Scotch whisky has a built-in image and reputation. It exudes class and sophistication just from its appellation. But what about a bottle that makes some big promises but doesn’t provide any actual details? That’s the case of the Shieldaig Speyside single malt scotch whisky.
William Maxwell & Co. Ltd (now known as Ian Macleod Distillers) is a distributor for scotch whisky in Scotland. Founded about 80 years ago, and self-declared as the 10th largest whisky company in Scotland, the company is best known for its blends and re-bottling of other distilleries’ over-production under their house brands.
Like some of their other brands, this specific spirit comes from the overflow of an undisclosed scotch whisky distiller somewhere in the Speyside region of Scotland.
Where exactly is that distillery? What’s their process? Who knows. Certainly they aren’t telling us anything in the packaging.
What we do know (or at least, what’s claimed on the bottle) is that this spirit was produced somewhere in the Speyside region of Scotland from 100% malted barley, bottled near Sheildaig, and has been aged for at least 18 years.
Interesting to note: Shieldaig, where this bottle claims to come from, is a city in Islay, Scotland. Which is a completely different scotch-producing region than Spey, where this scotch claims to originate. The two statements are technically correct: the spirit was (allegedly) produced in Spey and shipped to Islay for bottling, but they make everything so much more confusing than it needs to be.
There’s nothing remarkable here. The bottle looks like a standard scotch whisky bottle, tallish and round with a rounded shoulder and a short neck.
There’s a label on the front with some bare minimum information about the spirit and some history about the “Loch of the Herring,” which would be nice if either (A) this spirit was actually distilled anywhere near the Loch of the Herring or (B) we actually knew what the source distillery was. In this case, it seems that the label is there specifically to try and add some false lore to the spirit purely for marketing purposes.
The bottle is capped with a plastic and cork stopper.
The primary thing I’m smelling from this spirit is caramel, something I’d usually expect from an American bourbon. Behind that is a bit of that peat smoke and some citrus, but it’s way in the background.
When you take a sip though, the flavors swap a bit. The most forward flavor is the citrus with a bit of peat smoke, and as the spirit sits in your mouth eventually those flavors fade and the caramel vanilla notes take over.
The bare minimum for a scotch whisky is four years in a barrel. The “punch you in the face” Lagavulin is typically bottled at 16 years. This has been aged for a full 18 years, old enough to vote in the States, and I feel like that’s allowed the whisky to drop some of the more typical hallmarks of a Scottish spirit and adopt some of the stronger American flavors.
With some ice, those caramel flavors melt into the background, leaving just the citrus notes and some of the peat smoke behind. I actually think I also pick up on some floral items coming forward, something I didn’t even notice when taken neat.
In this format it actually becomes something close to the “fingerprint” of a traditional scotch whisky.
I appreciate that it’s the hardier caramel flavors that disappear. All too often the more delicate aspects are sacrificed and only the strong survive, but here it seems like the ice is blocking and tackling for the weaker and more interesting fruity and floral flavors.
All in all, it’s not a bad scotch whisky. A bit fruity and heavy on the caramel flavors, so it’s probably a good fit for the American market. I really just wish that the provenance of this spirit was less of a mystery, and that they had been more forthcoming with their marketing.
Shieldaig 18 Year Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Owner: Ian Macleod Distillers
Classification: Speyside single malt scotch whisky
Grain bill: 100% Malted Barley
Aging: 18 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $56.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
It’s a solid product, but I prefer my tall tales told by storytellers and not labels on whisky bottles.