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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.
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.