The Lidl Things in Life

Lidl is my favourite supermarket for a number of reasons. Sure, one of those being that you can buy a set of well priced drill bits at the same time as a Spanish cheese selection and hell, why not throw in some scuba gear while you’re at it, but I’ve also become quite attached to their wine range. This changes regularly and has in the past provided good value and in some cases particularly good quality – this including 30 bottles of their Comte de Senneval champagne that we bought for our wedding.

Wine and drill bits are one thing but what about their spirits? Well, for a start I’ve already reviewed their Queen Margot 3yr old and Abrachan blended malt and was very much a fan of both of them. I’m a fan of blends in general and I’m all for well priced and accessible blends that don’t come at the cost of quality. Single malts, and whisky in the wider sense, can sadly suffer from some of the most intense and misguided levels of snobbery you’ll find. I’d say it had improved in recent years but I still see it on a regular basis, yes some of this is down to a lack of awareness or education, but in some cases this is due to a disregard of them with many immovable in their unfounded opinions.

What a good job it is then that a retailer such as Lidl can bring everyone back down to earth by providing a small range of single malts for a good price, and when I say good price, I mean it.

What can you buy for £17 these days? Well let’s take to the internet – From a quick google search for a start there’s this bargainous sack from ‘Little Peckers’ , no? What about this absolute gem? Still no? Well, for the princely sum of £16.49 you can instead purchase one of a range of three Single Malt Scotch whiskies in Lidl. Full sized bottles, not 20cl or 50cl. £16.49 for 70cl of single malt is a good price no matter what you’re used to. By comparison the cheapest full bottle single malt on well regarded retailer Master of Malt is £21 plus shipping in the form of the Speyburn Bradan Orach. This in itself is still a good price for a single malt but let’s get back to Lidl.

The Lidl range goes under the name Ben Bracken. This isn’t a distillery but a suitably Scottish sounding header for the Clydesdale Scotch Whisky co who provide this lineup to the retailer. The postcode under the name is G2 5RG which is an address on St Vincent st and what do you know, is also the same postcode as the head offices of Whyte and Mackay. Anyway, the range consists of an all NAS (no age statement) line up, all are bottled at 40% and all will no doubt be chill filtered and have added E150a colouring. At this price point I’m not going to make a fuss out of that. The three whiskies take the form of Highland, Speyside, and Islay single malts.

Ben Bracken Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouringRRP £16.49

If we buy into the post code detective work and do guess at Whyte and Mackay stock, this would either come from Dalmore or Fettercairn with them being the group’s two Highland region distilleries.

I had to let the whisky sit in the glass for about 30 minutes as it was very closed initially. That being said, the nose opens with Orange zest, hot chocolate and plastic model glue. Then we move into sweeter territory with warm toffee, almond essence and spices alongside a slight astringent nose burn towards the back.

The mouthfeel is pretty good but fades quickly. Initially I thought the flavours were pretty intense upfront with coconut and dark chocolate (for the sake of ease let’s say dark Bounty bars) cardamom, cinema popcorn and warm spice. This is all contained to a couple of seconds as it drops off a cliff a little bit and goes very quiet. Then from nowhere there’s suddenly a really enjoyable long and chocolate led finish alongside more of that toffee.

Overall I felt this was a little bit closed and straight forward but then again approachable and enjoyable.

Score: Fine

Ben Bracken Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouring – RRP £16.49

Now if this is indeed Whyte and Mackay that supply these malts and using their own stock, their only Speyside distillery is Tamnavulin.

The nose is rather lovely indeed. Compared to the highland this already shows more cohesion and harmony. Creme brulee just after the top has been crystallised by the blowtorch. Vanilla, toffee and banana bread. Staying on the bread front there is Soreen there too with all it’s malty and raisin based goodness.

The palate again has a decent mouthfeel that sticks around a bit longer than the Highland. We’ve hit a vein at the sweet mine and we’re going to see how deep it goes. Butterscotch, spices and honey intermingle well together. There’s also something reminiscent of cognac that appears alongside raisin and walnuts. There’s then more of that maltiness here alongside an almost wine-like astringency (sherry perhaps?) that balances out the sweetness as we head into the finish. The finish itself is rewarding and almost chewy in texture with gums suitably dried alongside a dense but enjoyable sweetness that isn’t overly cloying that reminded me a bit of Madeira cake.

