If you follow many of the blogs/vlogs online you may notice that there is not much material in relation whiskies you find on stocked along the bottom 3 or so shelves at your local supermarket. I am guilty of neglecting this category as well so I wanted to write this article to partly make up for that. I say partly, because I know that there are only 2 whiskies which I would deem in this category in my next 140 reviews. As you delve further into your whisky journey I am sure you too will very seldom take a peak at the bottom shelf to see what’s on offer.
So what do I mean by bottom shelf whiskies? My definition of bottom shelf is 70cl bottles that cost around the £11-£16 give or take a few pounds. These range from supermarket own labels to discount supermarket bottles found at places such as Aldi or Lidl. These whiskies are predominantly grain heavy, hence the vanilla flavour you are likely to pick up with most of them. It’s this vanilla led characteristic that puts more experienced drinkers off as it can come across as bland if you are use to drinking single malts of a certain type or vintage.
Over the course of the past few years I have learnt that it is always worth having a look amongst the bottom shelves of the whisky aisle at your local supermarket – even though they don’t change much, you may be pleasantly surprised on the odd occasion.
There are two blends that come to mind that have proved to me that you can pick up a gem for an absolute bargain. These blends are Scottish Leader and Highland Black 8 year old. I picked up Scottish Leader from Tescos a couple of year ago for about £12 with an open mind. I had not heard of it before and at the price I thought why not. You can find Highland Black 8 year old at Aldi for about £12. This is another I purchased out of curiosity because I was not familiar with the brand. If you like a hint of peat and dark fruits, then I think you will like both.
I also must mention The Famous Grouse, which is a massive seller and been around for ages. Sure, it has that typical bland vanilla flavour profile, but it is also very versatile and finely balanced with a bit of smoke.
Even in the few years that I have really been taking note of whiskies I have noticed a big change on the whisky shelves at most supermarkets. Apart from the bourbon boom there has been a noticeable increase in the number of non-age statement (NAS) single malts priced competitively towards the lower £20 mark and sometimes just under when on discount. For example, at my local supermarket you will find a confusing number of Glen Moray bottles with different finishes. The pessimist in me says that they are muscling in on the rise in popularity of single malts by bottling immature vanilla dominant single malts – which offer no further depth or complexity than your average blend. The optimist in me says that this is a good thing by making single malts accessible and not the domain of those that can comfortably choose to spend £40 plus on a bottle every week or so.
I haven’t tried the Glen Moray range partly because the pessimist in me triumphs over the optimist in this case. This is partly based on my experience of trying Glen Keith Distillery Edition and Glennallechie Distillery Edition, which shared the same label and box. I was underwhelmed by both. They are not bad, but I could have purchased a reliable blend for less. These examples do nothing to show how good single malts can be. I would strongly recommend you wait for Glenmorangie 10 to go on offer (you can get it for £26) and treat yourself to something that will show you what awaits in the world of single malts.
I must note that when I mention blends in this article I am referring to blended whiskies, which are a mix of grain and single malts. I have lots to say about the exciting category of blended malts, so I will save that for another day.