Caperdonich Peated 18 year old

The London whisky club recently had a closed distilleries tasting, and this was my very humble contribution to an absolutely incredible line-up; there was a mind-blowing Banff that I will remember forever. I am not here to discuss the tasting, however, nor am I going to talk about Caperdonich itself, as I have already embarrassed myself once at the tasting trying to regurgitate random dates, I had tried to memorise. If you are interested in learning more about the distillery, there are several informative websites that pop up on google, including Wikipedia and scotch whisky, as well as previous articles here on MALT. I want to talk about travel retail instead. Sigh, I know, but bear with me.

Ordinarily, we take it for granted that the far-flung corners of the world have never been more accessible than they are today. Instead, a virus is on a global rampage, and most of us are currently sat at home, nervously laughing at stupid memes, while secretly terrified by every latest news report. Meanwhile, toilet paper has taken over as the official currency, and the EuroMillions jackpot is now a pack of spaghetti. We live in strange times, but I digress. With borders closed and trips cancelled, tasting this travel retail purchase has me reminiscing about that strange world, now silent.

Like many, I decided a while ago that duty-free is where whisky’s hopes and dreams go to die. An array of mediocre and watered-down offerings in oversized bottles, or unloved experiments that went wrong, all plastered in red labels promising exclusive bargains. While like a rabbit caught in headlights, a salesman (I am yet to find a woman selling whisky in travel retail), who looks like they might try and sell you a one bed in Edmonton, intercepts, and ushers you towards the sample station. They seem to know less about whisky than your local Wetherspoons barman, so out comes the QVC sales pitch as you attempt to drown out the drivel, and get as much flavour as you can conjure from 5ml in a plastic thimble. Except it is 8 am, your taste buds are flikeed from the battery acid they sold you as coffee at the train station, and your factory senses are on strike and need a 3-day detox having just walked through clouds of perfume. Cloudy with a chance of Chanel. The reality is, half asleep, you make a snap judgement and beat a hasty retreat towards the closest Pret.

Now I am feeling nostalgic. If I overlook the unquestionably horrific customer experience, I am yet to actually regret a single whisky purchase. A trip down memory lane:

I have often found Lagavulin 16 for under £45. That is a brilliant bargain for a classic and much-loved malt. Granted, it has been through more filters than a Brita, and I am pretty sure Trump uses it as fake tan, but it still has a place in many of our hearts and glasses. If you want to complain about it so much, feel free to send me yours.

Talisker Dark Storm, usually around £45 for a litre, is the best value for money Talisker outside the age statements. It is as simple as that. Even the barman at the Talisker distillery said the same thing as he got me drunk and sold me the Game of Thrones Lagavulin, so now you know it is definitely true. It does not beat the 10, I hear you say, and no, that is correct, but if you are wanting some Talisker variety, look no further. Pro-tip, it goes perfectly with ginger ale too. Thank me later.

Ardbeg. Do you Oogie or do you Corry? The Mulder and Scully of core range whiskies, people usually prefer one or the other. It seems as though it is about a 50/50 split, and each side is convinced they know best, just like Brexit. Well, thanks to travel retail you can have your pick of these cask strength peated slaps in the face for £50 and £57 respectively.

Glenfiddich, where to begin, maybe with the mother-in-law at Christmas? Glenfiddich for the mother-in-law is like lingerie for the wife, the gift you really give yourself. The gesture is appreciated, the ABV and flavours are gentle enough to please the crowd, while enticing enough for you to happily polish off the bottle yourself. As if you needed any further persuading, it is great value too! The 18 is £60 and the 21 is just north of £100. So, it has always baffled me why people moan so much about this distillery. It is not pretending to be something it is not and there are many far worse offenders in whisky today. Those who like to whinge are probably the same sheeple collecting NAS Macallan, whisky so bland you would get more flavour from a triple dipped teabag, if you dared open it of course. The Concept is an Enigma to me. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

I think it is time to find out whether this Caperdonich 18 can hold its own amongst such illustrious company. I was immediately drawn to the label, which loudly and proudly exclaims that this is a non chill-filtered peated Speysider from a closed distillery, bottled at 48%. Surrounded by an ocean of Johnnie Walker, and with Gareth from sales jabbering in my ear, I was sufficiently intrigued to sneak a quick sip, roll the dice, and stump up the asking price of £122.

Caperdonich Peated 18 year old – review

Color: Apple juice from concentrate.

On the nose: Initial burst of flint, copper and sweet wood smoke. Ripe pear and burnt sugar cut through. Soot. Pine needles. A little leather and old books. Time reveals bay leaf, lemon rind and sandalwood. A drop of water brings out sweet malt.

In the mouth: Sweet ripe fruits first, pear mainly, and some honeydew melon. Building smoke from a log fire. Bay leaf, pepper and a hint of menthol. Fizzy Lemon sherbet leads into a long finish filled with minerality and earthy peat. Water adds some Braeburn apple into the fruity mix, and malt in the finish.


