I was asked recently at a charity scotch tasting what my current sleeper hit was. What scotch could you go buy, right now, that was a great value for the money?
I answered with the current 23-year-old mystery single malt available only at Costco. It’s sold under the Kirkland’s brand, and bottled by well-known independent bottler Alexander Murray, the source of both Costco and Trader Joe’s single malt.
Surprisingly, this giant independent bottler of Scotch whisky is actually based in California. Founded in 2004 by Scot Steve Lipp, it’s named for his great uncle. Independent bottlers (or IB’s) offer a way to enjoy a scotch from our favorite distilleries, often at a fraction of the price of an official bottling, or OB.
For example, I recently bought an IB 25-year Bunnahabhain for $150. Their OB 25 is around $700 now. It’s not the same flavor profile, for certain, but it does offer a great value for the age.
So why the secret? Unnamed bottlings sometimes happen if the distillery needs cash but doesn’t want to compete with its OB’s, so the sales contract stipulates that the name cannot be mentioned. As you can imagine, producing a product and then warehousing it for 20+ years before selling it creates a cash flow problem. So they sell barrels, or more often, entire tankers of distillate to IB’s to put into their own casks, age in their own warehouses, and then bottle and sell under their own labels.
I watched the Kirkland 23 Sherry Finish sit on the shelf for months before buying one. I had purchased the previous releases, a 22-, 20- and 18-year, and was unimpressed. They were fine drams, but not at all memorable. Not anything I would buy again.
So I was content to let it sit, until fellow member of the Flatwater Whisky Society (aka Scotch Club) James sent a text saying it was amazing. Then a week later, Heath chimed in and seconded the notion, and I thought I’d give it a shot.
I was blown away by how good it was! Bottled from one of the 50 or so Speyside distilleries, there is no hint as to the source of the distillate. Finished in sherry casks for almost two years and bottled at a very nice 46%, it’s best neat, or with a few drops of water. A nice spicy finish contrasts with the sweet sherry notes. You can sure smell the classic sherry notes of raisins and dates, similar to the earlier releases, but the difference with this is the palate and finish – some nice orange and Christmas mulled spice or cinnamon. It’s available until it’s gone at Costco. Priced at $79.99 in Lincoln, I’d grab two!
Whisky news and notes: There’s a new Glenmorangie out, called X. It’s a no-age-statement single malt, made for mixing in cocktails. Described as soft with lots of vanilla notes, it retails for around $40. Until next time, sláinte!
The author, Mark Feit, is a Certified Whisky Ambassador and has visited 57 distilleries in Scotland with his father, Bob. You can reach Mark at email@example.com.