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Aldi’s 40 Year Old Whisky

by Ben Ellefsen     22. November 2011 11:26

So, a couple of Tuesdays ago, I had possibly one of the most random evenings of my life. And I'm not talking about the end of the evening, where Myself, Joel Harrison (one half of caskstrength.net), Dr. Whisky, and Pierre from off of that there Connosr ended up in a basement Sherry bar late in the evening arguing the finer points of the various Port Ellen releases over Manzanilla and nibbles. No. I'm talking about the launch of Aldi's 40 year old whisky.


Now, it's probably best I don't go too far into exactly how I, one of the UK's largest whisky retailers, managed to secure an invite to the launch of another retailer's whisky (let's just say it involved the lads from Edinburgh Whisky Blog, and a bit of bribery / 'couldn't be arsed to come to London-ness'.

If I’m honest, the main draw of the evening for me wasn’t the fact that Aldi were launching a 40yo whisky, it was that the evening was being hosted by everyone’s favourite / least favourite (delete as applicable) whisky critic Jim Murray. Having spoken to Jim on a number of occasions, and read his bible every year with a mixture of anticipation, and foreboding, I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet the chap in the flesh.

So – the evening began in the (really rather nice) surroundings of Kettner’s restaurant in Soho, one of the oldest restaurants in London, as I was enthusiastically informed by the PR girls. We were popped into a room upstairs with only 7 or 8 seats, and introduced to Jim. I was personally rather surprised to see so few Journalist types at such a big launch (3 ‘mainstream’ Journo’s and 3 of us ‘whisky types’), but the presence of these two colossi rather made up for that:

The Doctor and Monsieur Thiebaut. Contemplative

We began the evening with a talk from Jim about the way in which he approaches each tasting session, which is basically to cleanse his palate with Coffee. Cue some absolutely fantastic questions from Fiona Beckett about exactly what type of coffee, the countries he favours, the brewing apparatus and temperature used – to which Jim’s answer was (reading between the lines) “doesn’t really matter. Just coffee.”. We even went as far as to retire to another room so that the smell of the coffee wouldn’t affect the tasting. I’ll give him this, Jim is definitely thorough.

During the pre-battle coffee session, I had a chance to quiz Jim on perhaps the most fiercely contested issue (at least from his side) of recent times. That of Sulphur. Now, I’ve got a feeling that I may be somewhat insensitive when it comes to Sulphur, but (aside from a few late ‘70s Bunnahabhains which I’ve tried which just taste like bad egg custard) I don’t really mind it all that much. I can detect it with absolutely no problem, but it’s a long way away from a whisky-spoiler for me personally. I’ve even grown to look forward to the somewhat ‘gunpowdery’ character of some of the older Japanese stuff that we get from time to time, when Marcin stops destroying my bitters stock for long enough to actually bring some into the UK. Jim however, can’t stand the stuff. The merest hint of sulphur results in a whisky being scored in the late 60’s if it’s lucky.

So – I posed the question that I’d been waiting for literally years for: “So, Jim – do you really not like any whisky that contains even the merest hint of Sulphur? Surely there must be one or two that you’ve come across over the years that had other redeeming qualities?”, the answer? “Let me put it this way – do you know why they make pot stills out of copper?”. Fair enough, so. Referring to my notes at the end of the evening, I’ll show you exactly what I had written down:

Succinct

So, onto the main event of the evening, the tasting.

We were talked through the two whiskies that were on offer, the Glen Marnoch 24 Year Old, and the Glen Bridge 40 Year Old. Jim’s technique of warming the whisky prior to nosing and tasting caught me a bit off-guard if I’m honest (there was a good 2 or 3 minutes of hand-warming and breast-cupping prior to tasting) and I’m not really sure if I ‘got’ it. Jim even went as far as to say that when he’s doing his ‘big tasting sessions’ he has a bowl of warm water in front of him, in which he floats tasting glasses to pre-warm the whisky. All the heat served to do (for me personally) was release a load of volatility into the glass, but each to their own I suppose.

My tasting notes on the Glen Marnoch 24 Year Old read as follows:

Nose: Red apples, bourbon, gristy, vanilla. Heat brings out more bourbon and rye spice.

Palate: Lean, slightly bitter, not a huge deal of depth. An enormous hit of almost Saccharine sweetness before the rye spice develops into a slightly acrid note?

Finish: Acrid saccharine turns slightly alkali, and slightly mouth-watering (not in a good way). Becomes really very off-putting at the death.

Overall: Not impressive, at any price.



