Bought: Tesco Supermarket, 3rd June 2019
Ratings for ‘Land Cask’:
81/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
92/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
Ratings for ‘Sea Cask’:
76.17/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes)
89/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
In 2018 Tesco Supermarket here in the UK decided to stock two ‘mystery’ single malts under the name of Aerstone. These are the ‘Land Cask’ and ‘Sea Cask’. They come with an age statement of 10 years and a volume of 40%. It’s not uncommon for supermarkets to have their own single malts but usually they’re labelled ‘ASDA’s Islay Single Malt’ or ‘Sainsbury’s Speyside Single Malt’. It’s unusually for a supermarket to register a trading name for a mystery whisky (where the source distillery isn’t clearly indicated). This is all very interesting but it was the price of £20 that caught my attention (reduced from £30). This made Aerstone the cheapest 10yo single malt on the market, even when the Aberlour 10yo is on offer. And considerably cheaper than the MacPhail’s 10yo mystery malt. Tesco, you have a winner!
The Aerstone duo aren’t really mystery malts in the traditional sense. Firstly it’s common knowledge that the source distillery is Girvan, owned by William Grant & Sons. Secondly a mystery malt typically comes from an established single malt distillery and Girvan is better known for producing grain whisky. Nevertheless since 2007 the Girvan complex has incorporated the Ailsa Bay distillery, which has been releasing single malt since 2016. With the Aerstone being 10 years old it’s possible that one or both of the cask types started life as Aisla Bay, which isn’t a bad thing.
It should come as no surprise that the Land Cask is doing better than the Sea Cask in reviews because peat and smoke make it more interesting. But both malts are considered to be easy going, straightforward sippers. Yes they contain E150 colourant and 40% seems quite tame these days but at £20 you can’t expect the earth to move. Both whiskies get excellent scores from William over on the Scotch Malt Whisky website and 81/100 on Whiskybase for the Land Cask is a pretty decent mark.
Overall I’d say that Tesco’s request to William Grant & Sons to give their customers two single malts that showcase the different profiles from different areas of maturation has been a success. And you can’t grumble at the price!
Here’s The Whisky Family with their thoughts on the Aerstone duo on Youtube (Oct 2018):
Posted in Aerstone (Tesco)
Tagged 10yo, 40%, 70cl, Aerstone, Ailsa Bay, Girvan, Land Cask, Lowland, Lowlands, Sea Cask, Single Malt, Tesco
Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow), 27th June 2017
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
90/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
I went to the ‘World of Whisky’ shop at Heathrow airport without any intension of buying a bottle of Hazelwood 18-year-old. I was aware of its existence from previous trips and I liked its art deco styling but I only wanted a bottle of Chita, until a salesman grabbed me. He’d obviously been told to give the Hazelwood 18yo the hard sell and I was invited to have a sample. Don’t mind if I do! Granted it was very pleasant but I just wanted a bottle of Chita (Japanese single grain). I must stick to my guns! Then the salesman said they only had two bottles of the Hazelwood left and indicated that stocks were selling out everywhere. Clearly I had “sucker” written all over me. Sadly it worked and I found myself saying, “I’ll take a bottle!” A combination of sales persistence, several more whisky samples and my collector’s gullibility had been my undoing. For the same price as the new and more interesting Balvenie 14yo ‘Peated’ (£65) I’d bought myself a 50cl, 18yo blend in a fancy bottle. Well done! The moral of this story is “stick to your plan” even if a slick salesman is plying you with free whisky.
Although 77/100 on Whiskybase sounds quite average it’s only from 2 votes so far. I’ve got a feeling it will level out around 80/100 after 20 votes. Having tasted it I’d say it was more like 82/100 from me but Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible scores the Hazelwood 18yo a fantastic 88/100. This classifies it as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. I don’t feel so bad about being duped out of £65 now. Jim Murray’s review consists of:
Nose: top-notch dispersal of subtle notes: walnut cream cake with a pinch of vanilla. The malt is low key but distinctly Speyside-style in its clarity, despite the odd wisp of something a little heavy.
Taste: Creamy-textured. Soft ulmo honey gives way to the thickening vanilla and toffee.
Finish: bitters slightly at the turned-up ending
Comment: until the final furry moments, a genuine little, understated, charmer
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Hazelwood 18yo on YouTube (July 2017):
Bought: Waitrose, 11th November 2015
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
73.62/100 – Whiskybase (average from 15 member votes)
I must admit I did very little research into this single grain whisky by Girvan before buying it. I checked my copy of the Whisky Bible and 87/100 sounded perfectly acceptable to me. That categorises this dram as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying” so I did. The author, Jim Murray, describes this bottle as “a first look at probably the lightest of all Scotland grain whiskies. A little cream soda sweetens a soft, rather sweet, but spineless affair. The vanillas get a good unmolested outing too.”
Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like a “very good to excellent whisky” to me. Perhaps the score of 87/100 should have been 78/100! Sadly the only written reviews on Whiskybase are in German but 73.62/100 isn’t a brilliant mark. I know some people use grain whisky for cocktails or add a mixer to them but not when bottles cost £40 like this Girvan. Saying that, the Haig Club was originally £50 and that was designed to look good on a shelf in a cocktail bar. But if I spent £40 on a bottle of whisky, grain or not, I want to drink it au natural and have a good experience.
Perhaps disliking this bottle of Girvan is a German thing. The only video review I could find is the one below by Horst Luening, the master taster at Whisky.com. He admits he doesn’t usually like grain whiskies because they have a tendency to be bitter and tasteless. This is due to the overuse of casks, which can be refilled 10 times before being dispensed with. By the tenth time there is little or no flavour to be gained from the wood (sherry, bourbon, etc) other than tannins, which leave a bitter taste. I get his point but surely Girvan aren’t so stupid as to bottle something up from a 10th refill cask? You’d hope they’d have the sense to bottle from a fresh cask and send subsequent refills for blending. Has Horst prejudged I wonder?
You Tube review by Horst Luening: