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.
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
 – 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 Fasque and the Fior-ious

The Fettercairn distillery is an interesting one. Founded in 1824 by the owner of Fasque estate Alexander Ramsey, Fettercairn remains one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.

Part of the Whyte and Mackay group, which includes well known distilleries such as Jura and Dalmore; Fettercairn has always been quietly in the background doing its thing by supplying malt for blends across the industry for which it was highly regarded. A few years back two single malts were released called Fior and Fasque to bring a new single malt option to the mass markets. Fior was my preference of the two but they didn’t really capture anyone’s imagination at the time and were eventually discontinued.

Fettercairn has recently undergone another re brand but this time have been releasing age statements at higher strengths, including 12yr old, 16 yr old and a 22 yr old, which is the bottle that I’ll be looking at in this review. There are older bottles out there at 40, 46 and 50 years of age but these are at, what are in my opinion, mindboggling prices. I’ve noticed this a lot recently and this isn’t exclusive to Fetttercairn or the wider W&M group. Don’t get me wrong, 50 years is a long time, 18 years more than my existence on this spinning ball of rock in fact (at the time of this article) but £19k!? In the words of Mugatu in 2001’s Zoolander – “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills”.

In the last couple of decades there haven’t been many official expressions aside from the aforementioned F’s but you do come across Fettercairn in independent bottlings from time to time. Whilst this is the second rebrand of the last 10 years, one thing has remained consistent throughout the branding; the fabled unicorn. The unicorn, as well as being the national animal of Scotland (can we call a mythical creature an animal?), has a close association with the distillery. No, there isn’t a unicorn sanctuary on site I’m afraid. The unicorn is seen as representing purity and strength and also forms part of the founding Ramsay clan crest. Now a 50yr old whisky sold in a box made of unicorn horn? Then we might be talking £19k…

Image courtesy of Whyte and Mackay

The distillery has a bit of a reputation for having a unique, and in some senses sporadic spirit. There are generally some core notes in their bottles such as orange, chocolate and an inerrant earthiness, but they veer wildly between bottlings and age ranges, more so than other comparable distilleries. In short and to quote another Hollywood epic, you never know what you’re going to get.

Going back a bit in time again, historically fires were not uncommon in the Scotch whisky industry. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) didn’t exist and neither did the more recent controls around building regulations, electrical installations or fire protections. Add to that the burning of peat, the heating of stills via direct fire, coupled with the presence of several thousand gallons of spirit and you have yourself a tidy tinderbox. Fettercairn was certainly no exception to the rule when the distillery burned down in the 1880’s and was rebuilt in 1890.

Moving forward a few years and the distillery was mothballed between the mid 1920’s and 1939 due to various liquidations, but has run pretty consistently in the following decades. However, it has changed hands a few times along the way.

I was fortunate enough to be included in the Whisky Wire’s Greg Glass Tweet Tasting, celebrating W&M’s master blender and the whiskies he has created, which is where this sample came from. Thanks to both parties for the inclusion and as I always say on the YouTube channel: Just because a sample has been provided to me does not mean this will receive a favourable review as a result.

Fettercairn 22yr Old 47% Chill Filtered and contains added E150a colouring. RRP £170

Image courtesy of Whiskybase

The 22yr old is matured exclusively in American oak casks. In terms of the strength its always great to see a higher than usual number and at 47%, this tops even the generally preferred 46%. On the flip side, a whisky of this stature containing E150a is a disappointment but also not a huge surprise given Whyte and Mackay’s penchant for adding it to the vast majority of it’s portfolio. Chill filtration, again if I was landing 170 notes on a whisky, which is already above other established competitors in the 21yr + range, I’d be a bit gutted to see this.

Given the colour isn’t natural I won’t comment on this in this review.

On the nose there are cola cube sweets, a tart raspberry jam and an intense spice. There’s a touch of vanilla sponge cake before a prominent sour black cherry note comes to the fore. After this there is warm banana bread and polished wood.

On the palate the mouthfeel is good despite the chill filtration but I can’t help but feel wistful as how good it could have been without it. 

Initially there’s a big hit of black pepper and spices. This mellows out to plum crumble and vanilla custard. There’s some Terry’s Chocolate Orange alongside a fleeting hint of dark roast coffee. There’s something of a woody funkiness that comes in mid palate that really does remind me of Jura, another in the W&M stable.

The finish is long and warming with a well balanced sweetness and cinnamon.

Have we stumbled across a ‘unicorn’ here in the 22yr old Fettercairn? This is a good whisky, is it a £170 whisky? That’s for you to decide, and like the Glenturret 12 review I haven’t factored price into the overall score. I felt a bit underwhelmed at the presentation given this is what W&M and the consumer will see as a ‘luxury’ bottling, but I suppose this falls in line with their more generalised marketing and bottling strategy.

I feel this carries that Fettercairn characteristic of being pretty whacky. not in terms of flavour but how it can change so quickly from soft sweetness and spice to tart and sour notes that aren’t unpleasant just unexpected. Pretty fun indeed and certainly keeps you on your toes.

Score: Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from Honeyblood, the solo project of Stina Tweeddale of Glasgow. The music itself carries garage rock and punk vibes with intense and powerful riffs and vocals. This particular song, Sea Hearts comes from Honeyblood’s 2016 album.

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.