And my notes for the Glenbridge 40 Year Old:

Nose: Sherry, Rancio, big fruit, Brazil nut shells, very pleasant indeed.

Palate: Sherry fruit, date, walnut, rye spice, bubblegum, dries slightly.

Finish: Touch of peppermint, the cask definitely makes itself known – maybe slightly over the hill, but all in all a pretty good finish.

Overall: A ‘good’ whisky. There’s one true test of whether a whisky is ‘good enough’, and that’s whether or not you’d reach for another glass. This is, and I did.

After the tasting, and in true game-show style, we were asked to guess the price of the two whiskies. I think my guesses, from memory were £55 for the 24yo, and £150 for the 40yo (and these prices would have been fiercely competitive). There were some genuinely astonished faces when it was revealed that the whiskies were to retail at £29.99 and £49.99 respectively.

Now, without wishing to start any mudslinging, lawsuits, or punch-ups, I would be very surprised if these two whiskies (the 40yo especially) weren’t loss-leaders. On the 40yo, the bottle and box alone must be £6-8 worth, the duty’s £7.77, and the VAT’s £8.33. That leaves about £23 to buy the whisky, have it bottled, have it shipped out to the stores, and pay the staff to sell it (not to mention the rates, electricity bills, PR…). This doesn’t seem feasible to me. Now it may well be that the broker that Aldi are using are supplying them the whisky at the £20-mark, but if they are doing so, it absolutely isn’t sustainable, it’ll be a one-off favour (as evidenced perhaps by the fact that there are only 3,000 bottles of each whisky available across Aldi’s 450 stores).

I’ve seen various reactions to the prices so far, ranging from “we’ll all be pretty lucky if we get hold of one” (caskstrength.net) to “it’s disrespectful to the folk who made it 40 years ago” (Stephen Marshall, Global Brand Ambassador for Dewars).

So - how does this make me feel personally? The fact that the somewhat exclusive world of older whisky is going to be opened up to those who otherwise may not get the chance to sample such venerable drams can only be a good thing, regardless of who it is that’s doing it, or what their motive is providing the whiskies are good.

The 24yo is, in my opinion, a deeply bad whisky, and anyone who manages to pick up a bottle of this will be gravely disappointed, and what’s more, potentially put off good whisky for years to come. This is sad.

The 40yo, on the other hand is really pretty bloomin’ good, and at £50 is an absolute steal. My sincere hope is that people will buy this and try it, as opposed to buy it, pop it on the shelf, and point to it for the next 20 years and say “That’s 40 years old, that whisky is”. In reality, I’m not sure how much of it will get drunk, but we can live in hope.

So with 450 Aldi stores set to release the whisky on the 1st of December, and only six bottles available per store, I’m going to make a prediction here, dear reader. You’re probably not going to get one. “Oh, but that’s unfair Ben – I really want some good value, high quality 40 year old Whisky”. Well my friends – I think I may have a way around your conundrum. Please find here a link to our superb selection of 40 Year Old Whiskies starting from the (sustainable) price of only £118.80. My pick of the bunch? Definitely our very own 40 Year Old Speyside at the price of £139.95. Okay, so it’s not quite Aldi prices, but it’s pretty low, and the whisky’s frankly astonishing.

And the result of the reason for going to the thing in the first place (the evening with Jim Murray)? I found him to be a very personable, really quite humble (in spite of his frankly astonishing achievements in respect of his whisky bible) chap, with some very strong opinions about certain aspects of the industry and journalism (some of which I share, some of which I don’t).

Jim Murray and Dom Joly, last week

So, in summary?

  1. We like Jim. Jim is good people.
  2. We like Aldi’s 40yo Whisky, not so much the 24yo.
  3. I need a haircut.

Ben.

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Categories : News | Review | Tasting Notes | Whisky


Read the full story (26 Comments )

Comments (26) -

11/23/2011 10:23:01 AM #

I quite like the long hair.
Ta for the heads up.
Smile

Kavey United Kingdom

11/24/2011 10:21:17 AM #

hi guys on 23rd nov the wife told me about 2 whiskies going on sale in aldi 24y single malt on sale 24th nov and a 40y malt 8th dec....they are saying its a  unnamed distillery  with your experience on this where do you think it comes from youve done the taste any ideas before i buy and would you honestly say its worth 29.99 .........thanks guys all the best
                                                      troy reynolds

TROY REYNOLDS United Kingdom

11/24/2011 11:14:01 PM #

Hey Troy,

the 24yo is worth leaving well alone, but if you can get a bottle of the 40, it's definitely worth it.

