Faced with a bewildering choice of whiskies and escalating prices, it’s an expensive realm to explore on a modest budget. Thankfully German supermarket chain, Aldi, has a reliable range of whiskies that fall under their Glen Marnoch label. The core range covers three of the main Scottish whisky regions (Highland, Islay, Speyside) as single malts with each available for under £20 a bottle.
We’ve reviewed each of these at Malt, and they’re solid offerings that give you a glimpse the specific regions without a high entry fee. The fact that they’re No Age Statement, bottled at 40% strength and will feature colouring is regrettable, but at this price point is perfectly understandable.
Occasionally Aldi will produce a limited expression for the Glen Marnoch range. Quite often this is around Christmas time when a bottle of whisky is a welcome gift and very affordable. In previous years this has included a 24-year-old and the much sought after 40-year-old expression. Extremely popular, there’s also the desire from Aldi to expand beyond the trio of whisky regions and offer their customers a taste of something else. Presumably, the other whisky regions of Campbeltown and the Lowlands are out of reach, or above their asking price when it comes to ensuring a core release. This leaves the option of taking the existing supply and doing something else, which is what we have here with these Double Cask releases.
Both editions are from the Highland region but have been finished in a different type of cask to create a new hybrid – if you will – from what went before. Both commence their journey in American white oak casks for a minimum of 3 years, thereby legally earning the right to be called whisky. In Scotland, the dominant percentage of whisky is matured this way, thanks to casks sourced from the American whiskey industry after hosting their bourbons and such like. After 3 years, you can bottle the whisky if you so desire, but most casks require further maturation to create an enjoyable experience. It’s very likely from tasting both of these releases that the introduction of a second cask came at a very young age.
The labelling specifically states these are cask finishes as opposed to a double or second maturation. A finish as such could be a matter of weeks, months or a period of say up to 6 months. It’s all a little vague generally, ideally there should be a formula or further information displayed. Yet at a price point of £19.99 a bottle, I doubt the majority of consumers care. For the record, these were both purchased for the discounted sum of £17.49 each, which is frankly a bargain on any shopping list given the price of some blended Scotches nowadays.
The practice of introducing a second cask has several reasons. Firstly, the whisky industry is plagued by lacklustre casks currently, despite the claims from many that they only use the finest casks. Where do the substandard or benign variants end up? Not in garden centres immediately, that’s for sure, when there’s money to be made. Eventually, they’ll be sold and used, perhaps for grain whisky or a distillery that is in full production and requires casks to cater for its output no matter what. Then there is the prospect of refill casks that have already been used for whisky in Scotland once or possibly even twice, before being filled with this Highland single malt.
Sherry casks come at a premium and from the edition reviewed below its fairly safe to assume this was a refill of some kind given the gentle caress it’s worked upon the whisky, rather than a full frontal assault. Sherry casks come at a sizeable premium compared ex-bourbon casks so it’s a positive that Aldi has given its customers the option to experience its influence at the same price. We could head off in the direction debating the fact that sherry casks aren’t what they used to be and how shallow many of the flavours are nowadays. Given the original cask was already from America, it’s interesting to experience the bourbon finish approach. This is effectively doubling up characteristics already present, perhaps with a cask that has more to offer. However, Malt appreciates you’re probably standing in a congested Aldi aisle trying to reach an informed decision as quickly as possible; so let us begin.
Aldi’s Glen Marnoch Bourbon Cask Finish Edition
On the nose: a noticeable arrival with bourbon freshness, delivering the classic notes of vanilla, cinnamon and caramel. Arguably almost swamping the dram, the Highland character fights back with pears, apples and a dollop of orange marmalade. There’s cask char and varnish, but with water, this gives way to a floral heather and red berries.
In the mouth: it’s watery and lacking substance but a cereal body tries to revive matters. Followed by more of those apples, pears and dry oak notes. The dryness continues into the floury finish. Water reveals peppery notes and caramel, but also a fragile whisky.
Aldi’s Glen Marnoch Sherry Cask Finish Edition
Colour: a radiant apricot
On the nose: a caramel infused milk chocolate, caramel, worn leather and apricot. Yes, vanilla but also coconut, radish, fennel, cherry and walnuts. Time reveals more black pepper and Turkish delight. Again, I felt this was better without water.
In the mouth: very light with a short and gentle sherry finish and a kick of youthful alcohol. Delicate features with red apples, a touch of sweet cinnamon, Highland heather, a slight nutty element and a peppery finish.
Given the standard set by the Glen Marnoch core range, both of these releases feel like a step backwards. Neither offend and still represent good value but the Highland, Islay or Speyside bottlings just offer more substance and range. Both bottlings here feel youthful, or at least very inactive initial casks. Whilst the short finish has injected some characteristics – you can distinctly tell the differences – the 40% alcohol strength and time frame hampers the overall experience.
Both fall a little flat on the palate especially, with the bourbon finish being an interesting experiment. However, it begs the question if you wanted a bourbon finish why not just purchase a bottle of bourbon from Aldi for a lower price? I suspect overall that without these necessary finishes the original root of the problem lies with the initial batch of casks.