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Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Battle of the Scotch: Lidl vs Aldi

Ahhh... we're bombarded with Christmas adverts at this time of year, trying to sell us everything from shaving products through to the ubiquitous seasonal canap├ęs.

But instead of choosing just one supermarket and nailing your colours to the mast, these days the power is in the hands of the (mobile) shopper.

Having lauded the whisky selection currently available in Waitrose, with 'big name' brands such as Highland Park and The Balvenie at "prices you'd be made to ignore" (picture Saul Goodman-esque advert with giant neon stars flying into view) there are, of course, alternatives... if you're prepared to take a wee gamble.

Of course, with the Scotch Whisky Regulations keeping a tight hold on what can (and cannot) be labelled as ‘Scotch’, it’s not so much of a gamble when buying a bottle with those six letter on; certainly not as much of a gamble as buying a ‘meat pie’ at a lower league football ground. Ahhh... the Saturday ritual of the mystery meat pie. Like Russian roulette with meat and pastry.

So, where can you spend your chips in this casino of flavour, this saloon of Scotch? Well, as you would expect with Waitrose, you’ll get a brand name. But at Lidl and Aldi you’ll hear the call “Gentlemen, place your bets!

These two cut price supermarkets have, over the past few years, engaged in something of a price war on Scotch and this Christmas, Aldi have taken the bold step of selling a 30 Year Old blended whisky under the title Glen Orrin. Well priced at £54.99, how does it taste?

Glen Orrin – 30 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky – 40% abv – 70cl - £54.99 at Aldi

Nose: A hint of smoke is backed with juicy fruit chewing gum, runny honey and figs. It gives a well balanced and tempting aroma, over time developing into travel sweets, milk cholcate and malted milk biscuits.

Palate: Delicate and easy drinking, it would be nice if this were at a little higher strength as it is a touch watery on the palate, although this would mean fewer bottles and a reduced opportunity for the punter to buy (as well as more money in Her Madge’s pocket from revenue). It is a very easy drink and this has been well constructed with some good old Scotch whiskies in the mix. Honey and vanilla would be the key touchstones here.

Finish: More vanilla, with a touch of dream topping and some smoke.

Overall: Yes, a very good whisky for the money. I’d wager that you’d be better off with two bottles of HP12 from Waitrose, however for the money.

At the other end of the scale, a trip down to Lidl to pick up some of their excellent red wine to sup over the Christmas period found me purchasing a bottle of their Abrachan NAS triple matured blended malt Scotch whisky. Matured in ex-Bourbon, Sherry and Tawny Port pipes, coming in at just £17 it was always going to find its way into my trolley. So, let’s find out if a NAS at £17 blended malt can compete with a sub-£55 30 year old blend...

Abrachan – Triple Matured Blended Malt – 42% abv - 70cl - £17.99 at Lidl

Nose: Well, this isn’t old. It gives spirit, caramel and some flapjack notes. The port sits at the front of the aromas while the vanilla is there, if not a little lost, sandwiched by the sherry on the bottom end. Not the worst blend I’ve ever nosed- far from it... it is a lower, entry level blended malt but for £17 what did I expect from the nose? For the money, it does a very good job indeed.

Palate: A big flavour of malty goodness, this is polar opposite of the smoky beast from Aldi. The sherry and port flavours take the driving seat, fighting a little but after time they calm down, to make way for the spice and vanilla from the bourbon casks. Well balanced? Not quite. Complex? Yes. £17? So far, so good.

Finish: Spices, cardamom, a hint of Bovril meatiness, but that is no bad thing for a NAS whisky as it gives it body and counterbalances the spirit notes of the nose.

Overall: At £17, you can’t go wrong. Far from the greatest whisky on earth, it certainly represents value for money. Where else can you pick up a blended malt for £17 these days?

So there you have it. One good whisky at 30 years old and one excellent whisky for £17 (please consider that statement in conjunction with its price point). In a league table, I’d still take the brand names at Waitrose over the gambles at Aldi and Lidl, but if your wallet has less than £20 in it, then a bottle of the Lidl blend will see you nicely through to the New Year. But if you can afford it, follow Heston to your local Waitrose.