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Amber Lights: German discount supermarkets offer some great drams

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A trip to discount supermarkets could bag you a bargain bottle, finds whisky writer Brian Townsend.

All supermarkets have for years produced their own in-house lines of spirits – rum, gin, brandy and whisky.

Many of them are very good and are available at often knockdown prices in England, but sadly not in Scotland where minimum pricing means in-house spirits cost as much as big-name branded ones, which totally defeats the concept of competition. But I digress…

The two German supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi have long had their own blended whisky brands – Queen Margot reigns at Lidl, Highland Earl and Highland Black rule at Aldi – and in more recent years both have launched their own line of unnamed single malts, Ben Bracken from Lidl and Glen Marnoch from Aldi, that have often won praise from the whisky and trade press.

Not to be missed

Both offer no-age-statement Speyside, Highland and Islay malts, plus some special aged one-off bottlings, usually around the festive season.

As the prices of older single malts have gone through the roof in recent years, a chance to get a festive bargain bottle of malt in its later teens or early twenties is an opportunity not to be missed.

Ben Bracken.

So this year’s Lidl offering, a 16-year-old Ben Bracken Islay malt, bottled at 43% abv, available from late November at £34.99 a bottle, found plenty of takers.

Long viewed by some as too peaty, Islay malts have seen sales soar in recent years as drinkers, especially overseas, discover they can be as varied, fascinating and refined as malts from any other area.

So what is Ben Bracken’s Islay malt like? On initial nosing and sipping, I found it deceptively light, spirited and slightly sweet, with the trademark smoky-peaty Islay impact under, rather than over, stated.

However, it was very more-ish, sip-by-sip filling one’s mouth and nose with a pervasive peaty presence that lingered for ages after the glass was empty. Not that it stayed empty for long…

I spent an evening trying to pinpoint which distillery it came from. But every time I thought I’d identified it, my tastebuds and memory banks had second thoughts. Never mind, it’s a great dram.

More in this series:

Amber Lights: Brian Townsend explores alcohol’s close chemical cousin vinegar

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