If you are a person who tends to have several bottles of whisky open at once, you will probably have some which have sat on the shelf longer than others. For whatever reason, be it the quality of the liquid or personal tastes, some whiskies don’t quite hit the mark and are easy to reach past in favour of the ones you enjoy the most.
I am certainly no different on this point, and in many cases there is one clear theme; the whiskies have been budget bottles often found in the supermarkets. That spend thrift desire to find something low cost, but full of flavour always drags me in, before usually disappointing me and making me wonder why I am bothering shopping in this sector of whisky. Before I list the ones I have been reaching past on my shelf, its important to say this is my opinion, and for others they go down a lot better. They are whiskies that can be a way into the spirit for many, and it is probably the case that I have moved on past them as my passion has grown. Feel free to share your own list in the comments below, or tell me i’m an idiot for any of my selections.
In no particular order they are; Auchentoshan American Oak, Cutty Sark Prohibition, Ballantine’s Blended, Lidl’s Abrachan Blended Malt, Penderyn Legend and Laphroaig 10. There may be a few others, but these are the ones that stick out as particularly forgettable and boring, with a few of them being on the shelf for some years now. There is nothing exceptionally wrong with any of them, but when you have higher quality whisky on the shelf, and drink whisky for the experience rather than the inebriation, it feels like a chore to drink them. Many would put them in highballs or other whisky based cocktails, but they aren’t something I have ever taken to. A drop of water is the most I want to add to my whisky. Different strokes for different folks. You do you.
It could be argued that price point supermarket whisky holds people back from falling in love with whisky as much as it helps them develop a passion. When I was drinking my dad’s supermarket whiskies some years ago (mostly Grouse and Glenfiddich), I thought they were bland, overpowering alcohol and just tasted of “whisky”. As a first timer coming into whisky, I thought this was what it all tasted like and I just didn’t get it. Thankfully the old 80/90’s Laphroaig 10 and Lagavulin 16 came out one evening and saved the day. Those powerful peat smoke and medicinal aromas and tastes that my dad didn’t like at all, converted me to how great whisky can be. Perhaps modern day Laphroaig 10 can do that for the newbie, and the fact it is on my list as a bottle I reach past these days is more to do with the way my tastes have changed. Although I stand by the fact that the liquid in current bottlings of Laphroaig 10 are far inferior to those bottled a few decades ago. That earlier bottling was absolutely sublime, even if there is a portion of romance in my mind elevating the experience somewhat. The Quarter Cask is also a shadow of what it was 15 years ago, albeit it is still better than the 10. I reviewed them side-by-side last year.
I firmly believe that powerful flavours that people can latch onto have more chance of converting a whisky cynic than something rather safe and lacking in character can ever do. Ok, you may scare a few away, but I think that is a chance worth taking. The supermarket is the whisky shop window for the newbie in the UK. I know other countries perhaps don’t have this, but may have similar experience in their liquor stores. I wasn’t even aware of any smaller independent retailers, independent bottlers or anything like that when I started out. What I saw in my local supermarket was everything I thought whisky was for the first few years I drank it.
When you buy from the lower end of the market, you are very much getting the lower end of what whisky is. In a similar way to when you first learn to play guitar and you buy a cheap instrument, it’s not until you invest in something of better quality that you realise the cheap model was holding you back. That’s if you haven’t given up already before you reach that point. The same could have happened to me with whisky if I hadn’t been introduced to those epiphany whiskies.
I therefore picked up the Glen Moray Elgin Classic with mixed feelings. I have heard from a number of people that it is one of the better supermarket single malts, and at £18 a bottle it seemed worth the risk of it taking up valuable shelf space for many months or years to come. I recently tried a selection of the upcoming Warehouse 1 releases from the distillery and thoroughly enjoyed them, so although I knew this wasn’t going to be able to compete with those, it gave me a little more hope. Still, I opened the bottle expecting to be disappointed rather than thinking this could be a wonderful whisky experience. Although it carries no age statement, I believe it is aged for an average of seven years in ex-bourbon casks.
