Finally, we’re sitting down with Aldi’s much-hyped and award-winning blended Scotch whisky. Ironically, I have a branch of this German supermarket within 5 minutes’ walk of where I live. However, for whatever reason, I’ve just never picked up a bottle until now.
In terms of website traffic etc. it’s a must inclusion given the news articles published on this release. Also noting how popular our Glen Marnoch reviews are generally, it’s another mental note to do the review. Yet still no review. Then we asked our readership recently via our Instagram channel, as to what they’d like us to cover. Common themes were the supermarket, more blends and more affordable whiskies. Proving we do listen, I picked up this Highland Black 8-year-old shortly afterwards.
For those unaware, Aldi is a relatively recent upstart to the extremely competitive UK supermarket scene. Originally, they started out on the discount end of the market before slowly improving their quality and presentation. Today this is still combined with an emphasis on value and quality, with noticeable savings to be made when pitched against Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, or Mark’s favourite in Waitrose.
Rather than stocking the main brands you’ll see on the shelves elsewhere; they prefer to source their own whiskies. These mainly take the form of the Glen Marnoch range. A very popular option, offering a single malt experience for under £20. As a sourced and white label product, there can be batch variations; meaning we should return to the offerings. But if you do venture into an Aldi then expect to see whiskies from the Highland, Islay and Speyside regions all without an age statement. Limited releases also do appear now and again including regional age statements and in the run-up to Father’s Day and Christmas, expect to see significant age statements at enticing prices.
Before we get going on this Highland Black, we’ll state that this isn’t the best whisky in the world and not to believe such nonsense. What is the best whisky in the world? How can you categorise such a thing? I can tell you some of the most enjoyable whiskies I’ve had, amongst the thousands I’ve tasted, but it is down to personal opinion. Even my ‘best of’ list won’t mean that it is the best ever. Ditch those expectations (or concerns) and just enjoy your purchase.
Price is important. This Highland Black retails for £14 for a 70cl or £10 for the dinky 50cl, which I have here today. The Scottish minimum pricing laws mean we cannot expect to see it any cheaper, but elsewhere in the UK, I’ve seen the full-sized bottle on sale for £12.49, which is remarkable considering you have an age statement, meaning the youngest whisky in the bottle is 8 years old. Yes, it’s bottled at 40% and artificially coloured, but this is a mass-produced blend for the supermarket. The target market is more price focused and would prefer value over extra flourishes.
Pitch this against the big brands in the blend market such as Bell’s (£16), Famous Grouse (£15), Whyte & Mackay (£16), Grants (£15) and you can see where it is positioned in the market. Many consumers buy these brands because they have done for many years and perceive them to be of a decent quality. Unfortunately, if you’re able to compare a Grouse of today to one bottled in the 1990’s or prior, you’ll notice a dramatic change. Most of these blends nowadays have lost their balance between single malt and grain whisky. Instead, the grain ratio has been upped dramatically and you’re left with at times a rather industrial and unpleasant blend.
The producers will say it is a necessary evil to meet such price points as above. Others may argue that they are maximising their profits by dramatically cutting costs and the quality of their product. My own personal opinion is that there are better blends out there. It’s up to us here at MALT to identify these and hopefully save you from a little pain.
Meaning today’s review is the Highland Black 8-year-old! Most blenders are fairly coy about what is contained within their recipes. Aldi as they only source this product, will be limited by what they can disclose due to agreements. After all, if I was to say this is a great blend featuring Dalmore and Tomintoul, you’d possibly snap it up. However, that would be at the cost of official Dalmore releases, which the distillery wouldn’t want to happen. Nor would they want to devalue their brand by being seen as providing content for a cheap supermarket blended scotch. But what we do know if that the grain component of this Highland Black comes from Girvan distillery; the giant facility owned by William Grant & Sons of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame. The malt content comes from the Highlands and Speyside, but beyond these 2 whisky regions that’s all we know. Sometimes it is better to have a little mystery and sense of discovery.
Highland Black 8 Scotch Whisky – review
Colour: a light honey.
On the nose: there is grain to the experienced nose, but it is well integrated. A simple and pleasant assortment of aromas with honey, toffee, flora, vanilla cream and peanut butter. Just a few drops of water brings out a sappy quality, new matchsticks and toffee apple.
In the mouth: very malty, with crushed biscuits, caramel, ginger and honey. A gentle perfume note which reminds me its Girvan at the core. Yet it’s been blended well and transformed with a reasonable mouthfeel. Vanilla, more grain on the finish. A couple drops of water reveals more fruit, maltiness and an intact experience.
There’s a simple wholesome pleasure about this Highland Black. A well constructed blend that puts it ahead of the aforementioned big names. For those on a budget, just wanting a good example, it’s tough to beat.