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McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Whisky

Review: McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Whisky  80.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted March 18, 2010

The McClelland’s whisky brand is comprised of four main expressions, each associated with a particular region, or maybe I should say a particular style, of Scottish whisky.  The Brand is owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers, but each whisky in the line up is distilled separately in the region for which it named.  The McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Whisky,  is from a real Highland Distillery in the Highland region of Scotland and selected to represent the character and essence of that particular whisky region.

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 8/10

The whisky is somewhat of an orange/gold colour in the glass.   When I swirl the glass I notice only a light oil and very skinny legs on the sides of the glass.  I receive distinct floral notes combined with laid back malty sugars. Rising up immediately afterwards are scents of elderberries which give this a sightly medicinal and slightly acrid aroma.  Vanilla bean and  slightly scorched, slightly bitter, dark syrup (treacle) round out the nose with maybe hints of spruce meadow in the background.

In the Mouth 49/60

Although I can immediately recognize the Highland style, with light floral tones in the mouth mixed with a mild vanilla and treacle.  I also taste a distinct bitterness (perhaps woodiness) which seems to be accented by flavours of rose hips and elderberry.  In combat with these more bitter flavours is a malty sweetness and mild fresh fruitiness (apples and pears).

I sense, more so than taste, a whisper of a sherry influence, which gives a mild smokiness with dried raisin and currants.  Even a touch of brine seems to find its way into this stew of flavours,  Unfortunately the flavours do not seem to balance. The bitter seems to dominate the sweet, and although the whisky is very complex, it almost seems slightly unfinished to me.  As if a little longer for the flavours to marry in the barrel would have brought everything to a new level.

In My Throat 11/15

The finish has legs and seem to last longer than I would have imagined based upon the feel of the whisky in my mouth.  Unfortunately the finish is punctuated by a dank bitter swat upon my palate.  The lingering bitterness is unpleasant and forces me to consider mixing the whisky into a cocktail.  I find I do not enjoy the taste straight up or on the rocks.

The Afterburn  7.5/10

If you are looking to taste a good example of Highland style, then this whisky is worth investigating.  However I sense that the blender was more concerned with perfecting the regional style of the whisky in its construction rather than with the artistry of making whisky.  Mechanically speaking this is a fine whisky, however, artistically speaking there is little in the way of flair and balance to hold my interest.

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


Cocktail Suggestion

The McClellands Website has a nice cocktail suggestion for their whisky, called the Highland Blazer. Here is the recipe, as well as my instructions for making a blazer style cocktail.  Other methods are available for making blazers but this is by far the safest method that I know.


2 oz Highland whisky
1 oz Grand Marnier
2 dashes of Orange Bitters
1 tsp  sugar
4 Orange skins (from slices)
2 Cloves

Blazer Instructions

In a mixing glass, Add the whisky, the Grand Marinier, the bitters, the sugar, the orange slice, and the bitters . Tilt the glass and carefully ignite the drink with a match. Stir with a long spoon until the flame is extinguished. Strain into a brandy glass and serve.



To be honest the Blazer cocktails are, for my liking, not suitable in most settings. I really do not want anyone to cause a fire based upon reading my blog so my suggestion for a nice every day Highland Cocktail would be as follows:

The Spiced Highlander

2 oz McClelland Highland Whisky
1 oz Grand Marnier
Twist of lime
1 sprinkle ground cloves

Add the whisky and  the Grand Marnier into  a mixing glass with ice.
Twist a little lime over the ice and stir
Strain into a rocks glass

Garnish with a sprinkle of ground cloves


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)


3 Responses to “McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Whisky”

  1. I recently purchased this OVER a 12 year old Dewar (took me 15 minutes to get up the courage) but I can say quite honestly that I have been pleasantly satisfied with my decision. I find it quite light on my tongue and warm and encouraging in the afterglow. Is it a perfect 12 year old NO; Is it a quite satisfactory sipping gem on a late bleary Sunday evening in New Brunswick Canada, Yes.

    Note: I was visiting Portland Maine and purchased this for $21.99. More than fair I would say.

    • I have never tasted Dewars 12 year old so I have no opinion as to its quality. I only note that it is a relatively inexpensive 12 year old Scotch making me believe it is a primarily a grain blend which makes it an odd whisky to compare with a Single Malt. As for the McClellands Highland Single Malt, I am glad you like it. My score in the review of 80.5 means that yes, I can sip this whisky; but I would prefer to mix it.

  2. EricH said

    This is most likely a young Glen Garioch since the distillery is owned by Morrison Bowmore.

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