Glen Moray Elgin Classic – Review
Nose : Fresh, fruity, estery and slightly acidic. Orchard fruits are particularly prevalent, with pears (both confectionary pear drop sweets and fresh pear fruit) being the main aroma coming from the glass, along with apples, some orange and even guava and grapefruit. It’s got something effervescent about it reminiscent of a fruity glass of Lilt. I also get some light caramel, vanilla and a hint of damp stone coming through. I like this nose plenty.
Palate : For a 40% chill filtered whisky it has a better than expected viscosity. Unfortunately, the palate cannot quite live up to the promise of the nose, but all is not lost. It’s that fruity and estery thing again, but the fruits are less distinct. It’s a more general sweet fruitiness with nothing much coming forward and putting it’s head above the parapet at first, but then we get some fresh orange mixed with lemonade; a drink that goes down rather well on a warm summers day. There’s some gentle peppery spice coming in, which builds before it dissipates, with some honey and a little damp cardboard. There is an oaky bitterness coming in and takes away almost all of the initial sweetness and hangs around for a little while, before subsiding a little in the drying finish, where we get almond milk, ginger tea, apple, oak and salt.
Conclusions : Don’t get me wrong, I have better on my shelves and I won’t be turning to this one so much that it is drained in a few weeks. Even the whiskies that sing to me tend to last 4-8 months before becoming empty. I simply have too many open (nearly 60 at the latest count). However, I do believe this one will be empty way before most of the ones I listed above, which sit gathering plenty of dust. I will probably share this with my dad, as I am at a stage in my whisky journey when a budget supermarket whisky just doesn’t do it for me, and perhaps I have to accept that buying a bottle isn’t the best use of my money. I’ve never been able to convert him from casual drinker to a malt enthusiast, and this will appeal to him, particularly when I mention the price. To get the whiskies that are more in my wheelhouse I have to pay £35-40 minimum, so there is certainly a place for whiskies like this Glen Moray; my dad being a prime example of the target audience.
Would the Andrew of 2005 taking his first early steps into whisky have enjoyed this. Possibly not, it’s too light for that Andrew, but then again, he probably wouldn’t have enjoyed any of the lighter drams he loves now. Big peat flavours had been unleashed and that was all that mattered in those early days.
If you are trying to convert a whisky newbie or a cynic to the joys of the spirit, by all means include this as a starter dram, but also consider putting a Glen Moray in the line-up that has a more natural presentation, and show them just what this distillery is capable of if they go deeper down the rabbit hole; and deeper into their pockets. Then add a sherry bomb and a big smack of peat and let them see that all whisky doesn’t taste like whisky…in the generic sense.
I would love to see Glen Moray try and position something into the market to compete with the likes of Glencadam 10, Arran 10, and Deanston 12. A 10-12 year old ex-bourbon at 46%, naturally presented and for £40 or less would be great to see. At the moment you have to go up to the 18 year old expression from the core range to get that 46%+ presentation. It is a well priced 18 year old, but I think there is room to keep the NAS “40%er’s” and up the ABV in the age stated range. Their 12 and 15 year old’s are both at 40%, and I can’t justify buying them at around £35 and £50 respectively, when taking into consideration what else I can buy for the money. Up the presentation or those two and keep the price similar, and whisky fans will really appreciate them i’m sure.
This was £18, so there can be very few complaints on that score. Even if you pay the retail price you are only paying around £23. I reviewed the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve recently and was surprised enough by how much it has improved from previous bottlings to give it 5/10. This is better than that, and cheaper, so it deserves a better score.
Score : 6/10 (Good)
Three Word Review : Light. Fruity. Estery.
(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)
ABV : 40%
Non-chill filtered : No
Natural Colour : No
Maturation : Ex-Bourbon casks for an average of seven years
Region : Speyside
Colour : Light Gold