...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 31, 2015

WTF Is This? Shieldaig Highland Peaty Single Malt

WTF Is This? is back.  Today......to the cheap stuff!

Shieldaig Highland Malt (I added 'Peaty' above because that's what Total Wine's website calls it) is one of Total Wine & More's "Spirits Direct" brands, which means that it is a generic-style product sold exclusively at Total Wine.  Except it's also sold at Ace Spirits in Minnesota, which is something I cannot explain.  (It can be explained!  See the comment section below.)  Anyway, there are a number of Shieldaig whiskies -- NAS 'The Classic' blend ($14), a 12yo blend ($17), NAS Speyside single malt ($18), 12yo Speyside single malt ($30), 18yo Speyside single malt ($43), and this NAS Highlander ($18).

A new Total Wine branch just opened up in Long Beach and they've been sending us coupons every other week for their Spirits Direct and Winery Direct stuff attempting to lure me into buying one of these things I'd otherwise not consider.  So I took the bait, a 10%(!) off coupon, and moseyed over to the store.  I was tempted for a moment by the 18yo malt which was $38+ with the coupon.  But I realized that 18 years or not, that whisky would have me out 38 bucks (plus CA sales tax) if it was crap.  More intriguing, and much cheaper, was the peated whisky.  The "Highland".  Yes, quotes.

While in the store, I tried to figure out which Highland distillery provided the whisky.  The town of Shieldaig is in fact in the Highlands, in the Northwest.  What was nearby?  Ben Nevis made peated stuff for blends.  Out East was Glen Ord which used a little bit of peated malt.  But then again, the brand Shieldaig also made an unpeated Speyside so the Highland distillery didn't necessarily need to be near the town, a town name that was probably just used for branding purposes.

When I got home from the store, I did something I almost never do: immediately open the bottle.  Yes indeed, the whisky was peated.  But I couldn't find a specific distillery style.  And then while admiring the bottle I noticed this:

A classic Highland Malt from the Islands...

So.  If we're really going to use the now outdated Scotch Geography (because the brand uses it for its products), the Islands are not part of the Highlands.  "The Islands" is its own region.  So Highland, is really "Highland".  Another imaginary branding device, "Highland" conjures up images of tougher stuff than a Speyside.  But if it's from "the Islands", which distillery could it be?  Is Highland Park trading away their duff barrels?  Peated Jura?  It's doubtful that Diageo is handing over any Talisker at this point, especially since they're already using their crap casks in their own products (OOOOOOHHHH BURN!!!).  Maybe it's peated whisky from Mull; baby Ledaig is that you?  I don't know.  But here are my notes.

Label: Shieldaig
Owner: William Maxwell & Co. Ltd.
Retailer: Total Wine & More
Distillery: ???
Type: Single Malt
Region: Highlands Islands
Age: no statement
Maturation: probably ex-bourbons of multiple types
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? It is likely so.
Artificially Colored? Probs.

Its color is very gold.  Since the whisky is probably younger than this blog, e150a was likely deployed generously.  The nose is very peat forward, which is a surprise.  There are notes of rainsoaked sheep and dry dogs.  It is sugary, with plenty of caramel.  Slightly floral.  Caramel sauce with cinnamon.  Something like cinnamon peat.  Cassia cinnamon bark.  Some ethyl.  Less peat in the palate.  Very sweet.  Thin watery texture.  Barley, vanilla, and more cinnamon here.  The occasional weird sour and bitter notes vanish quickly.  The finish made up of peat, heat, vanilla, and touch of tartness.

I was about to write this off as a low C- whisky, slightly better than Grangestone's NAS Double Cask and Finlaggan Old Reserve, but then, as I usually do for reviews of cheaper whisky, I fixed myself a highball.  And it wasn't bad.  In fact, it didn't even need any bitters.  It delivered peat, grain, vanilla, and caramel in a straightforward flaw-free way.  And that's how I'm going to recommend it: 1 part whisky, 1.5 parts soda water, no bitters, ice optional.  I'm not saying it's orgasmic, but it'll do.

As for the whisky's source?  I don't know.  It's in a simple peaty state wherein they could probably change up the source when needed without much fuss.  I would be interested in this as a 12 or 18 year old (and a 43%abv wouldn't hurt) and would pay the Speyside prices for it.  But I doubt there's much 12 or 18 year old peated whisky being tossed aside right now.  In the meantime, this is what Shieldaig is slinging.  It's not incredible, but it is peaty, it is a single malt, it is better than Finlaggan Old Reserve, and it is $18 (or $16 if you have the current coupon!).

