Kirkland Speyside Sherry Cask Finish – 20 year

We’ve been seeing a lot of this sort of thing recently from independent bottler Alexander Murray & Co., who also bottled the Trader Joe’s unlabelled Speyside 18 single malt. The oddity here is that Kirkland’s (Costco’s) own-label bottlings of sherry-aged whisky are always Macallan, and they always say so. This one doesn’t. Online speculation states this is proof that it’s not Macallan, and is instead some lesser-known distillery like Mortlach or Longmorn – something your average Costco shopper would pass by. After putting off a purchase for several months and totally missing the bandwagon, I finally caved in to the siren song of old whisky for low price and invested in a bottle.

The first thing that struck me on the label is that it says the whisky was aged in “Oak casks for 20 years and then finished in sherry casks” for an undisclosed amount of time. Since all whisky is aged in oak casks, the first statement isn’t very helpful. It should be clear, though, that this was not aged for 20 years in ex-sherry. That means it likely spent that time in ex-bourbon casks or possibly reconditioned (scraped and re-toasted) barrels. This is a departure from Macallan’s Sherry Oak line (10, 12, 18, and 25 year-old official bottlings), which are aged exclusively in sherry, not just finished in it. If this IS Macallan, then Alexander Murray & Co. did something very un-Macallan to it. Maybe that’s why Macallan doesn’t want their name on it?

Color: Dark amber. Considering the aging process described, that means it’s almost certainly colored.

Nose: Unmistakable sherry. Some bright red fruits – currant – on top of a deep, nutty layer of well-rounded malt. By God, this smells like Macallan. There is a distinct lack of rancio, leather, or other telling characteristics of long-term sherry maturation, which is consistent with the idea that the malt was in ex-bourbon (or perhaps reconditioned refill sherry casks) for the lion’s share of its age. That makes it pointless to compare to Macallan’s official bottling range, so drinkers of The Macallan 18 will be disappointed to find this isn’t “as good”. However, from the nose alone this seems like an excellent malt in its own right. The bright, fresh red fruits pop, and the mature malt provides a nutty and not overly-sweet backdrop.

Palate: On the tame side. The fruit here is dried, and somewhat dusty, and there are hints of tobacco, white pepper, and sappy oak. It just doesn’t go anywhere.

Finish: Medium-short. Fruit jam up front, fading into walnut meats, fruitcake, and fig paste. A tinge of charcoal and faint oak tannin – not quite bitter. This doesn’t linger like a GlenDronach or an OB Macallan, but it is straightforward, pleasant, and inoffensive.

With Water: A few drops of water don’t seem to me to make much difference. At 40%, this doesn’t need any further dilution.

Overall: My personal theory is that because this is a malt matured in non-sherry for 20 years and then finished in sherry, The Macallan did not want to tarnish their brand image by allowing Kirkland to name the distillery on the bottle and confuse drinkers accustomed to Macallan’s all-sherry, all-the-time house style. If you associate old sherried malts with notes of leather, rancio, resin, and concentrated fruit reductions (like I do), you will be hard-pressed to reconcile the flavors here – excellent though they might be – with the phrases “sherry cask” and “aged 20 years” on the bottle. It might be more helpful to think of this as a 20 year-old ex-bourbon Speysider with a top-dressing of sherry finish, à la Glenmorangie’s Lasanta.

Bottom-line: This is 20 year-old malt whisky with no major flaws for under $50. That’s unheard-of, especially in today’s overheated scotch market. If your wallet is hurting from the price hikes on official bottlings of your favorite scotches, and you don’t mind a slight downgrade in quality in your value malts, then I recommend grabbing a bottle while it’s still available. Then grab another one after you’ve tasted it. If this thing had The Macallan name on it, it’d be at least $100. If it was actually official Macallan, it’d be $200. Tasting blind, it’s worth at least $60.

Note: The “Must Try” rating refers to my recommendation that you buy a bottle if you’re on the fence, since you’re not likely to find a way to taste it before buying. It’s certainly worth the price.

Kirkland Speyside Sherry Cask Finish – 20 year
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $45
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Costco, San Jose, CA, $45.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
29 Comments

29 Responses to Kirkland Speyside Sherry Cask Finish – 20 year

  1. Eric says:

    Great review! Have you tried Glen Taite (the Sam’s Club Macallan independent bottle)? I’d be curious to know what you think of that since I live close to a Sam’s Club

    • Unfortunately, I don’t have a Sam’s Club membership. Does that one have an age statement? What are they charging for it? Is it also imported by Alexander Murray?

      • Eric says:

        You don’t need a membership to shop at the Sam’s Club (or Costco) liquor store. It’s 19 years old and comparably priced to the Kirkland. It’s also Alexander Murray.

        • Pillai says:

          Not sure about what you mean by that. You do need a membership card to walk into the store at Costco.

          • Technically you don’t need a membership as long as you are only purchasing alcohol. You do have to explain this to the greeter, but it’s company policy.