Overall a really enjoyable sipper that would make a great no-nonsense tumbler dram to sit back with and enjoy.

Score: Good

Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouring – RRP £16.49

Now onto Islay, the small but distillery laden island off the west coast of Scotland, famous for it’s peated whiskies creating a smoky profile.

On the nose we instantly have some of those classic Islay notes in the form of sticking plasters, TCP and interestingly a bit of flitting tropical fruit in among a gentle but welcomed smoke. Leather and fresh tarmac pop their heads up at the same time as a slight saltiness.

The palate again starts with a good texture. The smoke is apparent but is joined by dried cranberries, vanilla and bonfire toffee. I love getting bonfire toffee notes in whisky as it immediately takes me back to being in the kitchen on bonfire night eagerly asking my mum how long it will take for her latest batch to cool before it could be demolished. My dentist and I are now on first name terms. You could argue there’s some of that salinity in there again but more prominent than that for me was a good level of spice and nuttiness.

Again this dram is well composed and really does provide a great introduction to a classic Islay style. The smoke isn’t as pronnounced as your average official Ardbeg, Caol Ila or Lagavulin release sure, but for me it still provides enough for me to sit up and take notice.

Score: Good

Overall I’m genuinely impressed with these drams. Even the Highland that was probably the lesser of the three provided a positive experience but overall you really can’t argue with the value on display. For what it’s worth I’ve actually had bottles of the Ben Bracken Speyside previously so am already familiar with it. I’ve also tried Aldi’s standard Glen Marnoch range which is effectively the same set up of 3 NAS 40% drams from the same regions, but for me Lidl’s Ben Bracken range just pips their fellow German rivals.

If you’re starting out on your whisky adventure, you could do a lot worse than spending the £49.47 on one of each of these. I’ll be honest, even those of us who have been drinking and picking whisky apart for decades could do a lot worse. Sometimes we all need something affordable an approachable and these fit the bill perfectly.

One thing’s for sure, the next time I head to the middle of Lidl, I’ll make room in the trolley between the Italian sundried tomatoes and chainsaw for a couple of bottles from the spirits aisle.

Malt Music

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for these drams is a bit of a reflection of them. Are they Whyte and Mackay stock? Do Dalmore and Tamnavulin feature? I’ll let Queens of the Stone Age answer that for me. No One knows.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good 
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid 
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine 
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh
 – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear 
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
 – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

The Hunt for Untold Riches

In my previous post where I outlined what value in whisky means to me, as well as in previous videos on the channel, I’ve always been honest and pretty realistic about my whisky budget. I try to stick to no more than £75 for a particular bottle where I can and historically have kept this below £50 as recently as 5 years ago.

I still feel that budgeting in whisky is important; saying that it’s pretty important in any walk of life. Debt is never going to be a fun ride so I don’t overstretch my means and I’m OK with that. I’ve still fallen foul of FOMO this year despite saying I wouldn’t, and have now officially entered a self imposed 3 month whisky buying embargo. This is in part due to a purchase driven by the aforementioned FOMO. This not only stretched my whisky budget, it pummeled it into a fine powder which was then reformed into a paste and used to sculpt a copy of Michelangelo’s David – before finally being smashed with a wrecking ball.

I spent the most that I have ever spent on a single bottle of whisky. Ever. I’ve been lucky enough to have been gifted special and costly bottles by relatives and colleagues previously for various life events that otherwise would have been out of my reach, but this time? This time it was all me and my debit card.

The whisky in question is the latest release from Wemyss Malts, ‘Untold Riches’ a 28yr old sherried single Malt from Bunnahabhain distillery. Wemyss (pronounced Weems) are a well renowned blender and independent bottler. Whilst ‘Untold Riches’ does make me think of piles of cash á la Scrooge McDuck, it does give you a sense of what’s to come too.

A Bunnahabhain of such an age is always a joy to see. Come to think of it any whisky of this age will always get some attention. They’ll also be at the higher end of a pricing spectrum that in itself has increased considerably in the last 5 years. Let’s first take a look for a second at some other Bunnahabhain releases from an official bottling point of view which theoretically is where aged stocks will be found more consistently. The closest age comparison is the 30yr old. The 30 retails at an eye-watering £500. ‘It’s 2 years older though’ I hear you cry. In that case remove 3 years and the 25 sits around the £270 mark.

