Supermarket own brands are nothing new in the world of whisky, but I have to say they rarely look as smart at Waitrose’s new range of own-label whisky.
Produced in partnership with Ian Macleod, these three bottlings cover three Scotch whisky regions – Speyside, Islay and Highland – and are all priced around the £30 mark (with a 20% discount until 11th February).
The similarity of that pricing is a little surprising. On the face of it, a 16 Year Old Highland represents good value at £32, but £29 for a 10 Year Old Speyside feels distinctly “premium”. That said, age is hardly the only indicator of quality – indeed, it can (and should) be argued that we focus too obsessively on the age statement of whisky – so it’s only fair to judge each whisky on its taste.
The Speyside 10 Year Old comes from “a 100 year old distillery” somewhere in the region and is aged in a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks. The sherry ageing certainly shows through in the colour, with the whisky being a rich amber.
The nose is surprisingly heavy with pure alcohol – pronounced enough for me to double-check the 40% ABV strength – that makes other aromas initially hard to distinguish.
Allowed to air a little, more details become apparent. Wet oak barrels with an almost musty tone slowly yield to the crisp, caramel sweetness of toffee apples and just a hint of toast at the end.
Water knocks the alcohol way back, and much of the sweetness with it. There is still the aroma of crisp green apples, and freshly cut hay drying in the hot summer sun.
In the mouth, the alcohol is far less pronounced than the nose suggests. Initially sugar sweet, more toffee flavours appear along with a slightly rough, raw grain character. It’s not a long-lived dram, but the short finish has a slightly astringent feel that erases the rawness while bringing the sweetness back into play.
Watered, it’s still sweet but much more toffee than sugar. The raw grain has all but vanished, and the finish becomes longer and gentler, with just a touch of pepper on the tip of the tongue.
I don’t drink nearly enough Speyside to make an intelligent guess as to the distillery this comes from, but I’m not sure it matters anyway. It’s not particularly complex, and taken neat there’s a rawness that I’m not a big fan of – but with a splash of water it becomes a simple, very drinkable dram and I think that, for £29, it represents solid value. 3.5 stars.
Many thanks to Waitrose for providing this whisky to sample.
Thanks for the review, Pete. I suspect the Speyside is Tamdhu, as Ian Macleod own the distillery. Sadly, I cannot see the Islay malt being heavily peated, so I do not intend to buy it. The Highland one interests me though – I look forward to your thoughts on it.
My assumption was that Tamdhu was a likely distillery – it’s the right age and, as you say, owned by Macleod. But I don’t know Speyside well enough to say that with confidence 🙂
I have a similar fear on the Islay front, so it will be very interesting to see if Waitrose has embraced the true nature of that island!
I took a wild guess – I’ve only ever had one Speyside malt (Aberlour). The Highland malt could be Glengoyne – again, a wild guess. Also, the Waitrose Wine Specialist told me the Speyside malt is 43% – strange.
Regarding the Islay malt – reading this: “Distilled on the coast of Islay, and matured in the finest American and European oak bourbon casks. Made with 100% peated malt for the unmistakable smoky style. Medicinal, soft spice flavours with lingering peat smoke are balanced with toasted oak and gentle vanilla sweetness.” leads me to retract my statement – sort of.
The light-to-medium Islays are not medicinal, and don’t really linger, either. And the unmistakeable smoky line – I actually think it’s Laphroaig. I’m not sure if Laphroaig ‘features’ vanilla or spice though (Quarter Cask for vanilla aside). Do Laphroaig use American and European oak, do you know?
If it is Laphroaig – I’m in!
Laphroaig certainly do use American and European oak, so it’s possible. I’ll try to make an intelligent guess in next week’s post 🙂
On the ABV front, all three bottles are definitely labelled as 40%.
I look forward to it! Waitrose have been a bit clueless in regards to my questions to be honest – not impressed.
Also, Glengoyne is, like Tamdhu, owned by Ian Macleod. I read somewhere that the Waitrose Highland malt says on the bottle the distillery is 180 years old. Glengoyne was founded in 1833. Considering a 15 year old OB of Glengoyne is around £45, £25.60 (never mind £32), the Waitrose Highland malt is a steal. Oddly, Waitrose make no mention of Sherry casks – seems no Glengoyne OB’s use only one cask type, which the Waitrose one apparently does.