Supermarket Sweep

Supermarkets have started to up their game; there have been some great supermarket own brand bottlings recently, providing fantastic value for money. It should be noted, however, that there have also been some absolute stinkers.

For our recent ‘Supermarket Sweep’ tasting, we focussed solely on single malts; some older blends such as Asda’s Tasgall 25 years and 30 years and Lidl’s Glen Alba range have received favourable reviews from the whisky blogging world. However, that’s a whole other tasting to look forward to.

Part of the fun of this tasting was the opportunity to play detective, picking up clues to try to work out which distillery the whisky came from. However, we all agreed that there are reasons why a whisky becomes a supermarket own brand bottling rather than a proprietary one. Firstly (and let’s get straight to it) the whisky could well be crap. Secondly, the whisky might not necessarily be bad; it just might not fit the flavour profile that the distillery is trying to create. Whereas, in either case, such whisky could be sold to be ‘disguised’ within a blend, it would be more lucrative to sell the whisky on to be bottled as a single malt under a different name.

One thing is for certain: supermarket own brands are cheaper and they can, sometimes, present good value for money. However, the distillery isn’t ever mentioned on the bottle; if people knew which distillery the whisky came from, they wouldn’t buy the official bottling if they thought they could buy the same whisky £5 or £10 cheaper.  The word ‘thought’ is key here. I mentioned previously that the whisky might be sold on because it doesn’t meet the quality standards or match the desired flavour profile of the distillery. So, if the distillery were mentioned on the bottle, consumers might associate that whisky as being indicative of that bottled by the distillery itself. In my experience, it isn’t. As much fun as it is to play detective, when you pick up a Co-Op own brand 12 year old Highland single malt, if you think you’re buying a Dalmore 12 years… well, you might be but it won’t taste like it.

Each whisky should be assessed on its own merits (or weaknesses) rather than on speculations as to which distillery it could or should be. For this tasting, we blind tasted each single malt – 5 supermarket own brands and one proprietary bottling; all was revealed at the end. In the order of tasting, here are my notes:

Lidl – Ben Bracken 8 yrs – Speyside – 40% – £18.99

Bottled by the Clydesdale Scotch Whisky Company which is a subsidiary of Whyte and Mackay.

Nose: very malty; slight citrus notes behind this; slight apple; slight peardrops

Palate: cereal; this is very harsh; slight apple flavours; very bitter towards the finish, which (thankfully) is very short!

Aldi – Glen Marnoch Rum Cask Finish NAS – Highland – 40% – £19.99

Matured for 3 years (at least but I doubt a minute longer) in bourbon casks and finished in Caribbean rum casks.

Nose: malty; gristy; yeasty; very, very new make spirit-esque; slight hints of toffee and vanilla.

Palate: a gentle start and then the harshness of the young whisky kicks in; like new make spirit with hints of vanilla; this is pretty harsh stuff

Sainsbury’s – NAS – Speyside –  40% – £22.50

Nose: malty; damp wood; earthy; vanilla; pears; red apples; hint of fudge

Palate: honey; pepper; quite burny (but not in a good way); vanilla; not very complex but drinkable; relatively short finish.

Glengoyne 10 years – 40% – £32

Nose: green apples aplenty; malted milk biscuits; custard

Palate: baked apples; raisins; dark chocolate; custard cream biscuits

Tesco – 12 years – Highland – 40% – £25

This has Richard Paterson’s signature across the bottom of the bottle.

Nose: gristy; cut grass; damp earth; pencil sharpenings; tinned mandarins; hints of nail varnish remover in the background; slight nose burn; scented talc notes come to the fore after a while.

Palate: creamy texture; gentle start then an increase in spice; pears; oranges; brazil nuts; hints of milk chocolate; fairly long finish.

Waitrose – 12 years – Islay – 40% – £30.50

Nose: gentle peat; toffee; BBQ smoke; briney; hints of sea air

Palate: gentle vanilla at first; BBQ sauce; gentle honey sweetness; seems well balanced and a gentle Islay dram.

We all agreed that Ben Bracken 8 years and Glen Marnoch Rum Finish were absolute stinkers – tasting notes revealed the words harsh, young, raw and ropey!

Only one person correctly identified the Glengoyne 10 years as the distillery bottling (well done Charlie!). Most thought it was the Waitrose bottling. I wasn’t overly keen on the Sainsbury’s Speyside bottling but it went down relatively well with the rest of the group.

Overall winner: Waitrose Islay 12 years.


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