October 21, 2013
I’ve had a lot of requests recently to review this whisky. It’s an old problem with the whisky market. You wander into a store like Costco, notice they sell whisky (depending on your state) and your eye settles on this beauty. Nice label, respectable age statement… but what is it? An 18 year-old single-malt for $33… is that a joke? Are there cameras hidden behind the metal warehouse racks? It can’t be good for $33. How is a casual consumer to know?
There’s no answer to this question – unless you happen to have a smartphone (and can get signal inside that concrete box), and can find a reputable online review to read, you’re on your own. So if you’re standing in a Costco right now on your smartphone and you’re willing to believe that I’m a reputable reviewer, you’re in luck! The answer to your question is: Yes! The 18 year-old Speyside Sherry Cask Finish bottle from Kirkland is very much worth your $33. It may or may not be from The Macallan (note that it’s finished in sherry casks after mostly aging in ex-bourbon barrels, not totally aged in ex-sherry like Macallan 18), it may not be around for more than a few months, but it is definitely a quality dram for very little money. Here’s my advice: Buy a bottle, take it home and crack it open and taste it. Then go back to the store and buy two more.
This is bottled by Independent Bottler Alexander Murray & Co., which has previously performed the same service for other Kirkland-brand scotch, such as the defunct 20-year Speyside Sherry Cask Finish. After tasting both, I venture to say that despite the $10 cheaper price, the 18 may actually be slightly better than the 20, although they are VERY similar, and almost certainly hail from the same distillery. My only gripe is that the bottle is a weak 40% ABV, but that’s a pale complaint considering the value here.
Nose: Clear sherry nose – fresh fig, black cherry, nice levels of butterscotch and particularly well balanced. It doesn’t have that armchair leather and concentrated woody aroma of Macallan 18, but it smells like what it is – 18 year-old ex-bourbon finished in sherry. The level of sweetness is just right.
Palate: Moderate weight, maybe slightly on the thin side. Aroma notes continue to the palate – cherry lozenge, prune, caramel or butterscotch. A nice maltiness emerges after a few seconds, a reminder of barley grains.
Finish: A nice woody twist, echoes of the black fruits with some final wisps of mint and slightly acrid smoke, like an extinguished cigar. Mild bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water makes the nose very brambly – blackberry leaves and nettle. Increased burn on the palate, and amped-up smoke on the finish. I’d skip the water here.
Overall: This actually bears more resemblance to Glenfiddich 15 than Macallan 18. There’s none of that deep, dank, resinous fruit or mouth-coating sticky toffee. Instead, there’s a delicate balance of nice fresh black berries with the standard hallmarks of ex-bourbon aging (namely the butterscotch/caramel note that I can never pin down). It’s a well-constructed malt with no obvious flaws (except for a lack of weight on the palate). In a blind test, I would say this was a $60 malt. That makes this one hell of a deal, especially if sherry finishes are your thing. $33? I’ll take two.
Note: The “Must Have” rating refers to my recommendation that if you have a Costco that sells liquor and they stock this product, you won’t be sorry for dropping $33 on a bottle or two. It’s certainly worth the price. That said, it’s not so spectacular that it’s worth driving across state lines or conning friends into mailing you a bottle… that effort would invalidate the point: This is good whisky for a GREAT price.