Back in the late summer, I was asked to join a panel of judges for this year’s Quality Drinks Awards.
The idea behind the awards – which is a part of the much larger and long-running Quality Food Awards – was to honour smaller, lesser known (and often supermarket own) brand spirits that really stand out for the consumer in terms of quality, bang for buck and appearance on shelf.
To learn more, check out this wee video featuring myself and the other judges here: Quality Drinks Awards Video
After taking part in the awards, I began to think more about what whiskies I wasn’t doing as much writing about on this site, namely interesting supermarket whiskies that have been winning awards and piquing people’s interests over the past year.
As such, I’ve gone about tasting a good selection of ones that you can find in places like Lidl and Aldi, and gone to the blogging community to ask some of my fellow whisky writers what ones have stood out for them of late since I can’t get to them all. This is by no means an extensive list, so feel free to add your thoughts into the comments section about any ones you’ve come across!
The idea is to give all of you a few whiskies that you might want to pick up for the holiday season that will give you really good value for money and which you may not have considered in the past. There is also a mix of bourbon whiskey and Scotch whisky in this mix to widen the patch a bit.
* * *
Western Gold 6 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon: 40%: Lidl: £14.49
Winner of Bourbon category, Quality Drinks Awards
This is a gentle, easy does it kind of bourbon at first – it’s got a nice mix of dark fruits (black cherries for me) on the nose, with some woody, resinous notes and a bit of black pepper. The palate has some tasty black licorice and red fruit notes. It’s a bit punchy at first before fading fairly quickly, but that actually encouraged another sip for me especially as it wasn’t too sweet, unlike a lot of other bourbons I’ve had. Would work well in a Manhattan.
Jefferson’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky Very Small Batch: 41.2%: Aldi: £29.99
A note: the packaging spells this without the customary ‘e’ you’d find in most American whiskies, so I’ve stuck to that.
Made from a ‘very small batch’ of 8-12 barrels, this bourbon has a rich, saturated sweetness (like when you soak white sponge in fruit juices) on the nose, with some nice sticky vanilla pod notes and a bit of citrus that helps balance things out; quite inviting. The palate has a bit less oomph than I’d have expected but there is a good amount of sharp dryness; nutmeg and vanilla follow on second sip. One for sipping, as if you mixed it in a cocktail I think the flavour wouldn’t be punchy enough to hold through.
Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt: 40%: Sainsbury’s: £20.50
Review submitted from Tom Thomson, of Tom’s Whisky Reviews:
“A really lovely and interesting dram, although for me not quite as good as the non chill filtered 46% version that Sainsburys stocked up until a year ago. This dram comes with notes of sweet lemongrass and hay, along with honey and some mixed dried fruit and nuts. For around £20 a bottle you really are getting some fantastic bang for your buck and I will certainly keep a bottle to hand.”
Aside from the packaging (which, I’m afraid, I really am not a fan of), this whisky isn’t bad for a blended malt of only five years of age. The nose has lots of toffee and vanilla…it’s fairly standard, but the palate does surprise – at first, there was quite a lot of that sweet, toffee note but it did progress well, giving a nice balance of sweetness and dryness, with quite a tasty finish of apricots.
Glen Marnoch, 18 year old Single Malt: 40%: Aldi: £24.99
Review from Jonathon Webb, editor of Scotch and Scifi:
There was initially (this is a newly opened bottle) a smoky balanced blend nose to this, reminding me of Johnnie Walker Black Label but that soon changed completely to a sherry based note with light fruitcake, rum soaked raisins, black cherries, oak spices…quite a mouth watering nose. The palate was fruity, very fruity with oranges, raisins, dried dark fruits, toffee and sherry malt and pepper. It was quite dry with a lighter mouthfeel and a medium-long finish. It’s a really nice, well constructed, tasty dram. I wouldn’t say it was intense, but a very easily accessible, easy drinking, sherried Whisky that price-wise is a bargain.
Glen Moray 10 Year Old Chardonnay Cask Single Malt: 40%: Sainsbury’s (and other supermarkets): £22
Sample provided by Dave Worthington of Whisky Discovery
This whisky isn’t exactly an ‘own-label’ whisky, as it has been made and bottled by, of course, Glen Moray distillery. But I always see Glen Moray in supermarkets at really good prices, so wanted to include it. This particular whisky has spent its whole life maturing in ex-Chardonnay wine casks. On the nose, it is a bit sharp at first but after some airing, came into itself a bit more. There’s a mix of citrus, malt, cream and vanilla leading the nose, with some candied licorice, lemon peel and toffee on the palate, making it an easy drinking dram.
Highland Black 8 Year Old Blended Scotch: 40%: Aldi: £12.99
Winner of Quality Drink Awards Whisky category, Gold at 2013 Spirits Challenge, Gold at 2013 IWSC awards, Gold in Spirits Business 2013 Scotch Whisky Awards
This has been one of my most surprising whisky finds of the year – a blended Scotch retailing at a ridiculously low price that actually is rather bloody good. It’s picked up a heap of awards and I’ve now tried it a couple of times and am still surprised. The nose needs a bit of airing, but once it does there are notes of tropical fruits, wine gums and strawberry laces. The palate is really creamy with a good hit of spice and a transition into some pineapple notes and a wee bit of warming embery peat before it finishes off on a fresher, fruity, peachy note. One to easily kick back with for a few refills and astonishingly good price.
Glen Orrin 30 Year Old Single Malt: 40%: Aldi: £54.99
Aldi tends to make headlines around Christmas with its normal release of an old Scotch at a really low price. This year’s Glen Orrin 30 year old is no exception, selling for less than many 18 year old whiskies go for. This release has lots of green and pink peppercorns on the nose, along with some vanilla, red fruit and a hint of peat while the palate was quite fresh for the age, with some nice creamy peatiness and a good dash of fruitiness. While it isn’t supremely complex, it is surprisingly fresh for the age and at this price, a good value buy for certain. If you can get a hold of it that is, as stocks usually go quickly.
Thank you to Lidl, Aldi and Whisky Discovery’s Dave Worthington for providing some samples and to Tom Thomson and Jonathon Webb for adding additional reviews.