(Another great reader came through with some info about Shieldaig and the possibility of the malt being Talisker.  See the comment section below.)

Availability - Total Wine & More
Pricing - $17.99
Rating - 77 (best as a highball!)


  1. I believe Minnesota's laws forbid store exclusives (though I think casks selected by stores fall outside this). I can't remember where I read this and indeed may entirely be making this up.

  2. Aha! For a change I know what I am talking about. See here: http://www.startribune.com/total-wine-unleashes-competition-in-minnesota-liquor-sales-but-local-dealers-spy-its-vulnerability/310351791/

    Especially this bit:

    "But the state also presents some competitive difficulties that don’t exist elsewhere. Minnesota’s existing liquor sellers have been able to gain unusual insight into Total Wine’s business because of a state law prohibiting liquor retailers from making deals to exclusively sell any alcoholic product. Instead, liquor must be sold through a distributor that every retailer can access.

    That means all of Total Wine’s products, including its private-label Winery Direct and Spirit Direct items, can be ordered and sold by any Minnesota liquor store. Any Minnesota liquor dealer can also see Total Wine’s wholesale prices.

    The law is part of a broader regulatory structure that was built over decades to ensure that smaller sellers of alcohol products won’t fall prey to larger competitors and to carve out room for both municipal and private dealers."

    1. Wow, you've found it, My Annoying Facts! "...a broader regulatory structure that was built over decades to ensure that smaller sellers of alcohol products won’t fall prey to larger competitors..." That's some friendly socialist stuff. Though I'm curious how much the smaller retailers will benefit from the Spirits Direct products. The wines aren't half bad though, as we here have been exploring. Thank you for the information.

  3. There does happen to be plenty of young indie Highland Parks floating around (as well as Ledaig). However I'm thinking this might be a Finlaggan situation where they might rotate the whisky's source based on what's available.

    1. That was my thought as well. As it stands the peat is pretty vibrant, I'd say on par or stronger than most Caol Ilas. So I'm leaning towards Ledaig for now, unless there were strangely heavily peated casks of HP and Jura bobbing around the marketplace. I'm assuming if they used Islay malt, then they'd be selling an "Islay" whisky because $$$.

  4. Hi there,

    Shieldaig was a label owned by independent bottler Ian Macleod. The Shieldaig collection was sold in the name of Ian Mcleod subsidary William Maxwell & Co. Ltd.

    Clan Mcleods home island is the Isle of Skye and Ian Mcleod has sold Talisker in various gises and under various names.

    At the moment there seems to be no mentioning of the Shieldaig brand on Ian Mcleod's homepage.


    1. Ah ha! Thank you Kallaskander! I'll put an addendum at the end of the post. It turns out that Total Wine does have a little page mentioning the Ian MacLeod connection: http://www.totalwine.com/eng/guide-to-spirits/shieldaig.cfm

    2. Me too. There may need to be more crowdsourcing with future WTFs because some of them are total mysteries to me.

  5. I bought a bottle this past weekend. I thought it was awful. Peaty, yes. But the finish reminded my of Hudson Bay scotch of my youth. 2 oz also knocked me for a loop. Something definitely not right with this batch.

    1. Yikes. Sucks to hear that. Have you tried airing it out a bit? Or tinker with some ice and soda? If 2oz knocked you around, maybe something was seriously wrong with that batch. Maybe it was left out in the heat and sunlight by the transport folks or Total Wine.

      BTW, I think Hudson Bay is still on the market in some locations. I'll steer clear of it.

  6. as usual I read the reviews after I bought a bottle.. it's strictly medicinal stuff lot of peat and not much else original reviewer nailed it. Weak taste after the peat and chemical aftertaste to boot

    1. Thanks. It's a good thing you didn't lose too much $$$ on this one. A chemical aftertaste is never a good sign with a whisky.

    2. Most horrible drink ever. Has the nose of a fine 90% rubbing alcohol, the forward taste of mercurochrome, and a lingering palate of latex Band-Aid.

      I'm throwing it out to avoid liver damage.

  7. My wife brought this home late in the afternoon and I liked seeing Highland on the label. But, the nose gave me immediate concern. Indeed, the taste proved extremely smoky and peaty; not my preference. I poured it over one cube of distilled water, sipped it down and it was still in my sinuses at 2 AM after a fine meal of salmon and chardonnay. I am hoping to return it since I consider the Highland labeling to be misleading.

    1. Good luck with the return. That dirty peaty note tends to come from very young (like 3-5 year old) peated stuff. The issue you had is similar to the one I get with Finlaggan. FWIW, if you're still stuck with Shieldaig Highland, it brightens up in a highball.