This is the season to be jolly. A tonic we haven’t had too much of during 2020, but one thing we’ve certainly enjoyed – arguably too much of – is whisk(e)y. Whether its opening and sharing, or just admiring from a distance, 2020 will be remembered for many things, including the flippers and hoarders who have no interest in the contents; only the financial value.
So, its all too easy to get sucked into values and potential profits. We’re all guilty of wondering what’s around the corner and what we can get our grubby mitts on. Frankly, this has become entirely tiresome and predictable. A little like watching Nigella dance her way around the kitchen in her latest television escapade. Another seasonal tradition are the whisky specials from the German supermarkets. A little something to entice us into their stores in the hope of picking up a bargain, gift or an easy drinker for the coming weeks.
Surprisingly, Aldi didn’t really embrace the format this year, although maybe they’ll have a surprise in store? Perhaps this is a reflection of the silly prices for casks at auction and via brokers? If you’re a supermarket looking to marry value with an attractive price tag; have things become nigh impossible to deliver? Thankfully, Lidl managed to pull off this special from Islay and bottled at 16 years of age. Created by the experienced hands at Whyte & Mackay, if you can find a bottle, then it’s yours for a miserly £34.99. Pretty impressive on paper, eh?
Cue lots of online chatter about which distillery this release comes from. Particular favourites amongst the online theorists included:
1. Due to COVID-19 and falling sales, Diageo sold on some stock of the Lagavulin 16.
2. It’s Ardbeg after Dr Lumsden messed up the latest annual experiment and created something worthwhile.
3. Definitely Bowmore. No one is buying the official products anymore leading to excess stock.
4. This is a Laphroaig after the blenders added too much colouring and had to move it on.
5. Caol Ila all the way as its the only one that is readily available at such an age.
6. Jura. It’s near Islay and they’ve got to do something to sell stocks, so a little geographical inventiveness was applied.
A great deal of hot air was expelled and thereby creating the whisky fake news phenomenon. Only one of these distilleries is the true source, but such speculation confirms the human condition to know more, and a refusal to believe that something is as good as it seems. Have we all become sceptical in whisky, that if something is too good to be true, then clearly it is? Enthusiasts bashed and drained from the 2020 onslaught of bottle chasing that makes the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake look like a rendezvous for afternoon tea?
Maybe I’m just an experienced onlooker, or someone, who has been around the block more times than necessary and doesn’t want to do it again – I don’t really care what Islay distillery produced this. The price point of £34.99 and the availability of an age statement should remove any need for hot air. Frankly, I just don’t care. As long as the whisky is good enough and I’m happy with the experience that should be enough, or should it?
For the record, this Ben Bracken is bottled at 43% strength and proudly exclaims it is chill filtered. I’m fine with that given the price. The packaging actually plays host to some wonderful moments such as cask aged for 16 years, matured in oak and the immortal distilled in copper pot stills. This is all fodder and label filler. What they don’t want to state is the distillery, or provide a clue as such, unlike many independent bottlers who have dropped hints where possible. There’s a rich colour on display, suggestive that E150 has been added to a sizeable degree, particularly given the omission when it comes to a natural colour statement. Again, you’d expect this feature given the price point.
Despite all of these flaws, there’s no denying that the bottle looks a little more premium than your regular Ben Bracken releases. Some care and effort has been put into the presentation, so let’s hope that continues into the liquid.
Ben Bracken 16 Year Old Rare Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – review
On the nose: it has character despite the strength with a waft of peat kicking off proceedings. Pine cones, caramel and coastline character with driftwood, sea salt and old rope. Spices as well with black peppercorn and cloves. Charcoal, autumnal forest decay and Muscovado sugar. Adding water reveals notes of coffee, amber and old newspaper.
In the mouth: a more rounded peat, approachable and not overpowering at this strength. Nuttiness with walnuts and caramelised pecans. Cracked black pepper and smokey towards the finish. Shoe polish, black tea and charcoal once more with liquorice. Water on the palate reveals candied orange and varnish.
In the words of Nigella, strangely satisfying. I’d certainly buy another bottle if these hadn’t already been stripped from the shelves across the UK. That’s the price we all pay for a bargain that actually delivers. Sure, there’s too much colouring and the 43% strength isn’t ideal, nor the filtration utilised. But it could have been much worse and after all this, there’s still the foundation of a good whisky shining through.