Ben Ellefsen @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

11/29/2011 2:52:10 PM #

Is the release date of the 1st correct? The Sun newspaper and Aldi are advertising the 8th.

Will United Kingdom

12/1/2011 12:53:16 PM #

Sorry - yep - it is the 8th. They changed their mind after the first press release was sent out.

Ben Ellefsen @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

12/6/2011 12:11:26 PM #

Would you think the 40 year old would be nice with a good mixer ie ginger ale or full fat rolla cola???

Dave McCLuskey United Kingdom

12/7/2011 11:13:28 AM #

seen Glenbridge on ebay, Image same as yours
Are you selling on ebay?
Eli.

Elizabeth Hall United Kingdom

12/8/2011 8:42:38 AM #

Got my bottle of the 40yo this morning (queued from 5:30) and they sold out within minutes of the door opening.

G Furniss United Kingdom

12/8/2011 9:49:56 AM #

6 bottles available at our local Aldi. Queued from about 7.45am & I got the fifth. Can't wait to try it.

Peter Burgess United Kingdom

12/8/2011 10:30:38 AM #

Managed to get a bottle this morning on the Old Kent Road, cracked it open as soon as I got home. These were my thoughts. http://wp.me/p1oLNO-2n

I completely agree with Ben. their 40 year old Speyside is fantastic stuff. If you didn't get a bottle from Aldi, the MoM 40 is a must buy and still good value.

Colin Hampden-White United States

12/8/2011 10:39:30 AM #

Not being allowed to sell alcohol in Scotland before 10a.m., my local Aldi had produced vouchers for each of their 6 bottles. Got to my local branch at 6.30a.m.to catch the manager opening up, in cold, high winds and driving rain. Very lucky, as was 6th in the queue. Manager arrived early (7a.m. instead of his usual 7.30) Home then for an early breakfast absolutely delighted, as this is for drinking, NOT keeping, as it will join my other opened malts, usually around 15 to 18 at any one time. Did you get any hint at your tasting of which distillery the 40yr old came from? We know Glenfarclas have such stocks. Be great to know, but for now, can't wait to go and exchange my voucher for a bottle, which will then be tasted on Christmas eve along with my son, in whom I have been developing an understanding of malts, nose ansd pallette for the last 10 years.

Peter Hendry United Kingdom

12/8/2011 11:23:00 AM #

Glenfarclas isn't a bad bet from the taste. My only thoughts were that maybe Aldi were able to obtain the whisky at such a price because of a previous buying history with a distillery or group. Which means it would perhaps be more likely it came from the stable of one of the big boys such as Diageo or Pernod Ricard? An Aberlour maybe? There are certain characturistics which are similar to their 15 year old.

Colin Hampden-White United Kingdom

12/8/2011 3:57:27 PM #

Got one, got one, got one!! My girlfriends father was 6th in line of only 6 bottles available - it's waiting for me on my return to the UK for Christmas. Luckly for me no one likes Whisky other than me so the bottle's safe (unless they find out what they are changing hands for on Ebay...!) Can't wait to tuck into this :O)

Lee Spain

12/8/2011 11:20:36 PM #

Hi Elizabeth,

Nope - we don't sell anything on eBay - the image is the same as ours because we used the press image supplied.

Ben Ellefsen @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

12/8/2011 11:24:05 PM #

Superb Post Colin,

Very committed getting up so early for it - I admire your resolve!

We're going to be doing a follow-up post in a few days time, keep your eyes open.

Ben Ellefsen @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

12/9/2011 12:34:33 AM #

I phoned my wife while I was at work on nights - she dutifully got up and queued at Aldi and bought me my bottle while I went home to grab some sleep ready for tonights shift (she is wonderful that lady).

I was going to keep it for a year till the wifes 50th, but, if it's that good I'll have to try it a Christmas.

Nice post.

Rich Nicholls United Kingdom

12/9/2011 3:57:43 PM #

i got to aldi at five past eight,as its our 40th wedding anniversary i thought what a great gift, no luck already sold out .......

pam pickford United Kingdom

12/9/2011 7:17:00 PM #

I work at a aldi distribution centre and managed to pick the cases of the 40 yo to the allocated stores . The invoice slip came from a "w.m. Grants " so assume grants are behind it who are also involved in Glenfiddich , tullamore dew and hendricks gin ..

I got to my local store to be confronted by a queue of 25 people all waiting for this item I knew only 12 bottles would of been allocated to this store I didn't get one they were " reserved" . People got there at six am waited two hours !!
What annoyed me is the managers who got a bottle reserved who don't even drink whiskey just to profit .

