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Ben Bracken 16 Year Old Rare Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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

Colour: caramel.

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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 6/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Andrew says:

    Better than the Laphroaig QC Jason…?

    For the record I’m still not convinced that it’s not some wonky Laga 16. I guess I need to try next to the Official Bowmore 15 (never had it, the 12 put me off for life).

    I think the stand out things for me with this is that it’s nose it good but the mouthfeel was so thin and palate was far brineyer (sp?) than I expected. The most surprising thing was that I felt it improved no end by adding a little water, something I didn’t expect with a 43% abv.

    I got a couple of bottles, I’m not sure I like it enough to open the second or to pass it on for someone else to try but I’m really not complaining.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Andrew

      Yes, it is. Just has more to say and better balanced. Bit of time in the glass pays dividends as well.

      I’d avoid the Bowmore official range. Just not worth the effort or expense.

      Thanks, Jason.

    2. Texas Cowboy says:

      Andrew, if you can get hold of an independent bottling of Bowmore, I’d give it a go, the difference is quite stark (in a positive way)

  2. Scott says:

    If you read the back of the tube it comes in it says ‘Mit Farbstoff: Zuckerkulör’ confirming (if you needed it!) the added colourant.

  3. SpiritofIslay says:

    Nice review Jason ! No guess at the Origin ? Strangely the colour bears a striking resemblance to the 22yo Islay they released a few years ago , Must be the standard Clydesdale Scotch Whisky Co Colourant tone ( ‘Dalmore’ on the Dulux colour chart….) . Wonder if it could be a Peated (Margadale) Bunna ? About the right age for the time when a load of these were flying around the Brokers .

    Seeing the legendary ‘Mit Farbstoff: Zuckerkulör’ mentioned reminds me of a Feis tasting at Bowmore many moons ago (2005 possibly) . It was the launch of the Enigma Duty Free bottling with the then Manager Percy and some of the Marketing team . When asked if it contained Colouring the Marketing guy was No , No , No….. Unfortunately they’d passed the bottle around and a hand went up “according to my learned friend from Germany next to me , it says ‘Mit Farbstoff: Zuckerkulör’ – With Colourant :Caramel …..”
    At this point Percy done his best Jean Luc Picard Facepalm impersonation…….

    1. Jason says:

      Hi SOI

      Thanks, the clue is in the hashtags and on good authority, it ends in ‘more.

      I remember the regional co-op bottles and still see them now and again. They all that tanned glow and sadly aren’t as good as they once used to be!

      Stick it in a green or brown bottle and ditch the colouring… if only.

      Thanks, Jason.

    2. Edgar says:

      I’ve snapped up several bottles of the regular Ben Bracken Islay when it went on special at the local Lidl but have never seen this version. The blue one (Speyside maybe) wasn’t bad either.
      Your tasting notes of “old rope” and “shoe polish” wouldn’t exactly entice me to go hunting for it, but if I see one I’ll grab one.

  4. Darren says:

    Whilst never condoning the adding of caramel I can understand why a bottler may decide to enhance the colour if it is a sherried offering.

    However when it comes to Islay one only has to look at offerings from Ardbeg to know that liquid virtually the colour of a wine spritzer can pack a real flavour punch. I suspect these bottlings will not stay on the shelf too long despite our views!

      1. Quirky says:

        None in our local but whilst at chester store 7 bottles on the shelf?
        Not any more. Bought them all for my friends here in Prestatyn. Let you know after our tasting.

  5. Mikey C says:

    I bought one of these at my local Lidl store yesterday and was amazed not to see any mention of ‘Peat/Peaty’ or Smoke/Smokey within the tasting notes.
    Most unusual, especially for a 16yr old Islay – wouldn’t you say?

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Mikey

      Well, it is a Bowmore so it’s not one of the biggest in terms of ppm and peat. Also, what peat there is would have stepped aside as the years rolled by. Hopefully, you enjoy your purchase.

      Cheers, Jason.

  6. Vittu says:

    Bowmore 15 is very different from Bowmore 12 and a lot better. It is a lot pricier too, though. I have just seenoticed this Ben bracken 16 in my local lidl. I’m going to try it.

  7. Artur J Lorek says:

    I am slightly surprised of the whole guessing of its origin since it is clearly stated on the box it is produced by Clydesdale….

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