So, Covid-19. I’m pretty sick and tired of it – completely hacked off with it quite frankly, although no one I know has been significantly affected so far, so I am grateful for that at least. However, as I’m finishing this article off, the Chris Griffin look-a-like leader of our country appears to have forgotten his “we’ll have this sorted by Christmas” speech he made a couple of months ago and has announced more restrictions for people around the UK. Christmas is probably going to be affected too I reckon. Merry pissing Christmas, one and all.
Due to all this, like me maybe, you’re a bit more stressed and anxious than usual and you’re finding yourselves craving a dram a little more often, to help get through this. I can’t condone that behaviour, but fully understand it. I do it; it helps me relax, but always mindful of my intake. The odd one or two here and there doesn’t hurt, and you only live once. I’m reminded of those little old ladies who have a dram each night and live to 80/90 years old and appear to have their wits about them (excuses, excuses Alex).
Perhaps you are one of the less fortunate people who haven’t managed to hold onto their jobs, whose business is down or out, or you have a bit less cash to spend on luxuries. Instead of a little dram from an indie like Morrison’s & Mackay you’ve got one from a Morrison’s own brand white label, which is neither a luxury nor a treat (I know, first world problems, right?). Jason’s recent horizontal tasting of Islay derived budget single malts (all two of them) plus many other articles on Malt are a welcome source of information for those who might filter prices low to high whilst perusing on the internet, and I’m hopefully adding to this font of data today.
I think the best thing about the Malt ethos, the crux of it, the philosophy, is the honesty. If someone reviews a free sample, hands are held up and you are informed as such – it removes that tricky conflict of interest issue.
The other thing that’s great is the scoring – you know full well that a 2/10 is not a good score and people are honest in their scoring here, but I have no clue if a 72/100 is good when the lowest scores given rarely dip below 60 on the “zero” to one hundred scale.
It’s also good that price is considered – whether the sample was paid for or not – as it is an indicator in the whisky’s performance as, well a whisky. You get what you pay for – I’ve added on a point when the whisky is very good for its price and knocked one off if it’s not.
So, people are pretty honest here, rarely inflating facts or creating fiction. I doubt anyone would say such things like “a superstar whisky that gives us all reason to live!”. To those of you that have bought any whisky, ever – revered Macallans, hen’s teeth like Port Ellens, desirable Broras, limited Dalmores, cheap as chips blends – have any given you a reason to live? Have you ever thought that? No? Yes? I dare say they give you varying levels of pleasure when you drink them, but there are many things that give you pleasure, but not a reason to live.
Here’s another one that pertains to this particular whisky but is a little less life-defining. “A textbook blend and an absolute must for any Islay-philes out there – in fact, a must for everybody! Your tastebuds are beaten up and caressed simultaneously. One of the most enormous yet brilliantly balanced whiskies in the world”. A good example of pontification and waxing lyrical.
These words were uttered by Jim Murray, quoted from the Ian Macleod webpage for the Isle of Skye 8-Year-Old, which is one of the whiskies being reviewed today. Without a doubt these are pretty big statements, especially the reason to live bit. Can you name any whisky and say that? I can’t. And I fucking love whisky. Enormous AND brilliantly balanced – big words for a whisky that retails at £19.55 at Master of Malt and £19.50 from Tyndrum Whisky – if you pay more than £25 in the UK, you’re getting ripped off by the way. You can also get a 1.5L bottle for £44.88 from MoM – but it works out more expensive per dram, so not sure why you’d buy this unless you owned a pub and sold gallons of it each night. It’s bottled at a typical 40% abv for a blend on this price range.