Ive only been into whisky about 2 years now and have a good selection at home .. In some ways Im annoyed I missed out on this 40 year old and if any one gets a chance to try Glen marnock 24 yr ... Avoid it !!!

Chris United Kingdom

12/11/2011 8:50:36 PM #

This whiskey was nigh impossible to get hold of the 3 Aldi stores near me had queues, outside before even opening and the scence form 1980s Russia emerged where people were fighting for the whiskey instead of the bread. I saw within hours it was on a dreaded internet auction site with bids appraching £200 at least. Each store had close to 6 bottles. I think Aldi should have offerred the drop to their best customers. Not that I would have gained in that. Alas they did it for publicity. People who had only a financial gain in mind and not a pallet experience. But sort of sums modern Britain up.

Mr Rupa United Kingdom

12/11/2011 11:42:03 PM #

Chris,

That's *very* interesting indeed...

I don't suppose there was anything anywhere on the packing note about which distillery the malt (either of them) is from?

Ben Ellefsen @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

12/12/2011 5:29:44 AM #

Unfortunately no it was like a invoice slip however the logistics director at our distribution centre told me the reason why aldi got this exclusive offer was due to there sales of there blended whisky "highland earl" aldi has worked with highland earl for years now and recently won an award .
Highland earl is also another product of w grants . There is no distillery note on this either however grants may just be distribting it and not having anything to do with creating the product !?

Hope this helps

Chris United Kingdom

12/12/2011 7:30:42 PM #

Chris,

Always good to have insider info. Smile

Cheers,

Ben.

Ben Ellefsen @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

12/13/2011 10:31:33 AM #

Haha, Fiona does have an inquisitive mind, and does like to ask a lot of questions.

Great article, just the right for my tastes Smile I did not camp outside Aldi, i wasn't even close to being tempted.

Dan United Kingdom

12/13/2011 4:45:55 PM #

I got to my local Aldi at 7.20 am and was fifth in the queue behind four gents, the first of whom had been there since 6.15 am. It was a very cold day and the location of our Aldi makes it a real wind tunnel. We were buffeted by howling winds that were bloody cold. One of the fellas in our little gang was convinced there were 12 bottles in the store, he'd been told by a relative who works for the chain. But I was sure it would be 6 or less given the number of Aldi stores. Anyway, my main worry was that, once they opened the doors, it would be a free for all, and me, with my walking stick, would just get pushed out of the way. I mentioned this to our little huddle when we were killing time, they said if anyone tried that they'd jump on them! Bless! The 6th person came at maybe 7.35 and most of the rest in the last 10-15 minutes. I'd been the day before to ask how it would work so knew they'd be at the till and we should go straight there, which I explained to the others. Before the manager opened the doors, he put a sign up in the window saying they were sold out, which alarmed me a bit, but one of our little gang was right that it was just because he could see that they'd sell out within minutes of opening. He opened the doors and, in order, we and folks behind us walked in to walk around the correct side to come up the open till. Most people followed in orderly fashion, but I noticed one guy (who'd just arrived and not queued) trying to jump the queue by coming in from the ends of the tills. Luckily, the manager was well organised, and as we came in he handed out numbered receipts 1 2 3 4 5 6 and explained there were just 6 bottles. We took our places in the queue, and paid. Elated! The guys took photos of each other with their bottles but I just put mine in my bag ready to take home. One of the guys was buying his for himself, but possibly to keep on a shelf. One was buying it to drink, said he wanted to treat himself for a change as never spent money on himself. One was buying for his dad. I bought mine for my husband, who loves his whisky and has recently started blogging about it on his new blog, Pete Drinks. I thought it would be a great surprise. I even spun a tale about why I was heading out all bundled up like Michelin man at that time in the morning (when normally still in bed). Sadly, I got slightly jolly that evening at a port and cheese tasting we attended, and told him!!! I couldn't keep it secret, though I've not allowed him to even look at it. Am very happy with myself. The sweet guys I waited with said I was an amazing wife for queueing out in the cold, and you know what, on this occasion I'd have to say hell yes I am! ;P

Kavey United Kingdom

12/14/2011 8:15:51 PM #

I got to the store 1 hour before opening and was second in the queue. I will be opening my bottle at Christmas. It is the only chance I'll get to drink a 40 yo without the guilt of the price hanging over me.

Bob Blainey United Kingdom

1/4/2012 9:05:22 AM #

For anyone who wants to know what my husband thought of the Aldi 40 year old whisky, after the comment I left above, he's just posted his review: www.petedrinks.com/.../

Kavey United Kingdom

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