Tag Archives: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s Speyside & Highland – Any Winners?

Last year on St. Pat’s, I obligatorily took a look at some Irish whiskey. My favorite at the time was Trader Joe’s brand – and in subsequent encounters I’ve still found a lot to like.

If you’ve been browsing the various discussion forums or are a redditor, you’ll have doubtless seen mention of the new Trader Joe’s offerings, a 10 year Highland and an 18 year Speyside. Could Trader Joe’s repeat their Irish coup? Sku of Sku’s Recent Eats and I decided to split the pair of bottles to see. We’ve got a joint review going!

These bottles, it’s worth mentioning, are cheap. Ridiculously cheap. 10 year old Highlander for $20? Yes, please. 18 year old Speyside for 26 bucks!?  Since these were Speyside & Highland, we ran a pretty solid chance of not encountering remnant stock of the old FWP-infested Bowmore.

It’s kind of amazing how these can be offered at this price when all we read about from producers and bloggers (myself included) is the ever-increasing price train thanks to those hobgoblins of increased demand, tightening stocks and rising price of materials. However, if that distillery name is off the label, suddenly the price is screamingly reasonable… curious. I won’t call bullshit on anyone yet, but I definitely am more curious about the emperor’s clothes now…

Age before beauty: Let’s shake thing up and start with what might be the deal of the (young) decade – the 18y Speyside.

The nose is fruity and rich, with a light waxy quality. It’s got apples, light pears, a slight dusting of sugar, gentle malt, faint white pepper. It’s really vibrant and rich. The palate starts out unexpectedly woody; there’s a light earthiness and some fruity sweetness opening up. It’s slightly dry on balance with a light apple skin, but it’s dominated in large part by the lightly bitter wood.

The finish is malt-forward, followed by some dry wood, but with plenty of fruit – it’s long on apples and pears. It’s an enjoyable enough malt – a gorgeous nose to be sure – but the bitterness really mars it. It’s got a very rich flavor and is surprisingly robust for 40%, but the dry bitterness just doesn’t work for me.

OK, not bad for a whiskey that costs about 70 cents per year it was aged. What about the 10y Highland?

The 10y Highland starts with a bit of doughiness upfront, and is slightly thin and sweet. Some acetone notes flutter in and out on the nose; light maltiness fills it out. It’s slightly young, but not offensively so. The palate is watery, but sweet with some gently insistent malt. There’s a slight pleasing spicy tingle on the tip of the tongue and a light touch of wood.

The Highlander finishes malty, with cookie dough and heavy brown sugar. Apple skin and faint earthiness with a touch of pear round it out. It’s not bad for a 20 buck single malt, but it doesn’t do it for me – it lacks a certain focus on the palate and the nose is a bit young.

This may not seem like a ringing endorsement, but let’s step back and have a brief sanity check. These are both less than 30 bucks. They’re totally drinkable. No distillery is going to let its best product get out super cheaply under a store brand, so we should temper our expectations. I like the richness and clarity of the 18 and if I personally was restricted to a $30-and-less bottle, I personally would choose the 18y Speyside. I can see a very good argument for the 10y Highlander, but it reminds me a little too much of some underdeveloped, underaged whiskies I haven’t enjoyed. I’d imagine it’s a product of a third-fill or so cask; it’s got no clear off notes but it’s just a not my personal style.

However, if you’re in the TJ’s whisky selection, I think the clear winner is the Irish to this day. But after you’ve picked it up, go to the freezer section and buy some of their mini-pot-pies… enjoyable!

Read the review at Sku’s Recent Eats


At a glance:

Trader Joe’s Highland Single Malt Scotch 10y 40% ABV
Nose:  A little doughy upfront, slightly thin and sweet. A bit of nail polish remover, a hint of acetone. Lightly malty.
Palate:  Watery but sweet, with gently insistent malt and a slight pleasing tingle of spiciness on the tip of the tongue. Slight wood touch.
Finish:  Malty to finish with a bit of cookie dough and brown sugar. Some apple skin and a faint touch of earthiness; some pear.
Comment:  Given a 10y single malt for $20, it’s not bad. In absolute terms though it doesn’t do much for me.
Rating: C+

Trader Joe’s Speyside Single Malt Scotch 18y 40% ABV
Nose:  Fruity and rich; a little light waxy quality; apples, light pears, slight dusting of sugar, gentle malt, faint white pepper.
Palate:  Woody upfront initially, slightly earthy, with some fruit-based sweetness opening up after a minute. Leaning towards a slight dryness. Slight apple skin.
Finish:  Malt comes forward a bit more on the finish, still some slightly dry wood, and plenty of fruit – long again on apples and pears.
Comment:  The nose is enjoyable enough but the bitterness mars this. I think the flavor is richer than the 10y and it’s robust, but that dry bitterness doesn’t work.
Rating: B-

It’s St. Patrick’s Day Soon, That Must Mean It’s Time For Irish Whiskies

Far be it for me to be clever and decide to review something else this week. Nope, Scotch & Ice Cream has had a gaping hole in its content in the form of Irish whiskies.

I’ll confess, I’m not normally a fan of Irish whiskies – I’ve had very few that do anything for me. Sure, Bushmills is OK; Midleton Very Rare isn’t bad either, but there’s never been anything that really makes me sit up and say “this is really for me!”

However, as a predictable slave to the calendar, I decided to visit a few that I had sitting around before St. Pat’s and see if there was anything worth recommending. Today’s choices are all low-cost, standard offerings that should be easily available (less one).

The Market Leader

I’ll admit: I’ve never had Jameson. I didn’t really know what to expect. My first guess was bland, syrupy sweetness — you can’t sell that much whiskey with a disagreeable taste!

