Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt (Lidl)

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Lidl Supermarkets

Budget single malts from massive supermarket chains have become something of a big deal in the whisky world with each retailer offering their own label bottlings. At the forefront of the hype are German stores Aldi and Lidl, the latter of which made headlines last year with their award winning “Queen Margot” blended scotch.

Lidl is based out of Neckarsulm, Germany and first came to the United Kingdom in 1994. In the years since their arrival they have grown to inhabit 760 locations across the country and have now reached across the Atlantic to the United States where an estimated 300 stores are now in operation.

Lidl have long offered affordable whisky in their spirits selection but in 2017 it was announced that a new range of single malts would be released under the Ben Bracken label. Sourced from the Highlands, Speyside and Islay regions, they would be bottled at 40% abv and retail at £17.49 a bottle.

There’s no distillery – or even place – by the name of Ben Bracken of course, rather I suspect the marketing brains at Lidl flicked through a dictionary of Scottish words with their eyes shut before slamming their finger down at the appropriate moment. Bracken, as it happens, is a fern commonly found across much of the Scottish landscape whilst Ben is from the Gaelic Beinn, for Mountain. Pointless information I know, but nevertheless crucial for padding this article out to a respectable word count.

Given the amount of interest in such budget-friendly bottlings I like to check in on them from time to time and recently made my way to Lidl with the intention of buying one. Assuming that the lack of any age statement is a hint at the spirit’s youth, I decided to opt for their Islay version, safe in the knowledge that peated whisky can often show very well at a young age.

Islay is part of the inner Hebrides, a chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland. At present it is home to nine working distilleries, with a tenth currently under construction and at least two more at the planning stage. The island has a long tradition of whisky making. Bowmore, the oldest distillery, came into being in 1779 but distillation in many forms was taking place long before then.

It is generally accepted that the art of distillation came to Scotland via Ireland. In 1308 Angus Óg Mac Domnhall of Islay married Agnes, daughter of Cú Maige, Baron of Ulster. Accompanying Agnes to her new home was a physician by the name of MacBeatha, who’s family would go on to serve the Lords of the Isles for generations. Many suggest that it was MacBeatha who first brought the knowledge of uisge-beatha to Scotland. Little evidence exists to confirm this hypothesis but if it were to be proved correct, the isle of Islay would be the true birthplace of the spirit that became known as scotch whisky.

The Whisky

Lidl’s Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt is bottled at 40% and retails at £17.49 a bottle.

Smell: Acrid smoke and ash. Sea salt and black pepper. Chocolate oranges. Touch of lemon. Toffee. Driftwood. Relative youth has allowed a strong malty character to remain throughout distillation.

Taste: Vanilla. Toffee. Caramel. Pepper. Liquorice. Dark chocolate and oak. Currants. Constant undercurrent of thick, oily smoke.

Thoughts: It’s no surprise anymore when Lidl bottles turn out to be pretty good. For me this is simply the latest in a long line of solid, budget-friendly purchases.

It doesn’t offer anything particularly unique and the finish is short and rather one dimensional but those looking to sample the trademark spirit character of one of the most magical islands in the world without having to pay a fortune for the privilege, need look no further.

For product info visit Lidl here.


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27 thoughts on “Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt (Lidl)

  1. Hi, link for making donation, doesn’t appear to be working. Otherwise would have left a donation.
    Thanks for review of Ben Braken islay. Tried it and was very impressed, reminds me of Laphroaig.

    Kind regards


    1. I used to say that there are no bad whisky’s, just some are better than others. That was until I had some of this stuff – its terrible. Has a medicinal smell to it that you would put on a horses wound. I can drink gallons of Laphroaig, but not his stuff. Must be the only stuff I have thrown down the drain ?

    2. Omg it was disgusting an acrid taste of petrol fumes and pepper.
      We have never thrown a glass of whiskey away until trying this !

  2. bracken is not a true fern, with habitats for both being quite different. bracken covers vast tracts of unmanaged hillsides, whereas ferns mostly thrive in wetter shaded areas, typically in gorges and under open treed areas. most easily distinguished from each other by checking stems. although appearing dense, bracken grows as a single stem plant; fern grows in multiple stemmed clumps.

  3. Much appreciate your informative review. I’m a novice whiskey drinker that struggles with a full on smoke experience. I found this short lived, fruity, citrus blend to my liking.

  4. I bought this Ben Bracken Islay single malt whisky once before and returned it as it tasted like a wheely bin fire. Got a full refund. The description on the box sounds delicious. Sadly I forgot and about 18 months later have bought it again after reading the description which still sounds delicious. Should read…

    Unmistakable barf inducing taste of burning plastic and refuse with a hint of burning creosote arouse the senses a generous mouthful of flavours rewards the palette with an old wooden toilet on fire, fuelled by modern cleaning chemicals.

