Kirkland Highland Sherry Cask Finish – 18 year (2014)

Every time Costco gets in a new Alexander Murray bottling of unnamed single malt for unbelievable prices (which seems to be about every 4 months, recently), I get a flurry of emails asking for a review. It’s no wonder – while the Kirkland-Alexander Murray duo has performed excellently in the past, with several releases with very high quality-to-price ratios, it’s still hard to believe that they can keep doing it. In an industry where filling contracts are locked down, whisky stocks are drying up like California reservoirs, and “all the good casks” have long since been bottled and sold, how does Alexander Murray put out Costco-sized allocations of 18 and 20 year-old single malt (good single malt!) for $35 a pop? I have no earthly idea. Surely they’ll be forced by market conditions to release a dud, right? Or set the price above the value of the liquid?

If you are a budget-minded single malt lover who has a local Costco that sells whisky (depending on your state), you can rest assured that the latest release is (still) worth your money. For how much longer? Who knows.

Like the previous Speyside Sherry Cask Finish at 18 years of age, this one gives no hint to the distillery source, aside from the “Highland” designation. Considering that the entirety of Speyside is technically inside the “Highlands” and that some distilleries located in Speyside routinely put “Highland” on their labels, this is less than useful information. Also like the previous release, this one was “finished” in Sherry casks, which implies that it spent most of its maturation period in ex-bourbon. Even at 40% ABV, a sherry-finished 18 year-old malt for $38 is an impressive feat.

Update: There’s a 19 year 2022 version of this, but specifically Speyside.

Nose: Very Floral. Elderflower, dilute cranberry juice, a hint of candle wax. Orange-blossom honey, and a note of heather that reminds me of some of the ex-bourbon-cask Balvenies. Elegant, slightly tart, and with excellent florals. On the lighter side (for a sherried malt), but quite surprisingly nice.

Palate: Somewhat waxy. Tart, fruity notes of fresh berries. Vanilla pound cake, some blonde fudge. A bit one-dimensional, but pleasant.

Finish: The slightest peat, mossy and a little herbal. this fades into hazelnut butter and echoes of the berries from earlier. Absolutely without bitterness.

With Water: A few drops of water yield a little stonefruit and a little more maltiness. Really, this is already watered to its limit and doesn’t need any more, especially with the already-present florals on the nose.

Overall: This is a fabulous malt for $38. Tasted blind, I’d have said it was worth at least $60, and these days an age statement of 18 will net you a minimum of $100. Well done, Alexander Murray. Well done. I could wish for a little higher ABV to provide some bite, but for straight sipping, this is correctly watered.

While this is totally a shot in the dark, the waxy notes make me think this could be sherry-finished Clynelish. Again, wild conjecture – let me know what you think in the comments.

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 $38 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.

Kirkland Highland Sherry Cask Finish – 18 year (2014)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $38
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Costco, San Jose, CA, $38.

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  • Some think that the green foil and the green print on the label suggest Glenlivet as the origin. I’ve bought a bottle, bit haven’t opened it yet. Did you detect any “apple”, characteristic of Glenlivet?

  • Thanks for reviewing it! I finally got around to opening it up the other night, and was also not disappointed! I’ll probably go grab a few more bottles as my Costco still seems to have plenty in stock.

    • Hi Florin,
      Quality-wise, I’d say they’re equivalent. The Speyside was a little more clear on the sherry notes and a bit weightier. This one has more interesting florals and is a bit lighter in style, but also is a bit more nuanced. I’m equally happy with both for under $40.

        • I think the fact that they put “Highland” instead of “Speyside” (why bother?) and yes, they have different characteristics, I’d assume they’re different distilleries.

          • Thanks. I had a theory that they were both Tomatin (I tasted the Speyside but not the Highland) and that in the meanwhile they figured out that Tomatin is borderline but not technically Speyside, hence the change in label.

  • Tomatin has a tart apple quality that I don’t see in Nathan’s tasting notes, Florin. But I haven’t tasted either myself. That might change soon… Pretty awesome sounding values for todays’ market.

    • I didn’t get any apple notes, but then they might have been covered up by the sherry finish. I’ve had the Tomatin 12, and while I did get some ‘candied apple’ notes, I wasn’t impressed by that malt at all. If this is Tomatin, 6 years makes a big difference!

  • I did not think this bottling was even remotely comparable to the previous 18 yo (I purchased 5 of the previous bottle). This one burned and burned, it was fine with some water but everyone that had it felt it was inferior to the stuff from the previous year when tasted side by side. Glenfiddich 18 vs. Tomatin 18 (inferior but still decent for the price).

    • Hi Scott,
      Any Costco that sells liquor should carry it, unless they’re out. They do these things in batches, so they’ll have a batch of (say) 18 year Speyside for a couple of months until they run out, and then they’ll release another batch of something similar. Kirkland is Costco’s brand.