Have you heard the one about the Irishman, Scotsman and American? No, neither have I, although they comprise the trio of whiskies that Aldi are releasing for Christmas 2019.
For those blissfully unaware, it’s an annual tradition that this German supermarket chain releases some affordable spirits in the UK. Generally, over the years, the attractiveness has been a worthwhile marriage of value and quality. So much so, that there is often a stampede, or queue outside the store when the whisky is released. The same fever doesn’t apply to the well-received cognacs, ports and wines they’ve brought us each year, as there’s no money to be made in such things. To a lesser extent the Irish whiskey is also popular and based on recent form has been the sleeper hit.
I can still recall when Aldi released a 40-year-old Scotch whisky for an unbelievable price of £49.99 – that was way back in 2011. Releases since have been less remarkable and perhaps this is a reflection of the shortage of well-aged batches of casks that are affordable. After all, I doubt whether Aldi really makes much on these releases as they are beacons to get you into their stores in the hope of purchasing a bottle and maybe something else. Failing that, they make good copy in the press and amongst enthusiasts.
I’m fortunate to have a store within a short walk, so when the Christmas catalogue arrived, I took the bairn for a walk and a slight detour. As always, the Scotsman and the Irishman were posted missing for now. However, the American was proudly standing alongside the staple bourbons that Aldi sells all year round. Just £16.99 gets you this Kentucky whiskey bottled a fake name as the Old Horseshoe Distilling Works. In fact, there are so many phrases on the label that it slowly becomes mindboggling with Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, or guaranteed traditional authentic American bourbon. Finishing off the cavalcade is distilled in Kentucky (if you didn’t get the message by now) and the good old reserve – whatever that means.
Interestingly, the front label suggests 70 proof while the reverse label confirms 40% alcohol strength. Normally a contradiction as proof is halved to give you the UK strength meaning that either the name should incorporate 70 proof (which it doesn’t), or someone, somewhere, has failed to grasp the conflict. I reached out to Aldi who didn’t reply, but general thought is that they’ve used the defunct English proof measurement where 70 proof is equal to 40%, a style not seen in decades. I presume, 70 looks better on the label than 80, although I would have expected the higher number and current format to win out.
So, what do we know? The Kentucky statement is reassuring as it immediately rules out sourced stock from another state, which comprises many of the fake brands we see on shelves. It also rules out bourbons that use the Cleveland rapid aging process, which often taste extremely youthful and frankly unfinished. Instead, it seems Aldi approached a Kentucky distillery to provide content for this release. Current barrel numbers in Kentucky are at their highest since the 1970’s. It remains the hotbed of American distilling and tradition.
We know from the neck tag that this whiskey is over 5 years in age, which is reasonable for bourbon, and rules out many of the young pretenders. Instead, it seems feasible that Aldi approached a big player for this release such as Brown-Forman that would have the bulk stocks and might be the start of a beautiful friendship. The upside to all of this is that we should potentially have a well-crafted bourbon on our hands.
The eagle-eyed and encyclopedia-like Tony, also pointed out the similarities between the label utilised and Old Forester. A brand owned by Brown-Forman and highly rated as a go-to value bourbon Stateside, which isn’t generally available here. Adam also rightly pointed out, regarding the name itself that Brown-Forman do sponsor the Kentucky Derby. Albeit through Woodford Reserve. Pure speculation of course, but let’s see what £16.99 gives you nowadays.
Aldi Old Horseshoe Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – review
Color: golden caramel.
On the nose: a very light arrival, a dusting of icing sugar, a gentle vanilla, butterscotch and floral in parts. There’s tangerines, sweet cinnamon, honey, gingerbread and peaches. It’s far from wood-forward and has some pleasing aspects and a delicate oakiness. Adding water reveals cranberries, damp foilage.
In the mouth: delicate meadow fruits, marzipan, fresh vanilla pod and caramel. In addition, marshmallows, bananas, milk chocolate and on the finish aniseed and walnuts are accompanied by some oakiness. Water almost brings out a toffee chewy nature, cinnamon bark and peppercorns.
A pleasant surprise, so much so, that I’m considering another bottle while they are still out there. There’s more to this bourbon than many of the youthful, wood-forward releases we’re seeing nowadays. A swagger and style that wins you over. The bottling strength is an issue, as this would have been more enjoyable at 46% or above and worthy of another point.
Reduced to 40% (or whatever proof), it remains a decent enough sipper that you’ll return to and on the nose especially, there are suggestions of whisky. A bourbon that Scotch fans should be able to enjoy and arguably one of the best sub-£25 bourbons released in the UK this year.