The Co-Operative Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 years

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.

Score: 3/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Mark says:

    Interesting. Though I’ve visited the Glen Ord distillery I did not walk away with a purchase, nor did it leave any lingering impression on me.

    Your review however has proven a bad influence on my impressionable, poorly disciplined self. It mentioned indie Ord favourably so I’ve jumped online to my favourite Aussie retailer and found a 13 year old Cadenhead’s single cask (hearty at 60.3%). We’ll see how it goes.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. I haven’t been to Glen Ord in years and it’s been expanded considerably since. I often drive past it without too much thought. I think that sums it up. However, it’ll be on my list for October.

      Whisky-wise I do think it produces a capable single malt and Cadenhead’s have released so many that their board in Edinburgh gives the impression that no one likes the stuff, which I think is a real shame. It has potential, especially if you’ve tasted the historical releases.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Always that possibility, but the geographical location of the distillery means it only overlooks the Black Isle, albeit very picturesque. Will make for a good sequel.

  2. Avatar
    kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    remains the undeniable fact that it is possible to mature bottle package and distribute a 12 yo single malt and sell it with a profit – I surmise – without the sky falling down.
    The whisky idustry is very keen to have us firmly believe that exactly that is one of the 7 impossible things to be believed before breakfast.

    I stand amazed


    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Kallaskander, thanks for dropping by.

      Aye, I do find the price of alcohol concerning especially the supermarket ‘deals’ or white label whiskies. Even with our minimum alcohol pricing, some of these have to loss makers.

  3. Avatar
    bifter says:

    I thought the received wisdom had always been that these were Dalmore. Certainly past releases have been produced by Whyte and Mackay:


    Add the fake tan, sherry casks (Oloroso?) and Black Isle references…

    Whyte and Mackay have also supplied supermarket chains such as Lidl in the past but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Diageo suggested let alone confirmed as having done the same. It’s OK for the price but pretty uninspiring. Aberlour 10, when on offer, is a close cousin.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      That tan factor eh? It’ll make for an interesting sequel. I think Dalmore does itself a discredit as it’s on the wrong side of the firth and its own area offers so much like Teaninch, who’ll be claiming Black Ile status next!

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