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Glen Marnoch is the single malt brand of German supermarket chain Aldi. The range launched in 2011 with a 3000-bottle run of a 24 year old highland malt that retailed at the remarkable price of just £29.99. Since then, the selection has grown to include offerings from both Islay and Speyside, ranging from NAS bottlings to 12, 18, 24 and 28 year old expressions.
As with most supermarket ‘own brand’ products, the origins of the spirit are somewhat shrouded in mystery, with little to inform the customer what they are actually drinking. There is certainly no distillery named Glen Marnoch, in fact, there isn’t even a Glen. There is however a Marnoch parish in Aberdeenshire, thanks to nearby St Marnoch’s Church. Does this have any relevance to the whisky? Probably not, but it is a fact essential for padding out this article. In all honesty, I suspect the name was arrived at by wearing a blindfold and throwing a dart at a map of Scotland.
Despite this secrecy however, the Glen Marnoch range has met with incredible success and while the value of spirits ‘awards’ is a matter open for debate, it is still fairly impressive that Aldi continuously pick up gongs for what is essentially, low-budget whisky. Indeed, in 2017 alone they won a total of 77 awards for their spirits.
The River Spey sprinkles into life in the hills to the south of Loch Ness before it rapidly picks up pace and becomes the fastest flowing river in the UK, careering through Banff and Moray towards the North Sea. The countryside around the river comprises of deep fertile glens and high sheltering hillsides, both of which combined to create the perfect location to make whisky.
Even today, it takes a few hours to reach Speyside from the authoritative centre of Scotland but when the Act of Union took place in 1707, this was an unknown area largely beyond the reach of government and so the illicit distilling tradition thrived. Particularly in the hills above the River Livet, a tributary of the Spey, a dozen or more stills could be seen blazing by night. So renowned was the area in fact, King George IV requested a cask of the finest Glen Livet whisky upon a visit to Edinburgh in 1822.
By 1823 of course, the Excise Act had passed, encouraging the distillers of the highlands to purchase a license and become a legitimate business. Many did, including George Smith, founder of the Glenlivet distillery in 1824. His decision made him less than popular amongst his fellow distillers however, not least because he claimed exclusive rights to the name ‘Glenlivet’. When his business eventually passed to his sons, they found themselves in court, battling to stop their rivals using the name. As a result, the Smith-owned distillery and the spirit it produced became known as The Glenlivet, whilst their competitors could only continue to use the name in hyphenated form (Benrinnes-Glenlivet, Tamdhu-Glenlivet, Aberlour-Glenlivet etc). Today however, the use of Glenlivet as a regional identifier has all but died out, with distillers preferring to refer to their liquid as a ‘Speyside‘ malt instead.
Smell: Caramel and a touch of Cinnamon. Apple, pear & honeycomb with lemon pastries and custard cream biscuits.
Taste: Apple turnovers dusted with warming cinnamon. Ginger Spice. Lots of cereal notes. Highland toffee and a touch of bitter oak. Doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the nose.
Thoughts: There’s certainly a bolder flavour here than you would expect from a whisky that costs less than £20. The nose promises a complexity that the palate can’t quite deliver on but it is a dram of satisfying warmth nevertheless.
Credit where it’s due, it would have been easy to opt for an inoffensive single malt that would get on with everyone but instead, Aldi seem to be offering up something altogether more characterful here. It may be rather one dimensional but the warmth of that ginger note will stay with you long after you’ve emptied your glass. An everyday sipper that will have you reaching for the bottle again and again. Thankfully, it’s cheap enough to afford another.