Trader Joe’s Speyside Single Malt 18 Year (1993)

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.

Trader Joe’s Speyside Single Malt 18 Year (1993)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $26
Acquired: Trader Joe's in San Jose, CA, for $26.

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  • I picked up a bottle because I was extremely curious about the source (and $26 is cheap for this age). I think I concur with your Glenlivet conclusion though I was also thinking of Linkwood (due to a faint licorice note) or Longmorn (because of the bitter finish) as other possibilities. However that green apple note is too distinctive now that you mention it. Also I have to agree that the nose was much better than the taste.

  • That was a good review. Sadly, it is QUITE FORGETABLE, except for the price. It is easy to drink, so you may want to give it a buy, but I’d rather serve my guests Macallan 10 for about $32.

      • I believe Alexander Murray & Co. also supply the Costco line. However my theory is that this one is a Macallan since Costco released their own 18 year old Macallan a few years ago.

        • I don’t think so. I drink Macallan 18 and 25 a lot. Tasting profile is completely different. More like a Glenmorangie. I bought a case of the Speyside 20 from Costco and I like it. Not as full bodied as Macallan but nice and easy drinking for the price.

          • I overheard the wine guy at my local Costco telling someone that the Speyside 20 was Macallan. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is – he could have been just trying to make a sale.

  • This was one of the worst single malts I’ve ever purchased, and if I could turn back time I would gladly get the Glenlivet 12 or Glenfiddich 12, or add a couple dollars and get the Monkey Shoulder instead! You are dead on with the description. I had to mix in 1/3 bottle of Laphroaig 10, which made it a lot more drinkable!

    It’s hard to imagine what sort of barrels this whisky was aged in, there is no evidence of wood in the flavor whatsoever! The green apple taste you mention I attribute to new make.

    While it’s a fun game, it’s really hard to speculate about the origin distillery, there are so many in Speyside, including a dozen that we almost never see bottled as single malts. I can easily list a handful that are more likely than the flavorsome Glenlivet – Tamdhu, Tomintoul, Tamnavulin, Tormore – and that’s just the T’s! But how about Glentauchers? Strathmill? Aultmore? Glen Spey? Speyburn? Dufftown? Knockando? AnCnoc? Glen Grant? I’ve heard the name of Teaninich being vehiculated as a potential origin, but that’s not a Speyside so it’s out.

  • I guess I am the only one who likes this one. I let it sit in the glass for about 20 minutes and it opens up nicely. Some subtleties in there that I find interesting. While the finish is very short and anemic, at $26 it is hard for me to find too many faults with this one.

  • I just got into good scotch… this was my first real bottle and I broke the cork off in it! >< nevertheless I was blown away at the quality for the price. I saw another bottle at T.J.s that was 10 year, going to try that one next.

  • Bought a bottle of Finnlagan at TJ`s in Santa Fe last June. Certainly not a great whiskey or even close but at $20 we managed to drink it without too much pain involved. Just tried a bottle of the Costco Kirkland Speyside 20 yr Old…… our local Costco wine & spirits guy also told us that it was a Macallan. My wife & I thought it was respectable for $50. Have recently purchased two more bottle as it may not be available for too long. Have learned that lesson a few times with Costco!!!