Our other 8 YO is the His Excellency 8-year-old blend from Bartels Whisky, a small independent bottler. Four articles have graced the Malt pages in the past so I’ll skip past any introductions today, noting they are generally well-received. But here you don’t get to hide behind previous reviews. All that’s gone before is forgotten when faced with a new adversary. And we don’t have any words of approval from Mr Murray, just the usual words like “finest” written on the bottle. In fact, details are so limited that you can’t tell where the whiskies that make up this bottle come from. Main facts are these; it’s a blended Scotch whisky, aged for a minimum of 8 Years and is bottled at 40% vol. It even has a basic white label, with only the basic details printed on it. No silhouettes of mountain ranges or stags printed on it. This is a little more expensive at £26.65 direct from the Bartels’ website (free shipping in the UK though) but still it’s a bargain price and can be bought in larger quantities if required.
So, with these 8-year-old blended whiskies that won’t break the bank, could we have found a couple of cupboard staples that might potentially get us through the coming winter months? Only one way to find out.
Isle of Skye 8 year old – review
Colour: Mid-Amber, certainly E150 has been added.
On the nose: Subtle woodsmoke with thick buttery caramel, poached and raw pear for starters. Vanilla weaves in, around and in between. It’s a sweet dram, more to my personal preference, but not sickly. There’s a deep but gentle earthy peat note that comes through as a little dried mushroom with wet oak and leather. There’s a toasted almond biscuit and some fudge there too. What’s surprising is to find a lack of cheap nail varnish remover in such a cheap blend. It really makes all the difference. Note to all you other blenders out there – it can be done! It’s a fairly simple nose, but nicely balanced.
In the mouth: Less smoke, but more earthy peat – rich and woody. It continues with buttery vanilla fudge and dried fruits – prunes and raisins in particular. Some clove, oak and fresh apple then the peat comes back to finish things off, but again it’s subtle and graceful, not shouty or abrupt. It’s got a lovely mouthfeel for what I’m presuming is a chill filtered whisky and bottled at 40% ABV. It’s well balanced and it is smooth too.
Bartel’s Whisky His Excellency 8 year old – review
On the nose: Light, estery top notes indicate a prevalence of grain, but it’s pleasant, not the industrial note we find in most cheap blends. There’s a floral note (honeysuckle?) with melon, lemon juice and malty biscuits. Creamy custard makes an entry with raisins, raw cookie dough and caramel. There’s a slight nudge of something vegetal in the form of raw celery.
In the mouth: Distinctive peach note, nutmeg and pine wood. A yeasty, bready note with orange peel, vanilla, oak and honey. Some sour apple and grapefruit draw the overall experience away from one that’s overly sweet. It’s a hard one this – perhaps it’s too subtle for my tastebuds, but I’m slightly underwhelmed.
Well, what can I say? I’ll start with the HE8. It’s not big hitting or punchy – it’s a subtle whisky, where you have to really think about what’s going on. It’s not bad, but nor is it good. Bang average considering the price point. It’s not one for me and there are others I’d rather chose at this price. The thing that I liked most was its smoothness for a blend in this price range. Having heard good things about Bartels I do want to try more and won’t let this put me off. They had a 23-year-old Speyside single cask bottling for £65 (no longer available) which seems too good to be true. I must keep an eye out in future.
Which brings me to the Isle of Skye 8 YO. This is another level altogether. Frankly, for £20 it’s really very good, hence my score of 7/10. But even price aside, it’s pretty damn good. I’ve finished the bottle and will soon buy another. Going back each time for another dram I wondered if it was my memory making something up, but each time I was amazed how good this was. If you’re a student getting into whisky, try this – it won’t break the bank (if you don’t like it) and might be a nice introduction to the world of peated whisky if that’s not your thing already. I could waffle on for hours about how the balance of the sweetness offset with the peat and hint of smoke added to the lovely mouthfeel making this such a nice dram. But I won’t. I would like it to be a higher ABV and guaranteed non-chilfiltered to see the full potential. It’s also available as a 12-year-old blend.
There are some commission links above and some that aren’t – shop around, support local where possible. Lead image kindly provided by Tyndrum Whisky and the other comes via Bartels.