. Que sera sera.
At the nearby Hunters Kitchen we were warmly greeted and soon furnished with a tasty snack of warm olives and bread together with a lovely wine for herself and a whisky for myself.
Now my default position would be to go for an Aussie whisky – but as there wasn’t any on offer – the next best thing I could see was a familiar brand but an expression I hadn’t come across before and isn’t generally available in Ireland.
I’d found the standard Canadian Club a tad sweet with a soft rye spice finish. I expected a bit more punch off the 12 year old but it didn’t seem to deliver. Smoother and more complex notwithstanding – the extra years didn’t provide a knockout dram.
Back at the wedding – a lovely union between a Tullamore lad and a Melbourne lassie – the drinks flowed, speeches were made and food & festivities abounded. Again the whisky menu was rather limited but I had to try a Cougar to celebrate the coming together of two wonderful people!
A fairly standard bourbon experience was enjoyed – nothing out of the ordinary here – but on talking to a few of the other guests I did think this bourbon was very much a local brand.
My suspicions proved correct the next day when I called in at the local Liquorland store for a chat with the friendly and helpful staff. Just the same way as Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and others do here in Ireland – Coles, Woolworths and others do in Australia. They order up bourbon, gin, brandy or whisky and bottle it under there own brand names. I even found an article on it here
Curiously Cougar is bottled at 37% – which is allowed under Aussie rules. Jim Beam is also at 37% whilst Jack stays at 40% – so check the ABV of your favourite brand before you buy as it may not be the same strength as back home.
I came across a few other of these home brands on my travels.
Whilst doing the Great Ocean Road a few weeks later we stayed in the lovely town of Port Campbell and enjoyed a hearty and enjoyable meal in the local hotel of the same name.
A whisky accompanied the meal – and another ordered at the bar for good measure. It wasn’t too bad. Just a standard Scottish blend by the name of McAllister. Inver House Distillers seem to be the origin of this Australian brand.
I did spot an Irish whiskey in this segment too by the name of Finnlaigh. There shouldn’t be any surprises in reading the back of the bottle that Cooley were responsible for the distilling! John Teeling’s Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk may soon be the new source. I didn’t get round to sampling this expression.
Now I wouldn’t be expecting star quality out of these brands. Many of them are price sensitive. They can often be very good value however and some have gone on to be quite highly rated in competitions so I’m quite happy to give them a trial run when I can.
Even in our last few hours on Aussie soil I still managed to come across another. We stopped off at The Savoy Tavern for a farewell bite to eat before catching the SkyBus at Southern Cross Station.
A lack of an Aussie single malt had me searching for an alternative which I found in a Jim Beam Rye. Didn’t I mention I like a rye now and then?
A sweet mellow initial taste morphs into a warm spicy finish. Nothing too complex here -especially as it’s only a 37% release – but very enjoyable nonetheless. I’m looking forward to a potential release in Ireland!
Whilst enjoying or meal – I did notice a sales rep approach the bar to try and push some whisky brand. Curiosity got the better of me and I enquired after the rep had gone what the brand was.
‘Pure Scot’ came the reply, ‘a Scottish blend made at Bladnoch for an Aussie company’.
It got me thinking.
How long will it be before a sales rep comes into a bar in Ireland pushing a brand called ‘Pure Oz’ to ride the surf of the growth and quality of Australian whisky?
Judging on my experiences of tasting Aussie whisky – it may be sooner than you think.