Trader Joe’s, via independent-bottler-to-the-Big-Box-stars Alexander Murray & Co., has released a few interesting whiskies (and a few duds) and generally has decent prices on various types of whiskies, for a grocery store anyway. Yes, this is my standard intro for Alexander Murray reviews now.
I saw this one, plus a 13 year-old Speyside malt, each for $30 and snagged both. While neither label gives any hints about the distillery (par for the course with Alexander Murray), the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer spilled the beans on both bottles by revealing the distillery locations. This one, located “on the banks of the River Teith” can only refer to Deanston. Note: I’ve chosen to release both tastings today, so if you missed the other one, click the link.
You might remember me disliking Deanston Virgin Oak. After tasting this one, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Deanston can be light, crisp, grassy, and with a vague waxiness reminiscent of Clynelish.
At any rate, this is (probably?) an ex-bourbon single malt from the Deanston distillery. (The bottle says “Matured in Oak Casks”. Duh.) It was distilled in 2003 and bottled in 2015 at 40% ABV after 12 years of aging. Deanston’s official releases are bottled without chill-filtration, but there’s no telling what Alexander Murray chose to do when bottling this. I found it at Trader Joe’s in California for $30.
So, you’d think that two different bottles, priced equally, released by the same independent bottler at the same time, and with (almost) the same age would be of roughly the same quality. The labels are even so similar that they’re hard to tell apart! But no, where the 2002 Speyside (Glen Moray) is bland, bitter, and unappetizing, this 2003 Highlands (Deanston) is light, sweet, crisp, and super drinkable. To me, this is a parable. You just can’t go by the label, the price, the age, or anything else on the outside of the bottle. You just have to try the damn stuff to see if it’s any good. Good thing you all have me to do it for you. (I’m kidding – go try them for yourself and see if I’m wrong.)
Nose: Grassy cream and beeswax. Candied lemon peel, fresh ginger, honeysuckle. Pleasant.
Palate: Thin body, but with a slightly waxy texture. Sweet, with golden raisins, vanilla buttercream frosting, marshmallow, and honey. Simple and easy to drink.
Finish: Short. Herbal tea with lemon. Fades simply, but without bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water wake up green banana notes in the aroma, but without much else. I would avoid water here, for fear of thinning it out even further.
Overall: Sunny and pleasant, with some welcoming sweet notes, some delicate fruits and flowers, and nothing bitter or off-putting. Not much depth, certainly, and the 40% ABV bottling strength spreads what complexity there is woefully thin, but one could easily sip through several glasses of this without much trouble. Definitely worth $30, and with that nice waxy note, I’d even say it was worth $40. This was a well-chosen barrel, although I’d have gladly paid $40 for a 46% ABV version.