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Glenfairn Speyside, Highland and Islay Single Malts

I’m sure you notice that every now and again, the Malt Instagram account likes to poll you guys, the glorious Malt readership, for ideas of what you would like us to review in forthcoming articles. A theme that comes through time and again is supermarket offerings, be it the store’s own brand, or just the usual aisle fillers.

Well, we do like to try and please the Malt readership, and so I threw myself with reckless abandon into another day of reckoning with my local Tesco. To be fair, pretty much every time I enter one of my local supermarkets, I gravitate to the off-licence, hoping that something even slightly exciting will have made it onto the shelves. I’ve stated before in the Aerstone piece that many of us likely took our first furtive steps into whisky through offerings from supermarket shelves, and also that I rarely buy much from them now, as I’ve moved onto pastures new and much more entertaining in my whisky journey.

But when Bowmore 12, Balvenie 12 and Glenlivet 12 are starting to hit the heady heights of £40 a bottle, it’s time to look around for better value options, which is why I’m sure I always go back to those dank aisles in the hope that something new has popped on the scene and that may indeed offer much better bang for buck than the aforementioned Scotch trio.

It wasn’t so many years ago that those mentioned above could be pocketed for £25 a bottle, placing them firmly into daily sipper territory, and making them a fairly good starting point into whisky exploration. Sadly, though, those days are long gone, and even NAS editions of brands like Talisker Skye and Cardhu Gold are knocking on and sometimes exceeding the £40 mark.

The £25 mark is now the preserve of bottom shelf muck like Jack Daniel’s and The Shackleton blend. So when presented with three new single malts at £20 a bottle, you could say my interest was piqued.

The single malts in question were the Glenfairn Speyside, Highland and Islay expressions, and seemingly, they are exclusive to Tesco. Three bottles for £60…what could go wrong? Well, in a bid to stop myself having potentially three bottles of toilet cleaner on my hands, I bought these to share with my bottle club members. Potential misery shared is…well, just shared misery. But at least I’d be miserable in company…or perhaps I could have struck bargain basement gold! Here’s hoping…for all our sakes.

There is very little information out there about where these whiskies come from. All that is stated on the packaging is that they produced by MacGregor Ross & Co., Glasgow, G2 5RG, Scotland.

Now, a little digging would expose that this postcode is also home to the Whyte and Mackay Group head offices in Glasgow. So now we can hint at possibilities for the sources of these fine malts. The Whyte and Mackay Group own only one Speyside distillery in the form of Tamnavulin. The Highland expression has more options—Ben Wyvis, Dalmore and Fettercairn—with the latter being most likely. The Islay is more of a mystery, as the Whyte and Mackay Group don’t own an Islay distillery, although they do own Jason’s favourite distillery, Jura! So in all likelihood, the Islay malt is bought in.

Bar this information, all you need to know is that they are all bottled at 40% ABV, are chill-filtered within an inch of their lives, and are subject to meticulous tanning regimes.

Let’s taste; I can hardly contain myself!

Glenfairn Speyside – review

Colour: Poorly engineered e150 gold

On the nose: estery – pears, pineapple cubes, vanilla, fudge and foam bananas. Then funky soured yoghurt, white pepper and tired oak.

In the mouth: a very soft arrival, by which I mean there is very little going on here at all. Spirity, young alcohol heat with oak and a little pineappleade. Some damp cardboard too. The finish is short, peppery and totally unremarkable.

Score: 2/10

Glenfairn Highland – review

Colour: See above

On the nose: Dry and dusty – again more young alcohol, cut barrel staves, pepper, acetone and pear.

In the mouth: Again, little to no flavour on arrival, or in actual fact, any flavour development at all. Am I drinking coloured water? Eventually, and I mean eventually, there are hints of raisins and honey. Finish? It didn’t even start.

Score: 1/10

Glenfairn Islay – review

Colour: See above

On the nose: Sweet peat, iodine and sea spray. Some smoked bacon lardons under a grill and soy sauce.

In the mouth: Possibly the softest arrival of an Islay malt I’ve ever experienced. A tickle of peat smoke, some honey and salted caramel with a faint touch of brine. This barely exists on your palate before fleeing at haste with only a trace of ash to serve as evidence that you actually drank something.

Score: 2/10

Conclusions

Well, thanks to these bottles, I have six fewer friends in my life. There are just so dull, boring and badly made that they don’t deserve to exist. They have little to offer on the nose and even less on the palate.

The Highland garners a one not because it’s horrendous like the West Cork Peat Charred Cask. No, it garners a one because I can’t even believe it qualifies as a whisky. It really is like drinking coloured water that delivers nothing either nose wise or palate wise. You could mix it, I suppose, but that would be an affront to your cola or ginger ale of choice, although it may improve Irn Bru.

