Trader Joe’s Highlands Single Malt 12 year (2003 – 2015)

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.

Trader Joe’s Highlands Single Malt 12 year (2003 – 2015)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $30
Acquired: Trader Joe's in San Jose, CA, for $30.

Share This!

  • scotchnoob,
    excellent review! i’ve always been tempted by trader joe’s and costco’s kirkland’s scotch offerings just to try something new. but is it worth it to pay $30 for the tj 12 year old single malt when costco has glenlivet 12 for $24? or paying $48 for kirkland 16 year single malt highland scotch instead of $55 for oban 14?

    • I think of these as alternatives for when you grow tired of Glenlivet 12 and Oban 14. Some people (more power to them!) can find a scotch they enjoy and never need anything else. I find myself always wanting to try new bottles, to discover whiskies I like even better than my current favorites. Often, what I find is mediocre or worse (like the Glen Moray), but sometimes I find a minor gem like the Deanston… or learn something (I thought I disliked Deanston). Cheers!

      • i always need to try new whiskeys too. I just started getting into it a few months ago on a trip to japan. now my stash includes:

        hakushu 18
        hibiki 17
        macallan 12
        lagavulin 16
        glenmorangie 10
        glenmorangie 12 lasanta
        glenmorangie 12 quinta ruban
        glenmorangie 12 nectar d’or
        mortlach rare old
        love the blog, keep up the good work

  • Being a Scotch neophyte, I recently asked a Trader’s guy which he liked better, their 12-old-Highland (can’t remember the price) or their 14-year-old Speyside at $35. He said that his Trader’s buddies had gotten him a bottle of the fourteen-year-old for his birthday and he really liked it. I bought it and found it to be delicious! It was complex, slightly sweet, very warming, with a great finish and aftertaste. I thought it a sin to put any water in it at all. And, by the way, I bought a bottle of Costco 18-year-old “bottled by McCallan”. It is nothing like the real thing. Nothing. Don’t waste your money.

  • Ran into your blog while at TJ and the bottle was going for 20. I wish I grabbed 3. I would say it’s as smooth as a macallan 10yr, softer than a glenfiddich. Finish is a bit quick but it’s worth every penny even for 30 @ at 20… Take all the bottles home

  • True to your comments, I was standing in a Trader Joe’s, holding a bottle of the 2002 Glen Moray. It just had to be good with that beautiful embossed label! I’m sure you saved me a trip to return it. Thank you.