I have been asked by several people to begin posting reviews of non-bourbon whiskeys that also fit the mission of bargainbourbon.com. In that vein, I am doing a comparison review of two great value Scotches that I am fond of. But first, a few brief words about Scotch Whisky.
Like bourbon to America, Scotch Whisky is made in Scotland. Unlike bourbon, Scotch is made primarily from barley, although some other cereal grains are occasionally added. In addition, Scotch varies significantly depending on the region of Scotland that the whisky comes from. Obviously, each distillery is a little different, but most regions have a distinct flavor profile embodied by the distilleries in that region.
McClelland’s is a Scotch distributor that sources and bottles whisky from different regions of Scotland. As such, McClelland’s whisky is usually pretty cheap (between $20-$30), and it gives a good introduction to a region’s flavor profile before diving headlong into a Scotch that costs $50 a bottle. McClelland’s makes single malt Scotches, which means that all of the whisky in the bottle is made from the same mash. Blended Scotches like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Dewar’s are made from blending different Scotches from different distilleries in order to get the desired product. Generally speaking, single malts are crisper with a more distinct flavor profile, hence their appeal to whisky drinkers. Now, on to the whisky…
The Speyside region of Scotland is the most well-known Scotch region, home to about half the distilleries in Scotland. It is a relatively small region located in the Northeast of Scotland, where the Spey River enters the North Sea. Distilleries such as The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Glenrothes, The MaCallan, Aberlour, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie are all found in the Speyside region. As a general flavor profile, most Speyside whiskies strike a balance between fruity and floral notes and richer flavors of vanilla and oak.
On the nose, McClelland’s Speyside reminds me of Andes Mint candy. It is fresh and minty, with some whispers of dark chocolate and fresh cut pine evergreens. On the palate, the whisky is sweet and nutty, with the most prominent notes being almonds and hazelnuts. The finish is moderately long, starting with light, piney flavors, and moving towards smoky pine and smoked peat at the end. Like most of McClelland’s products, the Speyside is not very complex, but it gives a crisp, clear introduction to Speyside whisky. My grade: B-. Price: $20-25/750ml. This is a great daily whisky. It is a great anchor for any cabinet.
The Lowland region of Scotland is located in the south, and it is only home to a few active distilleries nowadays. As a flavor profile, the Lowland Scotches are known for being very delicate and subtle. They tend to be fresh and floral, with an almost silky or buttery texture. Their popularity has died out a little bit in the past few decades as the whisky market has tended towards the massive flavor profiles of Islay Scotches and the Highland and Speyside regions. However, Lowland Scotches are unique and fantastic whiskies.
On the nose, McClelland’s Lowland is mostly floral and citrusy. There are notes of lemons and tangerines, coupled with dense floral notes of roses and lilacs. This whisky is a pure joy to smell. The palate is earthy and sweet, almost as if chewing on an orange or lemon peel. The whisky is oily on the palate, feeling like melted butter in the mouth. The finish is short and fairly weak. It leaves a perfume-ish taste in the back of the mouth, but it is not very complex or powerful. My grade: B-. Price: $20-25/750ml. This is great daily whisky, not as complex as the Speyside, but it anchors a cabinet just as well.
Overall, I prefer McClelland’s Speyside to McClelland’s Lowland. However, if you are looking for a gateway whisky, a Lowland Scotch is a great place to start because of how easy the whisky is to drink neat. These are both great introductions to Scotch, so give them a try and let it ride!