    I’ve had other Ben bracken whiskys which were nice and good value but this one must be an acquired taste. Struggling to drink because I can’t return another opened bottle. It’s got alcohol in it but tastes awful. Thought I’d treat myself to a single malt. Back to the white and mackays for me.

    1. The smoky Islay character definitely isn’t for everyone. Some people love it straight away, some have to develop a taste for it, some will just never get it.

    2. I’ve fallen foul of this whiskey, tastes like TCP, so possibly good for gargling to get rid of a bad throat, but after that would have to spit it out. I tried to take mine back but they wouldn’t accept it, as I’d opened it! How else would I know what it was like.

  5. I would question the quality of a Highland single malt that has a flavour of crushed bacon frazzles and an aftertaste of cardboard. Anyone who drinks this cheap filth and likes it needs to revisit their life goals. I got it as a present from a former friend.

    1. I mean… it isn’t a Highland malt. It’s an Islay malt. And they’re known for their distinctive smoky flavour. It’s not for everyone but lots of people love it.

      1. I like a smokey single malt, it doesn’t really matter too much if it is Islay or Highland in this case as a single malt should not taste of cardboard. Honestly, I would rather drink Bells and that stuff is something I wouldn’t even use to clean my engine bay!

  6. Each to their own. We can’t all like the same things. I thought it was decent for the very low price.

  7. I guess it’s a 5 year old, the younger they are the more PPM, in this case its high, above 20. But from which of the now 9 distilleries? If I was Lidl, and they have a powerful purchasing arm, I would talk to Diageo the largest of all, so they have plenty of excess malt in their 32 plus distilleries, and could supply the three requirements in malt whisky easily, and who knows other sprits also.
    My money here would be on Caol ila by far the largest distiller on Isla, with it being a young 4/5 year old they could provide the quantity and low costs needed.
    As far as quality is concerned, one only gets what one pays for, so with that in mind it is value for money, especially for any bonfire smoke and high PPM lovers as it will hit the mark.

  8. My dad bought me this and I turned my nose up at a cheap malt.However is actually a solid value for money Islay.Yes lots better and first taste was dissapointed however once I had finished the bottle realised that as cheap malts go is value for money. I have bought again just to have an easy drink .Price never changes which is a revelation these days

  9. Hey, this is nice. I’m no whisky expert, but I’ve been treated to high-end stuff over the years.

    Bought a bottle recently here in Brussels and on the back it says 3 years. Also says (only in the German translation, haha) that it contains ‘caramel colouring’. Otherwise the fella would be much lighter in colour I imagine…

  10. Horrible! Acrid smell of burning oily rags. Rinsings from
    a meths drinkers underpants on the palate, with lingering 95 RON!
    Thank Christ I was only given a miniature of it. My partner only put the tip of her tongue in it and now has to have something to take away the lingering taste.

  11. IT’S LIKE MARMITE. OR COVID. YOU EITHER GET IT OR YOU DON’T, and I take the point about it lingering..but the noxious descriptions above are going a bit far.. For instance, it may seem that some people can’t get excited without the smell of stale urine and bleach but that could just as equally come from a mis-spent youth, cruising public toilets.. C’mon gentleman, give it a go, stay open-minded and you may acquire a friend for life.. ;o)

  12. I love my Islay malts, I love the phenolic taste the peat smoking adds, it is not to everyone’s taste.

    It is clear that this is a young spirit, probably 3-5 years old and as such still has rough edges & a more phenolic character than many will be used to, but it is still produced by one of the main Islay distillers in the same way as their other malts so is not going to be a “BAD” whisky.

    I tried this blind tasting against a number of other young Islays and while I could pick it out from the bunch it was actually not bad after having been left in the glass for 30 minutes or so.

    Personally I find nothing offensive about it at all……is it an Ardbeg Wee Beastie ?? No certainly not but there are similarities in character.

    It would never be my first choice go to Islay, but I will keep a bottle on hand, especially at the price.

  13. Got to love the snobby brigade and their idea that it can’t be any good if it’s so inexpensive. For my money, this ticks all the boxes – less than half what I’d usually pay, big punch with complex smoky yet slightly fruity dark tones, nice mild throat burn, ,warming, proper job. I’d pay £25 a bottle.
    Witty review, by the way. Have a riffle through Flann O’Brien’s ‘The Best of Myles ‘sometime. Cheers.

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