McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Review

McClellands Isaly Single Malt Review
McClelland’s Islay Single Malt is a “mystery malt” (or bastard malt) that is put out by the Morrison Bowmore company who, as the name suggests, owns Bowmore which is an Islay Single Malt brand. Even though they have never said where the Islay juice comes from this connection has led many to believe, myself included, that it’s just young and undesirable barrels from Bowmore.

As a general rule I have nothing against NDP whiskies, because at the end of the day it’s all about the quality the brand sources and when it comes to McClelland’s that quality has always been lacking for me. Many NDPs, like Cadenhead’s, Cheiftan’s or Signatory, pride themselves on picking and bottling cherry casks. McClelland’s on the other hand seems to go the other route and bottle the barrels distilleries don’t want and then market them as cheap single malts, but even at their low prices I still feel ripped off after tasting what’s actually in the bottle.

McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Review

ABV: 40%
Age: NAS
Price: $30
Bottler: Morrison Bowmore

Old straw

An ambiguous sweetness comes up first followed by some smoked meat, peat and lots of vanilla. A light tropical fruit (banana heavy), a bit of melon, smoked fish and brine. Little hints of iodine, dried fruit, turmeric, char and a fairly strong alcohol burn give this an aroma that has promise, but gets beat down by the stronger funky notes.

All malt and no bite. Some light notes of vanilla, banana heavy tropical fruit, coconut, a little char, a little peat, a little smoke and a weird funk. The nose is vastly more complex than the palate with this whisky and that absence makes it feel like something is missing.

A light nutty character with some malt, banana, Nilla Wafers and weird funk. It’s mercifully short.

Everything feels off; like the whole thing is working against itself. The light and watery body makes it feel lifeless and simplistic giving it the texture of a ball bearing rolling around a track.

The nose is surprisingly agressive and comes off like a complex argument. The palate on the other hand is remarkably dead in comparison which leaves the finish to be the best part of this whisky and that’s not saying much. I’m convinced that Morrison Bowmore uses the McClelland brand as a dumping ground for undesirable barrels which they then overcharge for.

SCORE: 75/100

Josh Peters

Josh Peters

I read about, think about, write about, and drink whisk(e)y. In short, it's my passion.
Josh Peters

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26 Responses to McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Review

  1. This stuff is heavy on fusel oils and it gives me a headache no matter how much I drink. I’ll stick with the quality of Laphroaig.

  2. I bought a bottle of the McClellands in 11/2015 just looking for another working, lower shelf, blending Scotch to consume after my 1st drams of da good kine–(my working everyday cellar now is several cases of Laphroaig 10 and Lappy Cask 10, Ardbeg 10 and Ardbeg Corry). At Unhappy Hour, 1700 h local, I have the lower shelf malt 2nd time around after my 1st cup of da good kine, (unless I miraculously get another bottle of Ardbeg Alligator that needs a little whiff of taming, but Ardbeg tells me Alligator will occur no more!!! Ach, NO!!). I am a student of Jason Debly’s site and will now also be a student of yours. So, not completely by default but by some serious work and trying ( I am a research medical scientist by training), my best lower shelf bottles of blended (having tried MANY) are still Teachers and Islay Mist, but I completely agree with Jason Debley that both blends have been hopelessly DUMBED DOWN to gain market share among the Unwashed Masses and have lost most of the peat and smoke they at one time had. Black Bottle dumbed it down on purpose and then wrote about it, what drool. Eff their luck. I was a huge fan of Islay Mist when I first tried it 3 years ago but a case bought this year proves to be a mere shadow of its former self. So I will be sticking with Teacher’s until I find a better player. Have recently tried White Horse (same problem) and the Grouses (same problem). It seems that the money is into blending Scotch for girls and not manning up to lay on the peat and smoke it could have, should have. E.g., Costco has marketed their own Kirkland Brand single malt scotch and it is a dead on MacCallan ringer-ultra sugary ultra sweet Faygo red pop sherry casked bottle. The last bottle of McCallans someone gave me I poured down the sink. That is what I think of it.
    Will continue to follow you. Help us to fight the good fight for peat and smoke and no shilling!!

    Re the McClellands, if found it not vile, just lame, like Grouse, White Horse, and everyone else who could do it properly if they wanted quality over market share. BUT, there it is.

    Brad Selden MD, single malt Islay Smokehead
    Camped in SemiTruck Conversion RV with 3 bird dogs
    Grand Marais MI USA

    • I always love reading other folks thoughts on the stuff I’ve drank. Gives a nice perspective. I have several different releases of White Horse that I plan on opening and doing a side by side to see how things have changed over a couple decades. That’ll be happening in early 2016 and looking forward to it. Haven’t had it in a while, but from what I’ve read – and your comment – I don’t have high hopes for the recent stuff.


  3. Today I finally purchased my first single-malt, on a whim. The price caught my eye and the name sounded authentic to my inexperienced ears. I thank you for these reviews. I was wondering if a single malt was supposed to taste of automotive parts cleaner with a subtle hint of body odor and cheap cigar smoke. When properly applied, it might prove effective in chasing the moles away from my vegetable garden.

  4. This is complete swill that I gave to my friend who will drink anything. He dumped this sh1t down the drain. Avoid it like the clap.

