I’ve been re-watching Game of Thrones recently in preparation for the new series which is due to air in April. Seven seasons to catch up on is an awful lot of time spent in front of the TV, and with each episode calling for a dram to accompany it, it’s an awful lot of whisky to consume as well. I needed something cheap and cheerful that I wouldn’t feel like I was wasting if I didn’t necessarily savour the smell and taste of every last drop.
One of the bottles I chose was Old Pulteney 12 which I found on offer for £22, a frankly crazy price for a single malt of such good quality. Expect a review very soon.
I also took the opportunity to try a super-budget offering from German supermarket Lidl, specifically the Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt that they offer for £17.50.
Yes, it’s NAS and is clearly going to be very young. Yes it has Dalmore-esque levels of orange fake tan going on. Yes, the Ben Bracken distillery doesn’t actually exist. Either that or it’s some kind of wandering vagabond distillery, as Lidl also sell a Speyside and a Highland offering from Ben Bracken.
The label says that this whisky is produced and bottled by Clydesdale Scotch Whisky Co, which several sources online say is owned by Whyte and Mackay, but I can’t find any definite proof of that. It also doesn’t really narrow down which distillery this is from with any degree of reliability. The term “Islay Single Malt” means it is from one of the nine malt distilleries on Islay, and numerous people have guessed this being a young Bowmore. To be honest I’m inclined to agree as Bowmore to me tends to have a metallic coppery note on the nose, which this dram is displaying.
I doubt we’ll ever know for sure but with such a small number of distilleries to choose from somebody is bound to guess correctly eventually, and with this being such an unglamorous bottling most people don’t actually give a toss, so it’s not exactly top of anybody’s list of things to research. All I know for sure is what the liquid in my glass smells of and tastes like, which as always is what I care about in the long run and what I’ll now focus this review on…
Before even pouring a glass it’s evident that this is a genuine Islay malt, as the peat leaps very promisingly out of the bottle as soon as the cork is pulled. I was expecting a watered down experience with a tamed, accessible version of the signature Islay style but this isn’t what this is at all. The nose gives pretty brutish peat with a chlorine note in there and the aforementioned copper, with some saltwater. There’s a vegetal smell which reminds me of slightly decomposing forest matter such as you would encounter when walking through a wet woodland (pretentious tasting note alert!). A couple of drops of water makes room for a background of bitter citrus notes, like concentrated lemon juice. Not unpleasant at all, in fact the nose is actually quite enjoyable. I’m impressed so far…
Be careful with the water with this one as it’s already bottled at bare minimum 40% and it doesn’t take much to upset the fragile balance, but I do find a couple of drops helps things a bit.
Taste-wise, it’s pretty one dimensional but remains enjoyable. It’s all about twiggy, cigar smoke peat and to be honest not a great deal else. Strangely what makes this whisky enjoyable for me is also what keeps it firmly in the “dead basic” category, and that is the elements it lacks. Good Islay whiskies for me are defined by the balance between high levels of quality peatiness and crisp, delicious sweetness. It’s this balance that make them such a uniquely enjoyable experience, and without both elements any Islay whisky will feel lacking, and it has to be said that Ben Bracken doesn’t really display any more than a surface level of sweetness to balance out it’s peat.
What impresses me however is the lack of any real off notes to spoil the show. It leans towards a short bitter finish with a spent gunpowder taste (remember those cap guns you used to play with as a kid?) but just about manages to keep things the right side of acceptable. Just.
For £17.50 a bottle I’ll be back for more. It hasn’t set my world on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but it has kept my palate entertained whilst I’ve been focusing on other things (dragons, undead armies and thinly-veiled pornography mostly), which is exactly what I wanted from it and my wallet also remains intact. Overall I feel like I won with this purchase which is becoming an increasingly rare thing in the whisky world!
80/100 if you don’t consider the price, 84/100 if you do.