I think I’ll eschew all the over-detailed prevarication for once, and just jump straight in with this one. This is the next Whyte & Mackay blend up from their standard Special expression. Funny how the scotch industry is always calling the most basic expressions special and signature and reserve… it makes it sound like they are the cream of the distillery’s output, when in fact they’re the worst, and could easily put you off trying anything more expensive from the distillery in question.
Anyway, I got massively soaked footing it hotly over to Asda one lunchtime in order to take advantage of a pretty good deal. It was £17.50 for 70cl, and while the label at Asda didn’t indicate that this was any discount on the normal price, all the standard online retailers were selling it at £17.94 (or, in one case £22.57) before P&P. That makes it at least £5 cheaper for a start. According to Bring a Bottle, the price generally tops out at around £23, and has been as low as £17, so for now, this seems like a decent (if not outstanding) pay day deal.
Now, I have tried the Special before, and I remember thinking it was ok, but I also remember using it to add a bit of a kick to my cans of Holsten Pils on occasion – so a pretty standard but decent cheap brand name blend. All I remember of The Thirteen is that it was part of a blind tweet tasting when I was a member of TheManchester Whisky Club, and that everyone was impressed with it. There’s a possibility that some of us thought it was a single malt. It will be interesting then, to see what I think of it now.
Let’s first have a little look at what the rest of the internet thinks about it. The Whisky Exchange introduces it with, “believed by many to be the best value of the range” which isn’t saying much as, excepting the bottom of the range special, the rest of the range costs £150 and up. So it really just has to be better quality and value than the Special to achieve that particular accolade.
The user reviews on TWE are exclusively favourable, but none say anything interesting enough to repeat here – except one that describes the presentation as “masculine” and a welcome change from “French perfums [sic] like bottlings”.
User reviews at the other most useful online supplier, Master of Malt, veer violently from one side to the other. On the negative side we’ve got “for me is just water… almost no taste”, “worst and cheapest 12 years old or more whisky I ever taste”, “made me shudder… barely drinkable”, and “Richard Paterson should be ashamed!”
You might be wondering who Richard Paterson is. I was. He’s Whyte & Mackay’s master blender, and appears to look like a cross between Allo Allo’s Rene and Des Lynam.
On the other side of the fence though, we have “one big surprise… and I was quick to buy another bottle”, “anyone that says this is a poor whisky doesn’t know what they’re talking about”, “Lovely… a great dram”, and, the best of all, “I am from America and all my gay friends love this whisky.”
I’ve read a couple of amateur blogs that have been to Whyte andMackay’s website, and are making a thing out of a so-called “triple maturation process”. One in particular claims that the whiskies are aged in sherry casks for 12 years, before the grain and malt whiskies are then married for a further year. I’ve got to say though, the detail on the website is a little vague. First off it says they choose “the finest aged single malts and and aged grain whiskies from… Highland and Speyside”. The thing to note there is the use of the word “aged”. So these whiskies have already been aged, but for how long?
Next they age the malt whisky (carefully – whatever that means) and separately age the grain whisky (less carefully, it seems), but they don’t tell us how long for. Then these are married in sherry casks. It’s really not enough information, is it?
Then check this; “we’ll let our master blender tell you a bit about how he blends Whyte & Mackays’s Scotch Whisky to get our award-winning smoother, rich taste”, it says. I can’t wait for that. Go ahead, master blender:
“I believe our triple maturation process gives the blend the key to its success – time. Time to harmonise and time to form a perfect union: an ideal partnership.”
And that’s it. What a load of useless bullshit. Triple maturation. Part of that maturation would seem to have been done by the original distillers! At least it does if you can understand English and use that understanding to interpret the words as presented.
This triple maturation is lauded as being unique, but is it? All it is, is taking some malt whisky and blending it, taking some grain whisky and blending it, aging them for a bit, blending them, and then aging them a bit more.
So is it any good? Well, on first opening I was very impressed. This is a touch above the standard blended scotch fare, I thought to myself, as it should be, given that it’s a touch more expensive, too. But… I came to be less impressed over time. My favourite whiskies tend to improve for a few months after you’ve opened them. Low cost blends probably tend to stay about the same. This one started good, then regressed to the level of a standard blended scotch; a little harsh, a little sweet, fine for drinking early in the evening or following closely on the heels of a beer, but not something I’d recommend you pay that bit extra for on a regular basis – or even more than once. It is probably marginally better than the Whyte & Mackay Special overall.