A couple of years of analyzing reader engagement here on Thirty One Whiskey has taught me a few things, one of them being that there’s a not-insignificant level of interest in affordable spirits. So I’m going a bit off the beaten path for you, dear readers, to look into a cheap scotch that I haven’t heard a lot about: the Highland Queen Majesty.
Knowing the distillery where a specific scotch whisky originated is actually a pretty new idea. Historically, scotch whisky had been available primarily as a blend — wine and spirits merchants would purchase bulk whisky from distilleries and then blend them together, labeling the finished product as their own and producing it for sale. More and more distilleries have been producing a house brand of single malt scotch, but there is still plenty of blending and re-labeling happening in modern Scotland.
Founded in 2004, Alexander Murray & Company Ltd is a bottling company in Scotland that partners with companies such as Costco, Walmart, and Total Wine to produce a “private label” version of whisky specifically for their stores. They source their spirits from various distilleries around the country and bottle a finished product for sale around the world.
Highland Queen is specifically a brand produced for Total Wine, named after Mary, Queen of Scots, who ruled Scotland in the middle of the 16th century and (following the murder of her husband, and a subsequent marriage to his supposed murderer) was forced to abdicate the throne and flee to England where she was imprisoned and later executed.
Since this is a “white label” bottling, there’s quite a bit of detail that has been removed from the equation. We have no idea really where this whisky comes from, neither the distillery nor really the region. It claims to be a highland single malt scotch, but that isn’t necessarily a guarantee.
What we do know from the legally defined markings is that this is a single malt scotch whisky. As such, it was distilled and aged at a single distillery, and aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. According to the packaging, this whisky was further matured in sherry casks, but the specifics of that process are not disclosed.
Its not bad for a white label packaging. The bottle is a pretty typical design, mimicking a wine bottle style with a bit more pronounced flare in the neck for easier pouring. The whole package is capped off with a synthetic stopper.
While the label is still a bit large for my taste, it doesn’t take up the whole bottle. There is plenty of room remaining to see the color of the spirit within, which is a win in my book. The label design is relatively simple, with a single reflective metallic image of a mounted horse rider and the branding information.
As is common with scotch whisky, the bottle comes in a cardboard protective sleeve.
The aroma coming off this glass is thick and syrupy, with a lot of the same qualities that you would expect from a sherry. There’s a good splash of vanilla in there along with some sweet and fruity aspects like orange citrus and apple, in addition to a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon, and other baking spices. Think warm Christmas apple cider with a cinnamon stick and you’d be pretty close to the experience here.
Initially, things taste pretty much the way they smell. There’s some honey sweetness and some fruity notes combined with baking spices to provide that sherry experience we saw hints of in the aroma… but about halfway into the sip, there’s a bitterness that starts creeping in and nearly ruins the party.
That bitterness lingers long into the aftertaste, which is unfortunate. Otherwise, there are some good spicy notes that are trying to make a name for themselves and some toffee flavors swirling around as well, but that bitterness just doesn’t let them settle down.
Usually, a bit of ice tends to improve the situation. It can remove bitterness, enhance flavors, and tone down some of the more strident aspects of a spirit. But in this case, unfortunately, it does the exact opposite of what we’d hoped.
Instead of removing the bitterness and allowing the other flavors to flourish, what has happened here is that the bitterness is all that is left. The other flavors were just too light and delicate to withstand the power of the ice cube, but the bitterness remained a bitter (pun intended) clinger to the end. It does get a little better as the spirit continues to be watered down, but at that point all I’m getting is the equivalent of a dash of orange bitters in a cup of ice. It really isn’t much to write home about. And yet here I am writing about it on the internet.
I like the idea of a sherry finished scotch whisky, and there are some darn good ones on the market. But in my opinion, this one falls just short of the mark. There are some good flavors promised in the aroma and some hints of greatness in the background, but ultimately the whisky just isn’t able to make it work.
|Highland Queen Majesty Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt|
Produced By: Highland QueenOwned By: Alexander Murray & Company Ltd
Production Location: Highlands, Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
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Overall Rating: 2/5
Maybe this whiskey should abdicate its title of a scotch and live in exile. That would be fitting.