When it comes to whisky, I’m rarely confused or sidetracked. This is especially true when standing in the supermarket aisle, facing the usual assortment of bland whiskies from all the big names. The heartland of pricing and affordability; more than anywhere else. The realm where the brands can flex their marketing muscle and suck in inexperienced passers-by. Normally, I know exactly what I want and which bottles represent true value.
Yet here I was scratching my head in a local branch of the Co-Operative supermarket. The graze wasn’t because I had touched a Jura or Glenfiddich, but rather the result of a confusing situation. I had come into the store to purchase the Co-Op exclusive 12-year-old Highland single malt. This white label whisky – by this I mean it’s been bottled solely for this UK supermarket chain by a 3rd party company – was sitting on the shelf. This particular release had been highlighted to me on a couple of occasions. My general rule is once it’s appeared on my radar a handful of times, then a purchase soon follows; that’s the power of word of mouth.
Priced at an affordable £23.45 and featuring an age statement, there is little to argue with. Armed with a little whisky knowledge, you’ll be able to name the distillery from the packaging. The outer box takes great delight in highlighting the regional origins of this whisky. Going beyond the mere Highland region and stating the that it’s almost as mystical as the Black Isle itself. Why name this specific northeast area of Scotland for any other reason?
Despite all the new distilleries, there is only 1 capable of producing a 12-year-old expression on the Black Isle. This distillery is owned by a large corporation that is able to engage in such white label products with relative ease. It’s also not a big-name distillery or one that’s widely known or prized as a single malt; again, all key components. By now you should know the source.
Well done, that’s correct. Yes, we’re dealing with Glen Ord distillery on the fringes of the Black Isle. A massive distillery for Diageo that has seemingly been expanded more times than your uncle’s waistline during the festive period. It also serves as the major regional maltings for Diageo, giving it a serious industrial and epic feel. The whisky has fallen by the wayside as a single malt in recent years. Prior to the mid-1990s, Glen Ord produced some funky whiskies that also shipped in the most imaginative bottles. Nowadays you’ll find it propping up the Singleton range as part of Diageo’s Frankenstein single malt from a cluster of distilleries. These include Glendullan, which has dull in its name for a very good reason.
Glen Ord deserves better and its best work is exported. Cadenhead’s do their very best by releasing single casks on a frequent basis and these sit idly on the shop blackboard gathering dust. Glen Ord as a whisky producer doesn’t capture the imagination of the general public. However, you’re in the MALT realm now and we only care about the contents, which means every distillery can have its day.
Back in the supermarket realm; my confusion was this 12-year-old on the shelf had 3 different packaging designs. This wasn’t some marketing trick or a Pokémon approach to whisky. Rather these were all distinctly from different eras. Even a quick in-store visit to the Co-Op whisky section online confirmed that this 12-year-old was no longer being stocked. Faced with a trio of different Highland whiskies I plumped for the example pictured above. So, this review comes with a caveat if you are standing in another branch wondering what this whisky is like. The other 2 exponents might be totally different not only in appearance, but also in liquid terms.
The temptation is to purchase all 3 and do a comparison however my better half was also in the very same store. It might be something to consider for the future as these bottles didn’t seem to be going anywhere fast in this branch and on that note its time for the review.
The Co-Operative Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 years – review
Colour: more caramel than Richard Pateron’s blending room resulting in the appearance of ruby.
On the nose: caramel funnily enough followed by toasted brown bread, honeycomb, fig rolls and black pepper. There’s brown sugar, all-spice, worn leather and dried fruit. Then worn leather and a touch of rubber. The addition of water does very little revealing only apples.
In the mouth: cracked black pepper, withered orange peel and mold. No real character on the palate and everything is a faint echo. Falling into this are honey, rubber, treacle and marzipan. Water has no real tangible benefit.
I can safely say this isn’t the version that was recommended to me, or at least I hope this is the case. An own goal of sorts, but maybe we’ll return to the store and pick up another version and hope it turns out better?
Despite the packaging talking about sherry casks and the label confirming the addition of caramel; the overall colour is ridiculous. Someone has gone overboard with the E150a here. So much so, its the worst offender since the Bowmore Black Rock and that was saturated in artifical colouring. You can taste and smell it. Especially on the nose where I wonder how much of the sweetness actually comes from the casks? I expect it is the ruby glow that is giving us most of the characteristics.
Being realistic, this release is only £23.45 for a 12-year-old single malt with a proportion of sherry casks within the recipe. I’m left non-plussed as the Co-op is a supermarket that prides itself on food ethics. Yet is happy to sell a whisky under its own name that features more additives than a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through.