          • Ian Macrae says:

            I’ve made an experiment of walking into my Costco without showing my card. I haven’t been asked to show it since I started the experiment a year ago. I’m not sure, however, if you can ring up liquor without actually showing your card. You also don’t need to be a member to pay for eye glasses and eye exams. I’m very happy with my Kirkland 20 y/o Speyside, very nice for the price.

          • Hi Ian, thanks for the comment! As I noted here (outdated): http://scotchnoob.com/2010/12/05/good-deals-at-costco/ It is not necessary to have a membership to buy liquor at Costco (for the Costco stores that actually sell liquor that is – state-dependent). I’m guessing there’s some law about not requiring membership for selling booze? Not sure. At any rate, it’s company policy that you can walk into any Costco and purchase liquor (Not sure if this applies to wine and beer too – would have to ask) without a card. Of course, you can’t buy anything else without a card, and you may have to explain this to the “bouncer” (if they check at all). Cheers!

  2. Eric says:

    Another thing about Glen Taite; unlike the Kirkland’s it actually mentions Macallan on the label.

  3. Martini says:

    I was just in Costco in Florida and noticed 3 Kirkland bottlings of liquor. One of the 3 was scotch. As soon as I saw the Kirkland label, I walked away. I don’t like this style of marketing. Additionally, all the alcohol there was noticeably more expensive than the nearby Liquor warehouses.

  4. Ryan says:

    I recently purchase a bottle of this and agree with you completely. It looks like Macallan, smells like Macallan but does not taste like Macallan. To me it tasted more like Balvenie. It is not an “oh my word that is good” but a very good drinkable scotch for $45.

  5. peter t says:

    Thanks Mr. Noob for this information. I keep on passing this bottle by at Costco and I keep wondering is it worth it? Well, now I know. My only question is does it actually taste it’s 20 years old? I’ve found that sometimes depending on the cask quality some older scotches may not benefit so much from extra aging. But for under 50 bucks who can complain.

    • Hi Peter! No, I would not say this tastes 20 years old – especially not in comparison to 18 year-old official sherry-aged Macallan. That’s partially due to the ‘finish’ – 20 years in ex-bourbon (probably refill) – has less of an “aging” effect on the whisky as less-used oak does. I would say it tastes around 15 years old, to me. I still think it’s worth the price. I wouldn’t pay $70 or more for it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Have you tried the Kirkland 18 year old Scotch? I have a bottle of it and it’s pretty good, especially for 33 bucks. Just wondering if there is much of a difference between the 18 and 20 year olds.

  7. If you’re able please post notes on Costco’s Mortlach 22 year 1989.

    I like the flavor and would enjoy reading your assessment as you apply your remarkable ability to describe taste and nose.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Joel! Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the Mortlach at my local Costco. If I see it for a reasonable price I’ll be sure to pick it up. Cheers! -Nathan

  8. Thanks, Nathan.

    I’ll stay tuned for your possible review.

    I’m grabbed second bottle while they’re in stock.

    Best to you,
    Joel

  9. Chad says:

    I am a big scotch drinker and I have a favorite in The Macallan 12 and 18. I recently had my mother bring me three bottles of Kirkland 18yr Speyside from Kirkland and I was very impressed with the smoothness and finish. At $35 a bottle its well worth the value and was great with a cigar and a Friday evening drink. Follow me on twitter @pongchmp to see all of my fine scotch updates.

  10. Chad says:

    Clarification on my mother bringing me the scotch ,I live in Nj she lives in Florida and the NJ,NY and CT costcos sold out in days. I didn’t want it to seem like I’m underage and my mommy bought me scotch. Funny. @pongchmp. Twitter

  11. john says:

    Purchased a bottle of the Kirkland 20 year old single malt yesterday. I have to tell you I was a bit skeptical as I had never bought a “generic” brand of scotch before. However, I was pleasantly surprised and would definitely grab another bottle the next time I am in.

  12. LD says:

    Was in a Costco in Japan and saw this. 20 yo Speyside? How much less than really good can this be? Bought a bottle without any hesitation. Great stuff–worth every “yenny” I paid.

  13. I had my first bottle and agree with the review. Not a McAllen 18 but quite good and certainly a bargain. This is a solid, slightly sweet single malt. I firmly recommend it.

  14. Tom says:

    Have enjoyed the 20 yr old – but definitely inferior to the real 18 – which my Costco also carries for $10 cheaper than the “wholesale” house across the street. BTW, picked up a 1,75 of Kirkland 12 yr old blend at Costco this week. Compares favorably (in my mind) to the Dewar’s 12 yr old for 2/3 of the price. Had never seen it before.

  15. Keith says:

    I just tried this scotch in a blind taste test over the weekend and tasted a bourbon note immediately to find out it was sherry cask. I was even more surprised to find out it was a Kirkland label which lead me to your site. Consider yourself bookmarked. Great comments and a site Nathan. Like a good scotch I will be back for more!

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