This particular smoke, peat and soot combination is different to anything I have tasted before, and I am really enjoying it! I would be curious to know the level this has been peated to. Clearly neither Islay nor Highland, it is both punchy and delicate at the same time, mixing wonderfully with ripe fruits, citrus, minerality and malt. I also notice that it fills the room with an amazing aroma, more so than other whiskies. Regarding price, we must accept that there is a premium for a closed distillery. Even so, this offers fair value for money considering the flavours on offer. This is a definite win for travel retail, and I cannot say that I regret my purchase at all. I have a feeling that we will be seeing quite a few more of these releases over the coming years, and I cannot wait to have Gareth tell me all about them once the world returns to normality, and we go back to taking duty free for granted.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Mark p says:

    I often find Bruichladdich/ Port Charlotte or BemRiach to be rock solid travel retail purchases. Generous ABVs with a guarantee of well crafted product

    When my wife travels abroad for conferences I usually just tell her to bring me back anything as long as it’s minimum 46%

  2. TheWhiskySleuth says:

    Hi Mark, I quite agree, there are often great deals to be had, even amongst those whiskies we usually take for granted. It’s gets a bad rep, but in the current situation I think most of us would love to be surrounded by all those choices on our way to some far flung destination.

  3. James says:

    I enjoyed this travel retails an under reported area – and I enjoyed the pomposity busting round of affordable whiskies bit too!

    1. TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi James,
      It’s a bit of a minefield these days, and I’m not just talking about the stacks of giant Toblerone! You’ve definitely got to get your sleuthing hat out to find the bargains and hidden gems, but there are definitely still some to be found. Hopefully it isn’t too long until we are back to our usual travels.

  4. Anthony Quinn says:

    I have tried several closed distillery whiskies but never got my hands on a Caperdonich. But a couple of years ago I did rescue a Caperdonich barrel from been cut in half at a timber yard. It has 1979 on it and when I got it home I took the bung out and you could still smell the whisky very strongly. That’s about as close as I’ve come. It now takes pride of place in my whisky room.

    1. TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Anthony, that sounds like a great find for a whisky room! I have only tried a couple but I’m a big fan of the flavour profile. The peat here added an extra element which was interesting and enjoyable. From what I gather they have quite a lot of stock left so keep an eye out I think there will be quite a few releases to come over the coming years.

  5. Nik says:

    Hi WS, I loved your article. What a delightful read. Agree totally on how travel retail generally gets a rap on its knuckles. But if you can get past the pesky sales chaps there are some good bargains lurking in there. I’ve served Fiddich 15 and Livet 18 in blind sessions much to the amazement of seasoned palates. What’s ubiquitous is quickly looked down upon. For many and including meself, duty free was the only accessible whisky heaven and for many I suspect it will remain that way. I was actually planning a post along similar lines but now I don’t have to. You’ve penned it much better than I ever would be able to. Oh and before I forget Dark Storm with ginger ale is a match made in heaven!

    1. TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Nik. I completely agree! Glenfiddich remains my favourite Glen-Generic, and always offers great value. Though I was being tongue in cheek, it does make a great crowd pleasing gift, something that everyone in the room can enjoy, from casual drinkers to enthusiasts. Your assessment is correct I think, because these are ubiquitous we tend to overlook them. I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys a dark storm and ginger! I’m considering taking things a step further experimentally and making a new lockdown apocalypse cocktail with it, a smoky banana daiquiri. Let’s see what happens!

  6. Totoro says:

    Dudes and dudettes, you might want to correct the spelling of the distillery in the headline, now won’t you.

      1. Totoro says:

        Sorry to be a spoilsport slash stickler, but it‘s still misspelled in the slideshow on your landing page. 😉

  7. Dread says:

    For persons who live outside the UK in the Caribbean area travel retail is a God send. Purchases come minus the huge duties and excise taxes and there is a variety to be had that you can’t get at home.

    On another note I see the fixation with ABV as an indicator of flavour and I can’t help but notice that that sentiment seems to be prevalent in temperate countries. In the tropics where every day is 30 degrees Celsius and the nights are sometimes 26 a 50 or 55 % ABV is not really refreshing or tasty. Without water or ice it’s just hot.

    1. TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Dread, a valid point, travel retail certainly offers up a range of possibilities for those who live more off the beaten whisky path. The grass is always greener though, and I’m very jealous of all the great rums you have access to in the Caribbean. Regarding abv, it isn’t everything, and I believe everyone should enjoy their whisky how they like. I personally prefer my whisky as natural as possible, and that usually means higher abv or cask strength preferably. That way you get all the natural oils and flavour, plus you have the option to dilute with as much water as you see fit depending on the mood. I actually went to Trinidad over Christmas and took the Ardbeg Corry from duty free. Some nights while inside and air conditioned I enjoyed it neat. Some evenings we spent outside and I added an ice cube. The great thing about whisky is that there aren’t any rules, but I enjoy making those decisions myself rather than the distillery.

  8. Beks says:

    What a delightful article. The writing was just up my alley, and the humor welcome and appreciated. I too have found the occasional nice whisky at a travel retail shop, though not as often as I would like. Ardbeg Corry is a nice find at travel retail, and makes an excellent Islay Manhattan (2.5 oz Corry, 0.75 oz China China liqueur, one barspoon of Luxardo cherry syrup from the jar, garnish with one of those cherries – nothing better!). Thanks for the writeup!

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