So based on the above what does Untold Riches cost? £250? £300? £400? No – Untold Riches retails at £149.95. One hundred and forty-nine pounds and ninety five pence. Now that (comparatively) is a bargain and another example of why I prefer using independent bottlers.

So yes I landed £150 on a bottle of whisky for the first time in my life. I broke out into a cold sweat as I hovered on ‘Pay Now’ and was positively shaking when the confirmation email came through, but there was also a thrill that I’ve not experienced for a while. I’ve played it safe for a while in terms of budget and bottle buys, sticking to what I know and who I know does it well for what I know is a good price. But let’s be frank, £150 is still a huge sum of money for a bottle of whisky and isn’t always going to be within everyone’s ability to purchase. I feel lucky to currently be in a position to do so and I had the gut feeling that I couldn’t overlook this.

Untold Riches marks a significant milestone for Wemyss. This is their first ever vatted single malt release on any scale. Their core range consists of blended malts such as the Hive, and Spice King, but they also bottle single casks under various descriptive labels. This 28yr old does in fact have whisky from casks from as far back as 1987 which even precedes my own birth year (just). A vatting of 31 casks across hogsheads and sherry butts bring together this deeply copper hued single malt which has been bottled at 49.1% and is non-chill filtered and presented at natural colour.

When the bottle arrived I was sorely tempted to bury it in a cupboard and forget about it for a while given how many other open bottles I have on the go at the minute. If I did this with every new bottle I’d end up being some sort of whisky Smaug, so I decided to live in the moment and pop the cork.

The packaging and bottle itself look very nice and I like how the exact cask breakdown and % they contributed to the final product is shown. One thing to point out (that you may have noticed already either from the pictures here or online) is that there is a slight mistake on the labels. Mistakes are part of human nature and that Bunnahabhain has been misspelled as ‘Bunnahabain’ is an example of that. The importance of proof reading is key and possibly amplified for such a high profile release, but genuinely; I don’t care. Not one bit. Bunnahabhain is difficult to spell at the best of times and I’ve got to give credit to Wemyss how they’ve handled it. They’ve decided not to throw all of the labels and boxes away and live with it. If they’d had everything reprinted and re-shipped, this would have an impact on both their carbon footprint as well as a wider environmental impact.

Wemyss Malts ‘Untold Riches’ Bunnahabhain 28yr Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £150

As mentioned above, this release has been put together using a parcel of 31 casks made up of hogsheads and sherry butts.

The colour is a deep copper. A bit reminiscent itself of old but well looked after wooden furniture, which considering how much old but cared for wood was used in the making of this dram it seems quite appropriate.

I hope you’ve bought your ticket because we’re boarding the sweet train. The nose is initially very rich and instantly comforting carrying with it a really rich and oily sweetness that reminds me of fresh fairground/seaside doughnuts, still warm and covered in sugar. There’s also old, worn and softened leather. Briefly back to baked goods there’s Chinese cocktail honey buns too which I’m now craving as I write. Over time it opens up to browning butter in a hot pan. There’s something of a comforting kitchen vibe here with polished wood, warm chocolate chip cookies, walnuts and Bakewell tart with it’s marzipan and tart cherry too followed by orange zest.

There’s a lot going on here but the layers are so well aligned that the richness doesn’t overpower or overlap. This is the kind of dram that you can sit and nose for hours, which in this case I did.

The consistency on the palate is lovely and oily and already slightly warming.

Back to the bakery where we’ve picked out some cinnamon buns from the counter. That chocolate is back but this time it’s a good quality dark chocolate alongside black earl grey tea, and in a different beverage direction – a flat white coffee. This coffee note comes in at the same time as some more traditional sherry flavours including fruit cake, brandy butter and honey roast nuts. Finally there’s treacle tart or possibly treacle/bonfire toffee.

I’m smiling as I write this as my gums are still warm and tingling many minutes into the long and warming finish that continues with that lovely ensemble of honeyed nuts and toffee from the palate.

This whisky is quite frankly a triumph. This is amplified by the fact that this is Wemyss’ first larger scale single malt release. This isn’t a small feat given the scale and skill required to put such a release together.

This was a joy to drink and screams quality from start to finish.

Score: Unbelievable

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is comes courtesy of Glaswegian post rock group Mogwai. Their music is all about deep and rich tones with an underlying bass led sense of presence. This song is one of their more recent releases – Dry Fantasy.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good 
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid 
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine 
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh
 – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear 
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
 – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.