Recently on Malt we’ve been stating where many of the meaningless brand names actually herald from. That Quiet Man 12 year old is from Bushmills and more obviously the Anon Batch 2 comes from Highland Park. Ultimately you the consumer should have the option to know where your whisky purchase was distilled and whenever we can, we’ll state the source.
The Big Strand Islay Single Malt Scotch is bottled by Morrison & Mackay Limited who have given us the excellent value Càrn Mòr range. Named after a section of beach on the whisky isle that is Islay, this limits the possible contenders as to who provides the malt for this single malt. The source is the Diageo behemoth distillery of Caol Ila. Not the most picturesque of distilleries since it was levelled in the 1970’s and rebuilt as a shiny new facility for the mass production of whisky.
I’ve always had mixed views on Caol Ila. The whisky itself is shipped off to the mainland and is not matured on Islay and this is a real shame. It’s a terribly bland distillery to tour and the visitor experience isn’t great despite the stunning views. I felt as if I was touring a hanger or aircraft carrier. There just wasn’t a connection between the industrial scale of the place and the whisky many of us have grown to love. Fact being we’re fans of Caol Ila here on Malt. It’s always a solid contender often showing flashes of brilliance when aged for a prolonged period such as the Cadenhead’s 33 year old. Not an everyday dram admittedly unless you’re a Russian living in a plush area of central London. However if you’re looking for a youthful peat blast with a bit of character more often than not you’ll seek out Caol Ila in some shape or form. One of our favourites here at Malt remains the Unpeated Stitchell Caol Ila Reserve from 2013.
At Malt we can understand why 3rd party brands such as this exist and why the distillery should not be disclosed. It could in theory undermine an official bottling by offering more value. Ultimately as well, the brand owes its existence to its master and by following the rules this ensures more casks and a continuation. Step out of line and the building blocks will come tumbling down.
The bigger issue here is one of power and influence. For the most part the distilleries and corporations hold all the cards. Whether it’s as an independent looking for casks or a humble writer or blogger seeking material. For the latter this has become a very unbalanced playing field. Write a piece that is lukewarm or critical and you’ll become blacklisted in some areas. Not every whisky is great or justifies its price tag and regardless of the amount of spin and marketing, you cannot pull the wool over the eyes of experienced enthusiasts. This sensitive dynamic has become corrupted with the companies controlling information and retaining power. I’m not calling out for a revolution or a ransacking but there must be more balance and informed debate.
This is what we’re trying to do here at Malt and why presumably we’re growing in popularity. A great review here should mean something and when I stick a score on a review I’m potentially recommending or turning you away from a bottle. With such power comes great responsibility. Unlike the draconian environment we find ourselves existing within when it comes to whisky critiquing there needs to be an honest appreciation of your viewpoint. No more of this I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine behaviours that litter some so-called reviews.
Take Instagram for instance that I mentioned during our Malt 2017 round up – well worth a read if you haven’t read our thoughts. This is a subject we do wish to return to in greater detail at a later date. Photographs that are essentially product placement without full disclosure from the account as to how the item was provided and if a fee is involved. It’s a very grey area that is being abused currently. A picture cannot convey the quality of the liquid and if the asking price is warranted. Throughout any exchange, sponsorship or assistance there needs to be full disclosure. Only with this transparency will a new equilibrium be found and the onlooker can decide whether the article or photograph is valid and influential.
The Big Strand will set you back around £32 and is non chill filtered – my thanks to Robert Graham for the sample. There’s no mention of natural colour on the label, which is interesting as normally we’d associate this feature as a staple of other Morrison & Mackay releases. The liquid itself is very clear suggesting that very little – if any – colouring has been utilised here. It is also suggestive of a very young Caol Ila being bottled at 46% for this release and given the asking price I’d be surprised if this is any older than 6 years old.
The Big Strand Islay Single Malt – review
Colour: old fashioned lemonade.
On the nose: a blast of coastal peat with salty elements and campfire embers. Sweetness from candy floss, dried driftwood, calamine lotion and a lingering residue from within a paraffin lamp.
In the mouth: more of that coastal vibe with seashells, sand and the last flourish of a beach campfire. Then a calmness cuts down the storm and you’re left with bark, green apples, traces of vanilla pod and grilled lemon.
For a blast of Islay and all its youthful vitality, this hits the spot. Arguably the Islay supermarket offerings offer a similar experience but more value being £15 or so less. As such its a difficult one to recommend knowing what else is out there. The official Caol Ila 12 year old is only £7 or so quid away from the price point of the Big Strand. Overall, the price is a little too much despite the solid whisky being offered. That’s an honest and unbiased opinion free of charge.
Lead image kindly provided by Abbey Whisky