Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: Trader Joe's Scotch

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about the great deals you could get on single malt Scotch at your local Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's is, of course, a rapidly expanding California-based discount gourmet store. In that piece, I talked about the distillery bottlings available at TJ's, including Dalmore, Laphroaig, Dahlwinnie and Glenfiddich.

But TJ's also has their very own line of independent bottlings under the Trader Joe's label. TJ's specializes in reaching agreements with manufacturers to put out items under the TJ's label. While TJ's carries some popular brands (especially of liquor), they prefer to sell their own label.

According to the label, the Trader Joe's single malt collection is bottled by Alexander Murray & Co. This bottler does not appear to produce other bottles for retail sale so my guess is that it is a new bottler or a new corporate form of an existing bottler formed specifically for TJ's.

The TJ's label bottlings include a variety of malts at a variety of ages. At my most recent trip to TJ's, they were offering three malts, two of which I describe below. The third was an 18 year old Macallan priced at $45.99, which was more than I wanted to pay for this little project.

So, here are my notes on TJ's label single malts, all are bottled at 40% alcohol:

Glenlivet 15 year old

Like most American single malt drinkers, I drink a lot of Glenlivet for the sole reason that it's often the only thing available. The 'Livet is the biggest selling single malt in the US and it, along with Glenfiddich, are the two malts most likely to be available at any given bar or restaurant. The famous Speyside malt is a pleasant enough Scotch with a good malty quality, but not one I do backflips over.

The TJ's Glenlivet, however, was particularly unimpressive. It was so light and weak as to have a watery quality. The malt was there but it lacked the mouth-filling quality that you want in any whiskey. This strikes me more as a mixing whiskey. It might be good in a cocktail, but there is just not enough there there to sip it neat. I was mighty disappointed with it.

Bowmore 18 year old

As far as whiskies go, I have comparably less experience with Bowmore than other malts, especially other Islay malts. What I've had of it, I've really liked, finding it complex and smoky without being overwhelmingly so, and I've always wanted to expand my familiarity with Bowmore.

The TJ's Bowmore is very perfumy, which is not something I usually associate with Bowmore, although as I said, my Bowmore experience is limited. Like the Glenlivet, this malt had a weak and watery quality to it. The most enjoyable part comes with a nice smoky finish more suitable to Bowmores I've known.

To sum up: I was thoroughly unimpressed with TJ's private label bottlings. If you want to try Glenlivet or Bowmore, go to a liquor store and buy some distillery bottlings or more reliable indies.

As for Trader Joe's house label Scotch, they have many more offerings which appear to change fairly regularly, so this is a very small sampling. Based on this disappointing tasting, however, I don't think I'd drop cash on any of the others, especially when they offer so many good deals on distillery bottlings.


Anonymous said...

I was extremely disappointed with the Bowmore. The TJ bottling bears no resemblance to this distillery's standard expression. Despite being labeled as an 18-year scotch, it tastes young and lacks any complexity. Barf.

Jolie said...

Having heard some real positive reviews from a friend I went ahead and tried the TJ speyside 18yr old oak aged single malt and find the flavor to reminisce of a Mcallan (which I love ) but as you pointed out it lacks that full bodied weight to it and leaves me agreeing with your "watered down" disappointment

That said a 18yr Mcallan sets you back about 4times as much as the trader joe version at 30 do it's definitely a good deal for its price and excellent if you are one of them types that normally sticks ice in your drink... Get this and some whiskey stones and you're set ;)