Of the three, I did get a little excited by the Islay expression, especially when nosing it, as the nose wasn’t too bad; but then things fell apart when it touched my lips.

So my supermarket meanderings have once again led to misery. I couldn’t even finish my 100ml of each of these; they went down the toilet. Save your £20 and put it to better use, like lighting your multifuel stove at home, because if you buy this stuff, that’s essentially what you are doing—wasting cash.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Phil
Phil

Hailing from the north coast of Ireland, my love of whisk(e)y started at an early age. As a baby, my mother would occasionally dip the nipples of my feeding bottle into whisky to get me to feed (not a joke!) and so a seed was planted. I started CauseWayCoast Whiskey Reviews in December 2016 after peer pressure from friends who frequently tell me that I am ‘fairly opinionated’ about whisky... amongst other things.

      1. Phil
        Phil says:

        Bifter,

        Thanks for commenting here on Malt again.

        Your question is a good one…I suppose the West Cork Peat Charred Cask, although gut rot, was an experiment that just went badly wrong in my view.

        These drams however, and especially the Highland expression, aren’t just bland…they are devoid of body, aroma or flavour. They brought no joy whatsoever.

        Honestly the Highland expression is just so badly made it’s an affront to scotch.

        1. Avatar
          bifter says:

          Thanks Phil. Sorry for another rejoinder, I know I go on…

          I wouldn’t criticise your ratings here, I get where you’re coming from. However I noticed a thread on one of the whisky forums lately, criticising some of the scores handed out on this site, and even the scoring system itself (‘Using all the numbers? Heathens! Scores start at 80%’ kinda thing).

          The MALT scoring system suggests dull whisky is a 3 but that is probably reading it too literally. The band descriptors seem to be tongue-in-cheek and a read of the commentary conveys the spirit in which the mark is given. I like the iconoclasm that is, sometimes brutally, deployed here! However I think some prefer a more scientific (sober?) approach.

          1. Phil
            Phil says:

            Bifter,

            We like being Heathens here at Malt and we like using the full range.

            The thing is that these whiskies weren’t just dull….they were awful and poorly made. It was like Macgregor Ross just dumped a load of dregs in a vatting vessel and hoped for the best. As it stands I would avoid all three and advise you, the Malt readership, to do likewise and avoid wasting your hard earned cash.

            Even a dull whisky can bring a modicum of pleasure – these only brought sadness.

            As regards a more sober approach – well, I did pour 50ml of my 100ml samples of each of these down the toilet (which in and of itself tells a story) so I’m pretty sure my sobriety was intact haha!

        2. Avatar
          Bryan says:

          Just bought bottle of this from Tesco’s,
          Revolting stuff just cleaned the sink with it ,tesco what are you doing even having this on your shelves, worst speyside whisky I’ve ever tasted

          1. Phil
            Phil says:

            Bryan,

            It’s a shame you had to endure such a turgid experience. Definitely not a range either of us will be in a hurry to interact with again in a hurry!

  1. Avatar
    James says:

    I popped into Tescos earlier to get a bottle of Laphroaig 10 for my dad (he likes it and it’s for his birthday) and saw the Highland one at £15. I’m glad I looked for reviews as it sounds almost the same as the distillery release of Fettercairn. It’s yet another malt that’s far better served by indies at cask strength.

    1. Phil
      Phil says:

      James,

      Thankfully you didn’t part with your £15 on the Highland. Essentially MacGregor Ross & Co have bottled their dregs and cask ends here. Awful, awful stuff.

    1. Phil
      Phil says:

      John,

      Thank you for reading the piece and commenting.

      You have hit the nail on the head….drinking these was a chore. No joy was experienced whatsoever.

      Instead my palate begged me just to get through the experience and live in the hope of a brighter whisky future!

  2. Avatar
    David Wright says:

    Thanks for this, a much needed and appreciated review. Not all of us can/will pay the silly prices for scotch these days, so a dip into the cheap end helps a pleb like me.
    Looks like, so far, I’ll be sticking with the Glen Moray NAS range though!!

    1. Phil
      Phil says:

      David,

      Thanks for reading the piece and commenting.

      We all have limited funds and value is always important to us here at Malt. As you point out the Glen Moray Elgin range is really solid for the price point and proves that good whisky doesn’t have to cost the earth.

      I’d also point people to Powers Gold Label and Black Bush as two solid drams for the money, in and around the £20 point too or Jameson Caskmates Stout edition when on offer. Or if you want to go West something like Buffalo Trace does nicely too.

  3. Avatar
    allan says:

    Bought the highland from local Tesco for £11, before reading your review, but is actually cheaper than the blends on offer

    1. Avatar
      Mr David Hurren Hurren says:

      RE. The Glen Fairn Islay from Tesco:-

      I suspect that you are being affected by whisky snobbery here due to the low price and supermarket branding. Perhaps you should arrange for blind testing and be more scientific about your tasting.

