I’ve been asked more times about the Kirkland (aka Costco) branded whiskies than I have about, I think, anything else. People see the relatively low price for the printed age statement and they want to know if it’s good. My answer, which always includes some waffling, is yes – generally – they are good. For the price.
You’re not going to pick up an 18 year-old Kirkland single malt for $50 and find the next best whisky in the world. What you’re going to get is a whisky that has a few relatively minor flaws but is otherwise quite good for the price. I’ll say this for Alexander Murray (the independent bottler that supplies both Costco and Trader Joe’s with their own-branded scotches): they know what their stuff is worth. I’m always leery about independent bottlers, who too often will put their name on a bottle and charge double what the distillery charges without delivering twice the quality. Alexander Murray, however, can be relied upon to give you what your money is worth.
Take this new-ish Speyside Sherry Cask Finish with a 19 year age statement. It’s very much in line with many prior releases, with a price that reflects recent inflation. To jump past the tasting notes, it delivers big sherry on the nose and palate with a surprisingly gentle tongue burn, and then becomes very dry, very short, and a little too bitter on the finish. Still, it’s got an impressive age statement, delivers big on the sherry flavor despite only 9 months in oloroso (after ~18 years in ex-bourbon), and costs less than half what most of the 18 year-old distillery official bottlings on the market cost.
What distillery is this from? No clue. Alexander Murray is exceptionally good at keeping a tight lip about the sources of their malts. Some rumors suggest that the majority of the company’s barrels come from Tullibardine (a whisky chameleon of sorts), while the company has definitely bottled Macallan before, and is reported to have contracts with both Diageo and Edrington. Rumors persist as well of Longmorn and Mortlach, and I swear I’ve tasted Alexander Murray juice that was the spitting image of a Mortlach in the past. As usual, though, there is no certainty about the provenance of this bottle, and isn’t that really half the fun, anyway? Aside from getting a 50% discount on 19 year-old malt, of course.
Nose: Classic sherry profile: jammy figs, dark chocolate, dried cherries, hazelnuts, and rich balsamic vinegar. Decadent and full.
Palate: Syrupy body. Very mild tongue burn. Tastes like Christmas: dried fruits and nuts, chocolate, fruitcake. There are some vibrant top notes of tart red wine vinegar and fresh cherries. This delivers on the promise of the aroma.
Finish: On the short side. Chocolatey. Echoes of the dried fruits remain, but now the whole is much drier. Cocoa powder, dry cinnamon, tobacco, and slightly bitter barrel char. Fades quickly as the bitterness increases. A bit of a disappointment.
With Water: A few drops of water add a weird soapy note and the fruit notes seem broken up. The palate is unchanged, the finish unimproved. Skip the water with this one.
Overall: You can
always sometimes tell what led a certain cask (or in this case, set of casks) of single malt to end up in the hands of an independent bottler, and how a sherried 19 year-old malt can end up retailing for $68 in this economy. In short, it’s an excellent dram that simply falls apart on the finish. Personally, for $68 I’m willing to let it. I might go buy a second bottle just to have a reliable cheap sherry bomb with some age on it.
Unlike the previous sherried malt from Kirkland that I tried, this does not suggest either Macallan or Mortlach. The chocolate notes are probably a giveaway, but I couldn’t tell you from where. Could be Longmorn? Who knows.
For the price-quality ratio and presence of an age statement, I’m giving this a Must Try.