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McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Whisky

Review: McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Whisky  77.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted March 25, 2010

The McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Whisky brand is has been distilled and constructed to represent a particular region, or maybe I should say style, of Scottish whisky, the Islay style.  This whisky brand is owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers, and their Islay whisky  has been distilled in the Islay region of Scotland and selected to represent the character and essence of that particular whisky region.

I was able without much difficulty to determine the Islay Scotch whisky in a blind taste test.  Of course anyone should be able to discern a typical “Islay” malt in a blind taste test.

In the Bottle 5/5

All of the McClelland’s Single Malt whiskies come in attractive cardboard canisters.   The containers each feature a vivid landscape by British illustrator Kathy Wyatt. The landscape reflects the particular region of Scotland from which the whisky was distilled. The bottles themselves are typical slender whisky style bottles with labeling that reflects the same landscape as the canisters. Solid cork toppers crown the presentation.  I have absolutely no complaint with the whisky presentation in the bottle.

In The Glass 8.5/10

The whisky is light gold colour in the glass.   When I swirl the glass I notice larger legs on the sides of the glass than I perceived with the other McClelland’s Single Malts.  The aroma is all Islay with charcoal, burnt oak and charred syrup.  With difficulty, I sense the vanilla and caramel aroma under the tar like aromas; (they are there), and in a some ways this is the finest nose of the McClelland’s range.  If you like smokey, tar like aromas that is.

In the Mouth 46/60

The mouth is assaulted by peat smoke, tar and charcoal immediately as the whisky enters.   This has a bit of an organic oily taste which actually impresses me.   It is the flavours under the peat and charcoal that disappoint me.  To my mind, peat and smoke should act as the carriers of other flavours, and the organic feel I get from this peat should actually do that quite well.  However, the other flavours in the mix are harsh and medicinal.  The vanilla and caramel I sensed on the nose are masked by the peat and smoke rather than being carried by them.  A  bitter vegetal woodiness steeped in brine lies at the bottom of the profile.  If there were a little sweetness being carried forward this would work, but without any sweet malt sugars on my palate I am left bewildered by the experience.

In My Throat 11/15

The finish has oil which allows the peat, woodsmoke, and brine to last in my throat.   The finish however is also punctuated with a dank bitterness I cannot shake from my palate.  The lingering bitterness lingers with the woodsmoke in my throat.

The Afterburn  7/10

If you are wondering what a typical Islay whisky tastes like, then this whisky is worth trying.  However I sense that the blender was more concerned with showing off the peat, woodsmoke and iodine which are associated with the Islay regional style of the whisky, and did not pay attention to the sweeter malt flavours which are usually carried in the peat.  The whisky lacks dimension and falls short of its target.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Cocktail

Islay whiskies present a challenge to the mixologist. The peat, woodsmoke and iodine is a peculiar mixture more usually reserved for the single malt aficionado than the cocktail connoisseur.    I find that quality gin often provides the basis to bring forward the nuances of a fine whisky in a cocktail so I decided to use gin with my Islay whisky in this cocktail.  The recipe I came up with was very similar to a recipe in the Internet Cocktail Database called The Automobile which calls for regular Scotch instead of Islay Scotch.  In keeping with the theme of automobiles and smoky scotch I thought I would call my cocktail,  The Smokey Carburetor.

The Smokey Carburetor
1 oz  Islay Scotch
1 oz  Gin
3/4  oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Cointreau (optional)
1 dash orange bitters
Stir in mixing glass with ice
Strain and serve
(The Cointreau is optional depending on how severely you want to cut the smoke)


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


2 Responses to “McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Whisky”

  1. Mike said

    I’m having a glass of this now. I guess I was hoping it would taste better than I remembered. It’s not terrible but not particularly good either. You think it will satisfy your craving for an Islay malt when you can’t afford to shell out $70+ for a bottle of Laphroaig or Caol Ila, but it really just teases you with hints of what might have been.

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