      I’m drinking a Talisker Skye and a Glen Fairn Islay side-by-side right now and I find them equally pleasing. In fact I’m leaning towards the Glen Fairn slightly due to its peatier after taste, dispite being slightly sweet and molasses like for my general taste. It’s certainly NOT destined for cleaning the toilet! For every day sipping, I think the Glen Fairn Islay is far superior to the watery and mostly flavourless Glen Moray mentioned by other commenters (which I usually refer to as a ‘girls whisky’ since my wife likes this one. She only likes weak non-peaty, uninteresting whiskeys)

      Don’t forget, there are only 8 distilleries in Islay and all of these produce well respected whiskeys, so Glen Fairn must be produced by one of these good distilleries. I doubt they would use a completely different process when producing these cheaper re-branded whiskeys since they have all the equipment and processes already in place.

      Here is a little anecdote for you: when I recently went to Islay on holiday and visited the Bowmore distillery (highly recommended) I had an interesting conversation with the owner of the Spar shop just outside the distillary… Having decided that the prize £150,000 bottle of whiskey in a glass case inside the distillary was somewhat beyond my budget, I decided to try the local Spar shop. To my surprise I discovered a top row of whiskeys (with Spar stickers on them) for 3 and 4 thousand quid! OMG. What’s going on, this is a Spar shop I said to my self, am I dreaming. It must be for the Japanese visitors, so my eyes flicked straight to the bottom shelf… still 200, 300 quid per bottle. WTF! Slightly embarrassed I asked the shop owner if it was possible to get a decent whiskey on the island for under 30 quid (hey I’m a Yorkshire man). He looked around slightly nervously and leaned forward, then whispered, there was indeed a good whiskey from the island that has been re-branded for the ‘cheaper end’ of the market, but produced by an unknown/anonymous distillery on the Island. He was pretty sure he knew which distillary it was, but was not willing to tell me the name (perhaps for fear of his life). Anyway the point was that these famous distilleries wanted to access the budget end of the market but prevent the pollution of their brand by association. So one could indeed get decent whiskey under 30 quid if you were in on the secret. Needless to say I bought the recommended bottle and thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂

      My point is that perception is everything and the placebo effect is very powerful too. So try to mitigate against the price prejudice and marketing by opening your mind and/or doing blind taste tests before pouring decent whiskey down the pan!

  4. Phil
    Phil says:

    David,

    First, thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment. However, I think you miss the point of the piece.

    I am very much not a whisky snob, I am a whisky writer on a very limited budget and for whom value plays a large part in his scoring…as do all the Malt writers in general. Between here and my own site http://www.ccwr.uk I have looked at a few budget options to see if its possible to get a really good daily sipper at a reasonable price in a time of sometimes ludicrous pricing.

    These Glenfairn bottles were shared in a bottle share. I pick the whiskies and the other members get them blind……guess what…they were universally hammered by the other bottle share members. Also, here on Malt we have done a couple of blind tastings in the form of Glenfiddich Fire and Cane & Springbank 15 – I suggest you read those and tell me I’m a snob (after the Springbank I nearly had to assume another identity).

    I also think that my scoring of a Green Spot 26 year old (£500 a bottle) a 4 and on Monday the Redbreast Dream Cask 20 (£350 for 500ml) a 5 suggest I am indeed pretty open minded about my whiskies otherwise they would have been 9’s out of the box….’because you know old and expensive means its better!’ (joking obviously).

    I find your Talisker Skye comparison interesting as I think its a poor whisky too…£2 less expensive than the lovely Talisker 10 and delivers much, much less complexity, balance and flavour…what’s its point in even being in the range? (https://www.causewaycoastwhiskeyreviews.com/2017/09/talisker-skye-single-malt-review.html)

    As regards other whiskies I would choose over these? How about the entire Glen Moray Elgin Classic range, of which the peated version tramps all over the Glenfairn. I’d recommend Buffalo Trace, Jameson, Black Bush, Powers Gold Label over any of the Glenfairns at this price point for whiskies that just deliver more for your money. Even the recent Scarabus review here on Malt shows you don’t have to spend a fortune (just £32) to get a very good young Islay malt.

    I’m afraid you wont change my mind that these are poor whiskies. I bet they are little over 3 years old and the heavy degree of fake tannery suggests they are compensating for casks that were devoid of life. There are simply much, much better whiskies out there for £20.

    1. Avatar
      GJ says:

      I’ll refrain from a lengthy load of bollocks, Glenfairn Speyside is a low scoring attempt at a single malt. Glen Moray is still far the best value on a budget. Foam bananas? Really?

      1. Phil
        Phil says:

        GJ,

        The foam banana’s I’m referring to are the little rubbery banana sweets you used to get in penny mix-ups….not actually banana’s made of foam that you might use at a pool party!… just for clarification.

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