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What’s in a name?
Long time readers of this blog will know that I like to dabble in the bargain end of the whisky market. There’s two reasons for that. Firstly, it’s because I think too much of the whisky press focuses on the ultra-premium end of the market. There’s so many articles about new records being set at auction and glossy magazines all too-often turn into adverts for whatever new release X distillery is about to put into a luxurious, luxury box made from luxury wood, luxuriously glued together with angel’s tears. Secondly, it’s because I love a bargain. Who doesn’t?
To be fair, it’s not like Aldi and Lidl haven’t drummed up a few headlines themselves but I still think it’s worth covering their products. Overall, I’ve found the quality of such bottlings to be pretty decent. Nothing remarkable certainly, but for the money, decent. That’s something to be celebrated in my opinion. Especially in the tough times we’re living in. It’s nice to know that I could still enjoy the occasional, drinkable, single malt, were I to suddenly find myself in dire straits financially.
Glen Marnoch is Aldi’s single malt range. It’s a made up name, of course and there’s part of me that finds that a bit ridiculous. Like they just made up something that sounded a bit Scottish and stuck in on the bottle. That said, are there any real places left in Scotland that haven’t already been trademarked for a whisky brand? The range features bottlings from Speyside, the Highlands and Islay. I’ll be taking a look at the latter in this review.
Islay is renowned for its characterful whisky. The island is home to nine working distilleries with several more in various stages of planning and development. I’m a lover of all Scotch whisky, really, but there’s something special about Islay and the whisky that comes from there. It has a personality. An indefinable magic that makes it stand out from the rest.
Whisky has been produced on the island for centuries. In fact, it’s been so long, no-one can remember when it started. There are various theories of course but none have any conclusive evidence to back them up. There’s something about Islay and the wider Hebrides, for that matter, that seems to encourage stories. The islands are steeped in Celtic myth and legend. One of my favourite stories centres around the naming of Islay.
The tale revolves around a Danish giant princess named Iula who craved adventure. Her father, the King of the giants, warned her that the sea was dangerous, even for giants but her curiosity got the better of her. Leaving Denmark, she scooped up rocks to use as stepping stones. One of the stones became Ireland. Another became Rathlin and a third became Texa. The remainder of the stones fell south of Islay and forged the rocky islands near Port Ellen. The princess came ashore at Islay but her feet became stuck in the mud and she perished from the exhaustion of her journey. Her body was recovered from the Kildalton coast, where now stands Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. She was buried on the island and the land took her name. Iula became the Gaelic, Ile and that was later anglicised to Islay.
It’s a great story and, let’s be honest, it’s a better way of explaining a name than anything Aldi could come up with to justify Glen Marnoch.
This Islay single malt was distilled at an undisclosed Islay distillery (probably Caol Ila) and bottled at 40%. Interestingly the label states “Three Year Maturation”. Aldi get bonus points for being honest and transparent about the age of their product.
Smell: There’s a meaty smoke at first. Something like chargrilled pork and barbecue coals. There’s also salted caramel and Highland Toffee. A touch of sea spray and some peppery prickle on the nostrils. Vanilla and a slightly floral, heather honey note. Also a touch of stone fruits like peach and apricot. Impressively complex nose.
Taste: Ah. The complexity of the nose has vanished in a rather limp arrival. The experience begins with subtle honey and caramel, all with an undercurrent of ashy smoke. Then comes some gentle peppery heat with a light salty tang at the side of the tongue. Towards the back there’s tobacco smoke which turns oily in the finish with some more pepper.
Thoughts: There’s a surprising amount going on with the nose but the palate doesn’t come close to living up to it – not that you would expect it to at this kind of price. I suppose it succeeds in providing a basic glimpse at the typical Islay flavour profile but the island can produce much better than this, even at three years old. It’s almost like it plays up to the stereotype of Islay being all about smoke and not a lot else. Most people realise that there’s so much more to Islay whisky but I’m not really finding it in this rather one dimensional affair. It’s wonderfully priced, of course, but there are a few options in this category now and I think there are better choices to be made.
Value for money: Whenever I write about budget bottlings like this I say it’s important to keep your expectations realistic. If you expect a world-beating single malt, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go in expecting to find something that you can enjoy without devoting much thinking power, you’ve got a much greater chance of success. That said, this one just doesn’t speak to me. It’s drinkable and it’ll probably mix OK or add a bit of smoke to a cocktail or such like but I can’t see me sipping on a dram too often.
For more on Aldi whisky visit here