Speyburn, at first glance on the “cheap” section of the whisky shelf, seems like one of those fake “distilleries” that is actually independently bottled from a secret source. It’s not. The Speyburn distillery, sometimes cited as the “most photographed distillery in Scotland” for its picturesque location and quaint 1900s architecture, has been in mostly continuous operation (albeit on only a pair of stills) since its construction in 1897. I was struck not by the blindingly shiny gold label, nor the declaration of a “Highland Single Malt” which is “wonderfully balanced and full-bodied with a long-lasting finish” (who doesn’t say that?). No, I was struck by the price. This NAS bottling (named using the Scots Gaelic for Golden Salmon, after the excellent Salmon fishing on Granty Burn, the distillery’s water source) was $15 at Trader Joe’s in California. Considering the competition at that price point, it either has to be acrid and undrinkable, or bland and uninteresting, right? I bought a bottle.
There aren’t many details about the makeup of Bradan Orach on Speyburn’s website. It’s matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. It’s a vatting of different ages (probably, considering the lack of an age statement), likely most younger than 10 years old. After tasting it, I’d venture a guess that the average age is around 6. And it’s unthinkably cheap for a single-malt at $15. The distillery’s 10 year-old is also light on the wallet, at around $22. Expect a review of that one, soon.
Nose: Malty caramel and a distinct green apple note. A tad yeasty. There is no denying the youth of this vatting from the aroma, but the effect is not off-putting or overly harsh. Deeper in there is a hint of vanilla. After a rest in the glass, the nose gets a little thin.
Palate: Thin body – almost watery. Moderate tongue burn. Sour apple, unripe cherries, sugar cookie, and a slight tannic woodiness. The flavors are skewed towards the sour in an “unripe” way. Alas, too dry to be well-balanced.
Finish: Short. Sparse, but slightly sweet, like a touch of honey in green tea. Not bitter, but there is a fading sense of grassiness.
With Water: A few drops of water release a ghost of barley grains on the nose, and add ever so little sweetness on the tongue. Unfortunately, you pay for it with a distinct acetone note on the finish. Euchh.
Overall: The nose is gentle and expressive for such an undoubtedly young vatting. The body and finish don’t quite live up to the promise. A bit more sweetness or roundness on the palate would warrant a higher rating, although it would probably be more expensive if that were the case. It’s pretty hard to pass judgement on a $15 whisky. It’s certainly not bad, and is almost (almost) as good as the relatively pricier Glenfiddich 12. If you really want a bottom-dollar sipper that can serve double-duty in cocktails, Bradan Orach isn’t going to disappoint. I just made a pretty passable Rob Roy with it. Just don’t expect it to taste like a $40 single malt. It doesn’t.
I rated this “Recommended” because I don’t have a rating for “Buy it if you’re looking for the cheapest possible drinkable whisky”. I have it on good authority, though, that the 10-year is better, and only $5 more. More to come on that.
Yeah, the 10-year is a lot better for the slight increase in price. A little sweet, but in a good way. The Bradan Orach is only good for mixing, IMO.
Noob, Here in Massachusetts the 1.75L Bradan Orach is $2 less than the 1.75L Dewar’s White Label or JW Red. I know that it is a pretty basic single malt but for the price would you recommend it over White Label or JW Red blends as a basic Scotch for cocktails and mixing?
Hi Nick, I think the Dewars and the Bradan Orach are comparable in terms of quality. The Dewars is a little lighter, but the Bradan Orach has more (to my tastes) “off” flavors that interfere with enjoying it neat. Because the Dewars is formulated for cocktails or drinking on ice, I think it edges out the Speyburn in terms of usability. You might find that the Bradan Orach, as a single malt, either disappears in cocktails or adds undesirable flavors, and then you’d be stuck with almost 2 liters of it if you don’t like it neat. I don’t recommend JW Red at all, because I think it tastes like it has paint thinner in it. 🙂 The Black Label is much better, but you pay for the improvement. Cheers!
I agree mostly but think it’s way better than Dewars. And I refuse to drink any color of JW, no matter how expensive. The Speyburn 10 is quite good, amazing for the price. A bit inconsistent, perhaps, but a good bottle approaches the basic Glenlivet and Glenfiddich offerings.
I’m liking the Speyburn 10, but it goes for $33/750ML. Scotch seems pricey compared to bourbon here in Kentucky. Bourbon is super competitive here, and the selection is amazing.
It’s my first bottle of scotch and I like it.
$19.99 for 1.75 lite at Costco, makes me apprehensive. For a casual dipper, it’s not worth the risk.