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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!

  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.

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