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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  If we're really going to use the now outdated Scotch Geography (because the brand uses it for its products), the Islands are not part of the Highlands.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!)