The number of genuinely interesting whiskies available for £40 or under is depressingly low these days. Certainly to anyone who tries upwards of, say, 50 or so a year.
It’s a particularly bothersome number if your monthly payslip looks anything like mine does, especially when you watch the PR parade of “special” and “limited” release whiskies march its way through your inbox. I’m totally not bitter, promise.
The most talked about “special releases” of each year though, certainly in national headlines, terms if not in whisky geek circles, come from the other end of the pricing spectrum. Around November Aldi and Lidl (who I am reliably informed are not the same) release whiskies with hefty age statements at wallet-friendly prices. Part of their ongoing efforts to persuade the UK’s middle classes that they can be Aldi or Lidl customers without being black-balled by the golf club.
Some of these releases have actually been rather good too. Lidl’s Ben Bracken 22 years old Islay punched well above its £45 price tag, and their mature blends bottled under the Glen Alba label were none-too-shabby either. Aldi hasn’t hit quite the same heights, though their Glen Marnoch 28 years old last year was perfectly serviceable, if a little ham-fisted.
This year Aldi’s whisk(e)y offerings are a 29 year old Single Malt scotch under the Glen Marnoch label, a 26 year old Single Malt Irish, and for some reason a NAS single grain. Maybe they had it thrown in. (It’ll probably turn out to be the best of the three now I’ve written that).
Although the release date was billed as being today, Aldi have been offering these whiskies online and in-store since Thursday or Friday, which is how I come to have this sample, courtesy of a colleague.
For some reason it’s awfully difficult to ascertain the region that Aldi picked this up in. It isn’t on the front label, at any rate, and their website just says “Scottish”. I haven’t seen the back label, but it’s probably a safe bet to go with Speyside. I’d also venture to suggest that, unlike last year’s 28 year old, this one hasn’t been near a sherry butt. Or certainly not one with much left to say for itself. It’s bottled at 40%, as opposed to last year’s 43%. Good old margins.
So: big question. Is it worth two of your purple notes?
Aldi Glen Marnoch 29 Year Old – Review
Colour: My colleague had a funny answer to this, but for the sake of discretion let’s say pale gold instead.
On the nose: Less faint than I was expecting at minimum strength 40%. Bounces straight out of the glass. Stewed apples and pears are the headlines, alongside pastry. Rather a lot of pastry in fact, both of the sweet and savoury variety. Vanilla, honey, hay and Weetabix. We’re very much into ex-American cask territory. Rather woody, but not in an especially deep sense. More saw-mill and shavings-esque. Quite a bit of pine too. There’s a strange, almost Fino sherry-style yeastiness and marzipan salinity in the background. The teensiest, weensiest smatter of dried apricot and mango completes the picture.
In the mouth: Much more straightforward. Vanilla-bomb of a palate. Some honey and honeycomb too, and less of the fruit. Lightish, sweet, and juicy. Cereal sweeps back in on the finish beside a warm lemony tang and a touch of tannin.
Based on the colour and on the official tasting notes that accompanied this release, I expected the Glen Marnoch to be awful. I expected it to be the sort of 4th-fill trash that’s demoralizingly commonplace in much of the independently-bottled section of the market at the moment.
But it’s not. It’s actually not bad.
Tasting it I was frequently reminded of some of the ex-bourbon Speysiders I’ve tasted from really decent bottlers like Cadenhead’s. Sure, this one’s a little watered down, but it doesn’t actually taste too dilute. The nose, in particular, has plenty to say.
No, it isn’t the most complex animal in the world, and no, you probably wouldn’t guess 29 years old if you tasted it blind. And it isn’t quite in Ben Bracken 22 year old Islay territory for quality.
But there are enough nuances of maturity to give you a flavour. The casks have been well vatted to iron out many of the kinks in the older, more tired ones, and the result is a perfectly pleasant sipping whisky. It certainly has more points of interest than other whiskies you’ll find in supermarkets for that money, though that’s admittedly not the toughest fence to jump.
It’s certainly good enough to keep you in the golf club, at any rate. Fair play Aldi.