  5. It’s amazing how harsh your critics are when you actually pay for the whisky Peters. This guy never tasted a whisky he didn’t like when he gets samples from the companies. This stuff costs 17 $ at the local Woodmans-what do you expect for young, off cask whisky? I’ve had worse stuff that Ardbeg passed off at 50 $. For 20$ there charging what it’s worth- a taste of Islay you chase with a beer and save the good stuff for another time.

    • You obviously don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I’ve panned (C’s and D) stuff brands have sent me. You’re just a fast flying ignorant tourist with a big mouth. But you’re, kinda, right about something “what do you expect for young, off cask whisky?” – I expect it to be crap… and it was. Next time you decide to troll someone you should do a little back log checking because there are plenty of examples of me giving terrible reviews to stuff people sent me. Just look up Kikori and Brenne.

      As for your opinion about Ardbeg putting out worse stuff than this garbage… well that’s your opinion. The only Ardbeg I’ve had that’s comparable to this is the Blasda. Everything else they make I’d take over this any day of the week. This stuff is pure swill.

  6. Josh, this Edinburgh native is sadly in complete agreement with you – we’ve been tricked by clever marketing (it is NOT what it says it is on the bottle) – I’m going to try and “save” the bottle with a 50/50 mix of Johnnie Walker Red, that’s the old Scottish Cheapskate in me (I get that from my Grandparents) 🙁

  7. Thanks for the review. I live in downeast Maine and thanks to tourists I can find good Islays like ardberg and nicer at places that are open bankers hours. But after work and on weekends I’m usually buying my liquor at the grocery store and this is the only islay they carry. The price (23$/750ml) and desperation tempt me but I knew it sounded too good to be true. Even at that price point it sounds like a waste.

    Now if I could only find kilchoman machir bay (my first islay expierence) somewhere near me. I

  8. It’s not great….. But the bottle I had does not deserve the “dump it down the drain” label. I agree it has some off, undesirable characteristics. I think its important to keep in mind what it is and the price point. For me this was a low end peaty scotch. I confess after having a dram, I contemplated having another (an unusual feeling for a peat lover). But lets keep the price point and the fact that there consolidating unwanted barrels in mind. In the end i think this is not a overwhelmingly flawed scotch and is very young. If your looking for young scotch that is killer, I suggest Kilchoman. They don’t have the history of ardbeg, bowemore, laphroiag, or lagavulin but everything I have had has been mind blowing. Back to McClelland’s i think you get what you pay for, but personally I think its worth a purchase. I know its blasphemy but this has become my go to for scotch mixed drinks. Ive had a few scotch cocktails at the bars made with laphroiag and recreated with McClellands with success. For me its a waist of laphroiag (I would rather have a dram)….. But I digress. If you think that this bottle is somehow a miracle and offers a cheap substitute to the Islay brands we know and love, you will be disappointed. If you treat it like a bottle that was made from bowemore’s undesirable bbls, you may find a place for it.

  9. Peter, you might have simply got a small batch. Period. A batch is comprised between 50 to 400 casks and greatly evolve and change from year to year. I’m currently drinking a McClelland’s Islay tonight and read your review, the stuff is good, there’s absolutely NO WAY they dumped down barrels they didn’t like, most likely barrels that don’t “fit” the Bowmore profile they are looking after. Speaking of which, even Bowmore is greatly different from year to year, batch to batch. To all whisky drinkers here, whisky is just like wine, it’s different year over year, and that’s because no two casks taste alike. So the whisky you tasted roughly two years and a half ago no longer exist on the market shelve, today it’s a completely different malt. Everything changed. It always does. I think this is the most misunderstood thing about whisky.

    • So you’re basically saying that all master blenders should be fired because their attempts to make a uniform product year in and year out are entirely in vain. Yes products change, that’s why I re-review things years later, but the entire purpose of a master blender in a distillery is to attempt to make a uniform product so unless there’s huge shifts in distilling methods or cask sources nothing should be off by too much year to year. Batches 1 year to 2 years shouldn’t be massively different unless it’s something that doesn’t have a master blender behind it and they’re just dumping whatever into it… like McClelland’s.

  10. This stuff is great. One of the best values in whisky out there. Slightly cheaper than Black Grouse and slightly better. Certainly better than JW Red. Black Grouse and this are probably the best scotches for under $30.

    • It’s really not that bad, just a bit watery. I liked their Highland version better. Have not tried the Lowland or Speyside editions yet, but looking forward to giving them a chance.

  11. well Josh I can’t say that you don’t know your stuff (single malt)but I have to disagree with you to an extent – I bought a 750 of this to see what I thought – and to my taste (which is the point of my drinking – and to base line myself, my favorite is Lagavulin 16 year old followed by Laphroaig 10 and Talisker etc – immediately I thought about Monkey Shoulder (blended malt which is a great bang for your money in my mind)for to my taste one of its main drawbacks was finish and some excitement on the content – I then did a little mixing with Laphroaig and some others and find that I made a decent blended malt for my money – one that I can pour after I’ve been spoiled by a good single malt and yet still appreciate a nice smokey, peaty nicely finished dram

  12. i’ve purchased several McClelland’s Islay in USA And actually have been fairly impressed. The fact that its price point is well below most most single malt brands is a bonus. When I first saw it at a reasonable price, I said why not try a bottle. I found it quite had a nose similar to Laphroaig 10. Sure it’s not a $70USD or more kind of special occasion Scotch. But for the price, it’s a nice frequent taste.

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