The nose was thin and piney and had a bit of acetone initially. There was a little honey but it got overrun by the overwhelming Pine-Sol aromas. Hiding out behind the cleaning products was a little grass and grain. Not a good start. The palate was very thin, slightly bitter and sour. Light honey continued from the nose, but the pine and resin notes were really strong and overwhelmed everything. There was a bit of gentle heat. The finish was predictably short with some cinnamon and vanilla, but those grassy and piney notes continued.  There was a little graininess as well.

Unfortunately for me this one scores very low. The piney, resinous, cleaning product note just overwhelmed everything for me and fouled the taste. Combined with some bitter wood notes, it had me grimacing and wincing like a bad western. I didn’t find it any better with ice, with water, or in a hot toddy – they all focused it on the note I could not deal with. This may not be as bad to some (LAWS scores it higher than I do) but for me this is a near total non-starter.

The Old Familiar

Bushmills is an old but somewhat forgotten whiskey for me. It was a mainstay of hot toddys in college when sore throats kicked up. It was great in that role – but I wouldn’t rate my college-era palate as particularly discriminating. The question was how this would hold up to the memory.

The nose is expectedly watery, with some honey, a slight sour apple note and a fair amount of maltiness. The palate was light and watery; heat built with a touch of pepper. Some maltiness, a little honey and some general grain. This was offset slightly by a bit of sour apple flavors and a slight bit of wood bitterness. The finish was again quite fast with some gentle heat, honey and malt. There was a bit of earthy dry grain that dried out to bitter wood.

Overall, Bushmills is OK. It’s more watery than I remember. The sour note wasn’t objectionable like the stuff that killed Jameson for me, but this is a totally OK and safe choice if you want to be as predictable as me this weekend and have some Irish whiskey.

 Actual Ice Cream Content:
I’ve had ice cream made with Bushmills and honey and it’s a nice treat. The maltiness is perfect and it has a good if generic “whiskey” flavor. The honey does a lot to cut the sour notes I mentioned so this is a fun treat. You can find the recipe we used here and I’d say it’s worth it when things get warm. 

The Store Brand

I had received a sample of Trader Joe’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey from the Cooley distillery courtesy my friend Sku in a recent sample swap. This seemed like a reasonable point to try it. Now, a note – the Jameson and Bushmills standard offerings are blended whiskies consisting of malts and grains. The TJ’s is a single malt so there’s bound to be some difference. But how different?

The nose is light and malty with a hint of new leather, but not in the overbearing way some Islays can betray. Slightly lemony and grainy, but with a little dried fruit and floral top notes to balance it out. Already, much better. The whiskey had a nice medium body with strong malt notes and a bit of lemon as well as some biscuity flavors. It’s earthy and oily, but not in a way you’d expect out of an Islay. The finish had some heat – cinnamon and pepper with a touch of chili oil at the end. Malt dominates again but the biscuit notes are more assertive. There’s a little shiso and mint on the tail end of the finish.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. I expected being a store-label brand that it’d be a complete dog. Instead, I found something with good earthy, oily, industrial funkiness but well-balanced and tempered by the malty notes. It’s very approachable. It’s also impressive that a store would put their name on something that probably isn’t going to be for everyone. The word is the price on this is $20 and I think at that price it’s a no-brainer.

So, unfortunately I don’t think the best option is one you’ll find out in a bar. So go out, celebrate in whatever manner you find appropriate, and then swing by TJ’s on the way home to pick up some of their single malt. Of the inexpensive options I’ve looked at here, it’s by far the best.

At a glance:

Jameson 40% ABV
Thin and piney with a bit of acetone up front. A bit of honey but it’s overrun by the pine-sol vibe. A little grassy and grainy. 
Very thin on the palate; slightly bitter and sour. Lightly honeyed; the pine and resin notes are quite strong. Gentle heat throughout. 
Short finish, a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. The grassy and piney notes are still present; it’s lightly grainy. Relatively quick finish. 
The finish resolves to a reasonably OK sweetness, but that kind of harsh piney resinous note up front is hard to overcome. That note also takes a bit of woodiness and almost gets medicinal for me. Ice focuses the palate even tighter on the piney and resin notes. This one is not for me – too much wincing, grimacing and shuddering like I was drinking rotgut in a bad western. Even objectionable to me in a hot toddy.

Bushmills 40% ABV
Watery with a little honey, a slightly sour apple note, a fair amount of maltiness.
Light and watery in the mouth, heat slowly building with a touch of pepper. Some maltiness, a touch of honey, and a bit of general graininess. Slight apple sourness to it as well. A slight bit of wood bitterness.
Quite fast, with some gentle heat, a bit of honey and some maltiness. A little bit of slightly earthy dry grain. Dries out to slightly bitter wood.
It’s blandly OK. I think it’s a bit watery; the sour note isn’t bad but not altogether welcome. Still, you can do a lot worse. 

Trader Joe’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey (Cooley) 40% ABV
Nose:  Light and malty with a hint of new leather (in a completely non-Islay way). Slightly lemony. A bit grainy with a very slight floral top note. A little dried fruit. 
Nice medium body. Malt heavy, lightly lemony, slightly biscuity. This is a bit earthy and oily as well (again, in a distinctly non-Islay fashion). 
A bit of alcohol heat – cinnamon and pepper with a touch of chili oil. Malt heavy, a little biscuity; some faint notes of shiso and mint. 
This is a really interesting whisky. It’s got some of that earthy, oily, industrial funkiness of my favorite Islays but it’s done in this restrained, approachable style. It’s set against a good, hearty maltiness and it just works. At the price it’s a no-brainer.