When I saw an advertisement for the assortment “The World of Whisk(e)s” at the local discounter chain Hofer (the Austrian version of the German Aldi), I was too intrigued (for research purposes) to pass on the offer: 4 x 4cl bottles of US, Canadian, Irish and Scottish Whisk(e)y for the price of 5,99€. They are all bottled at the minimum required strength of 40%, are all coloured (even the Bourbon…) and all bottled in Germany. Each and every bottle (except for the Irish) carries statements like “Famous for Quality”, “Finest handselected”, “Special reserve”. As they’re all bottom-shelf products, I find these statements a little hard to believe. But, to be fair, they’re not aimed at the discerning connoisseur anyway. I’ll try to give them my honest opinion anyway, as I do with every spirit I taste on this blog. Little fun fact: On the inside of the box there’s a picture of Strathisla distillery.
– Kentucky Highway, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 6 years
– Blackstone, Canadian Whisky, 8 years
– Old Flag, Blended Irish Whiskey, NAS (most likely 3 years + 1 day-ish)
– Old Keeper, Highland Blended Scotch, 8 years
Right, let’s get the tasting started:
Kentucky Highway 6yo
Nose: Bourbon indeed. An initial hit of alcohol and medicinal notes, then some sweet corn, and while I try to tell the other notes apart the nose fades away into a light, fruity, very typical nose with the alcohol making up for the most part.
Taste: Very watery and dilute, slightly bitter, with an aroma as faded as the nose – tastes like a regular Bourbon diluted 50:50 with clean spirit.
Finish: Initially quite punchy and full, some dry typical bourbon aromas mixed with hints of wood remain for a bit longer
Verdict: A typical bourbon, but presented for the non-bourbon drinker who might be just starting out. No overwhelming aromas, quite dilute (and difficult to tell apart) in flavour, but no off-flavours as well. Nothing to write home about and a bit lacking for the more experienced drinker.
Nose: “Gone in 60 seconds” as well, but even more extreme. Just when I thought I got a bit of a nose after the initial alcohol hit there was… nothing except for a bit of alcohol. I can swirl the glass as hard as I want, it doesn’t get any better. Maybe some herbs, but that’s it. Zero, nada, niente. With a drop of water I get faint notes of herb liqueur.
Taste: Initially very mellow on the tongue, growing more aggressive after about 20 seconds with some antiseptic notes, more herbs, some oak(?)
Finish: Very smooth and pleasant, goes down like butter, more herbal notes remain for a bit but very faint like nose and taste.
Verdict: I can’t say anything bad about it – but not smelling or tasting much I can hardly say anything good about it either. This would have a hard time getting through if mixed into a cocktail or drunk on the rocks.
Old Flag NAS (3yo?)
Nose: Not the most complex nose either, but better than both its predecessors, Lemon zests, faint vanilla, lots of grain sweetness, green apples, pears, ginger. Quite a lot of (3rd, 4th, 5th…) refill casks going on here I presume.
Taste: Quite harsh, biting on the tongue despite its only 40% ABV, some sweetness, some vanilla, grain bitterness, one-dimensional
Finish: A bit medicinal, still harsh and young, metallic, short
Verdict: The nose was quite fine but palate and especially finish say otherwise. My taste buds need a break before I get to the Scotch next.
Old Keeper 8yo
Nose: 8 years old, they say? Must be quite some re-re-refill going on here, too. Some faint smoke (burnt rubber?), (sour) wine, some underlying sweetness of gummi bears and lots of typical grain notes as the base
Taste: Some sweetness, grapes, faint smoked vanilla, very one-dimensional
Finish: Gummi bears soaked with water, the faintest remnants of smoke and some sweetness remaining for a not unpleasant, medium-long finish, revealing cereal notes and faint oak as the sweetness passes
Verdict: I’m sorry, but that’s the weakest nose in any Scotch I’ve tasted so far, and I’ve tasted many (but, to be fair, I’ve got no previous experience with the bottom-shelf stuff so I’m lacking comparison exemplars). Palate and finish are better, but still far from great…
Well, I wasn’t expecting much (and was ready to be surprised…) but my expectations were met. The best was the Bourbon – most likely profiting from the need for fresh barrels and I could see it being used for cocktails and for beginners. The rest was… uninspired with the Canadian exemplar being very weak/dilute in both smell and taste, the Irish being too young and spirity and the Scotch being once again very dilute. They all taste to me like a mixture of half a bottle of “good” whisk(e)y mixed half and half with neutral spirit. But maybe that’s what they’re supposed to taste like – very faint and easy to drink, never overwhelming or complex. There sure is a market for these drams – but in my opinion they’re not for the discerning whisk(e)y connoisseur. There might be some good bottom-shelf drams out there, three of the four from the ones tasted here are not amongst them. But, honestly, what do you expect for the money (taking the prices for a full bottle into account), after taxes and duties only cents remain for the product itself, shipping, bottling etc. – they’re not gonna waste the best and finest, especially in times of high demand and skyrocketing prices for the best of the best.