I was looking for a decent Scotch whisky that I could take away on a work retreat for our planned social activities after hours. I pondered bringing a blend but my local LCBO had a terrible selection. What to do?
I scanned the shelves looking for a Scotch that I could enjoy and also possibly pass around if others wanted to try. I thought more about this last bit, "What if they drowned it with water, ice, or *gasp* cola?" Ok, so nothing too fancy...
So, something cheap and something with enough kick to keep me from getting stupid and drinking most of the bottle over a night - this IS a work function after all...My eye caught the McClelland's Islay expression. I'd seen the McClelland's line before. They've been designed to capture the traditional flavour profiles of the 4 whisky producing regions of Scotland without getting into the details of pedigree, age, or cask maturation.
Since it's a Morrison-Bowmore product, and I enjoy most of Bowmore's line, I thought that perhaps I might taste some Bowmore within this unspecified Islay single malt. Besides, I seemed to recall maybe enjoying this at some point and at $33, even if it turned out to be garbage, it was no big loss to try it again.
Nose: Honeyed and vanilla laden sweetness dominated by strong peat reek, tar, smoke, and something akin to petrol? Not very enjoyable at all.
Palate: Oily and mouth-coating with a big dose of smoke. There's some vanilla and sweetness here along with a salty tang but I'm hard-pressed to tease out any specific flavours or nuances due to a strong wave of peat and smoke.
Finish: This one's a little tricky to nail down. At times, the finish is aggressive and hotly dry with a prominent peat "bubble" that fades into a sour, salty, iodine-laced, rubbery, and smoky finish. Other times, the finish is actually kind of sweet with some nice malty flavours and bitter-sweet chocolate. However, that sour, rubbery smokiness is what lingers on the palate regardless of what shape the finish takes at the start of its descent.
Overall: Well, I guess I got what I asked for. A cheap single malt that was rough enough to keep my "enjoyment" in check, and something I wouldn't be too attached to if someone asked for a sample and then promptly drowned it in ice. In fact, I'd recommend a couple of cubes or some water to take the edge off of the reek. Unlike most of my other "Islay" experiences, where my palate grows accustomed to the bolder elements of the typical regional flavour profile, I found this expression of "Islay" got more difficult to drink - especially after 2 drams. To be fair, the interplay between the sweet and the peat smoke kept me coming back to the glass to try to decipher any nuances locked within but once pondered; that's enough.
I wouldn't recommend this version of a regional-inspired single malt to anyone new to Scotch whisky or looking to sample the traditional flavour profile of the region. Sure, all the elements are there but its a hard sell in the glass. Back at the after-work social I took a poll of the room, the results of which revealed a staggering consensus. All who wished to partake said nearly the same thing: "How can you drink this? It smells like kerosene/gas/smoke/ etc.." Quite frankly, I can't blame them for turning up their noses.