December 31, 2012
So in this age of rapidly climbing prices on single malts, imagine my surprise when I see an 18 year-old independently bottled Speyside single malt at Trader Joe’s in San Jose, CA for $27. What?! $27? As is common in these situations, the independent bottler (in this case Alexander Murray & Co.) is prohibited from printing the origin of the barrel on the bottle, and so just indicates that the whisky is from a single distillery in Speyside. We’ve seen this before with Finlaggan, a Cooley from Trader Joe’s, and some Kirkland (Costco) bottlings. Because of this, the label is sparse on details, but we know that this is 18 year-old single malt from Speyside distilled in 1993 and bottled (probably) in 2011 at 40% ABV. Let’s see what’s going on with this rock bottom price.
Nose: Yeasty bread, green apple juice and skins, vanilla. Pale, unripe fruit and mild cereal grains. Very slight florals. Simple and mellow.
Palate: Medium-bodied. Yeast again – somewhat cardboardy (new word!). The fruit is missing here – only thin grains and water. What I wouldn’t give for another 6% ABV.
Finish: Slight tannins, and some bitterness. Charcoal, green grass.
With Water: A few drops brings freshly-cut crass and assorted aromatic botanicals to the nose at the expense of the green apple notes. It reveals some needed sweetness on the palate – unripe pear? – and tames (somewhat) the bitter finish. Paradoxically, this already well watered-down dram benefits from a little more water. Who knew.
Overall: At a blind tasting, I would call this as a 14 year-old Glenlivet from a refill bourbon barrel. The green apple skin on the nose is usually a dead giveaway (for me) of a Glenlivet. Alas, this pales in comparison to the official Distillery Bottling 18-year. This was probably a cask destined for blending that got waylaid by an optimistic independent bottler. It’s not hard to see why this barrel was marked down to such an extreme extent, although $26 retail a bottle for an 18 year-old scotch (after the costs and hassle of US bottling and distribution) may actually be a loss for the original producer. The promising nose is betrayed by a near-total lack of flavor on the palate, and a lackluster finish. Bottling this at cask strength perhaps would have saved its dignity, but at 40% it has fallen mostly apart. However it is extremely difficult to get a drinkable scotch under $30 in the current market, and despite its faults this could easily serve as a “third round” scotch or sacrificial bottle for undiscerning visitors. I would say this particular bottle is worth exactly $26. Right on, Mr. Trader Joe.
Note: The rating below is not intended to scare away potential buyers, but I would not recommend the dram on its quality alone. At this price, though, it only has to be drinkable to be worthwhile, and it’s drinkable.