Monday, 23 January 2012

Budget Brands, and what I did at the weekend

I stated in a previous post that it isn’t necessary to stock up on all the best or prestige brands. If you’re making cocktails you really don’t want to waste the good stuff, so a good standard brand or even a decent supermarket’s own brand will suffice in most cases. If you’re lucky, you might even find a cheap bottle that you can drink on its own.

The king of budget brands for me is Aldi’s 8 year old blended scotch, Highland Black. There’s also a non-aged variety called Highland Earl, but I haven’t tried that one. At £11.99, Highland Black is an affordable alternative when you’re out of ‘the good stuff’ and don’t have £20-£30 to be spending on a (cheap) single malt. It’s probably not one of those ‘savour every drop’ sippers, but add a bit of ice and all you’re missing is a nice cigar.

I have read somewhere online that Highland Black isn’t actually scotch, and that it’s made in Australia. However, the cap says, “product of Scotland” and the label says, “distilled, blended and bottled in Scotland”. So, seriously; I’m going to have to accept that it is scotch. Frankly, the source of the controversy isn’t reliable – an anonymous customer review that I can’t find now, having just had another cursory scan…

For an affordable, entry level blend that you can keep returning to, I recommend it.

Having gotten a little carried away with the idea of testing budget brands for their drinkability, I trialled a glass of Tesco’s attractive ‘Budget’ brandy, while watching an episode of An Idiot Abroad 2 recently. I seem to remember buying it at least 4 years ago for £7.99, for use in cooking. Haven’t even done much cooking with it… but yeah,  it’s drinkable… if you’re desperate, I suppose.

Another one I tried was Tesco’s Imperial vodka. That one has the merit of having a more authentic looking bottle (than the Value brandy), not being named after a Russian literary figure, and being cheaper than your standard Smirnoff… which I’m coming to think of more and more as a mixer drink only.

A full investigation into vodka and its uses will be necessary in the future, but for now I just want to say that I wondered whether the Imperial vodka was drinkable in its own right. So I stuck it in the freezer for an hour or so, and poured a measure into one of the ‘vodka glasses’ (pictured below) that I’d bought in the Habitat closing down sale.  And you know what? It was all right. It’s been a while since I’ve drunk vodka seriously, so I don’t really have any field of reference, but if it’s drinkable neat, it’s got to be ok, right? 

I used to be particularly fond of Stolichnaya, and I’ve been itching to get hold of another bottle for a while, so I’ll have to make that happen pretty soon.

Now, it’s time to move onto the fallout from the weekend’s events. You might remember that Friday night’s plan involved my fiancée Brenda taking part in a blind taste test, pitting the king of Irish Creams, Bailey’s against Aldi’s cheap pretender, Ballycastle.

Brenda had read my Friday post before leaving work, and she arrived home quite excited about the prospect, so we wasted little time in pouring two drinks over ice, which was how Brenda wanted it. You’ll notice from the booze porn that the Bailey’s was a miniature bottle. It had been hanging around a while, and I can’t remember where we got it from. The Ballycastle has been hanging around longer than the bottle says you should keep it too, but it doesn’t seem any different to me. You’ll just have to excuse the lack of scientific accuracy in our experiment.

I think some people keep their Irish cream in the fridge. Ours hasn’t moved from the top of our kitchen cupboard, but I think that’s fine – I’ve just seen on that you need to store it at between 7 and 25 degrees Celsius; Manchester rarely gets warmer than that anyway.

I’m afraid I’ve neglected to compare the ingredients, but I remember reading recently that a lot of budget Irish creams are made without whisky, and that Ballycastle does contain whisky. Unfortunately that’s all I can say on that matter, so we’re just going to have to let it be.

In terms of alcohol content Bailey’s clocks in at 17% while Ballycastle only manages 14.5%.

This being our first blind taste test, no precedents had been set beforehand. I decided that first Brenda should see if she could determine which was which by looking at them. Then she would taste them and decide which she preferred, before guessing which was the Bailey’s.

She was able to tell, just by looking, which was which, and it was fairly obvious. The Bailey’s is noticeably thicker and more luxurious looking. I didn’t reveal the true identities at this point, but nevertheless Brenda decided she preferred the Ballycastle, though she rightly surmised that it was Ballycastle that she preferred.

I had a little taste, too and I think I prefer the Bailey’s. I’m not up to date on current prices, but I think an equivalent sized bottle of Ballycastle would save you around £7 on the Bailey’s. I can’t really say the Bailey’s is £7 better; just a bit better. So when you come to weigh up pros and cons, the Ballycastle is an acceptable alternative, in my opinion. Do I want to pay Bailey’s prices? No. Do I want a bottle of Irish cream to occasionally make cocktails with and perhaps drink over ice? Yes. So while Brenda prefers the Ballycastle, I don’t but would still buy it. As ever, it’s up to you.

The other thing I said I was going to do at the weekend was try my Bruichladdich Rocks as its creator intended it – over ice, early in the evening. So this is just a brief note to say that I did, and that it was very satisfactory but I still think it’s nice enough to drink neat,and I only have a small bottle, so I don't really want to waste it.

I didn’t get around to buying any spring water to add to my scotch, but I will another time.

Finally, I didn’t mention it before but it was my birthday at the weekend, and Brenda pulled out all the stops to make sure it was memorable. So big thanks to her. Included in her gifts was a book of ‘101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die’, which I’m sure I’ll be dipping into for research purposes fairly frequently and this:

This is the single malt, Jura Superstition (43%), one step up from the standard Jura, and it appears in the 101 Whiskies book, which was nice because it turns out Brenda bought the bottle a while ago unguided… or rather, guided by a hefty discount in Tesco. What was also fortuitous was that the book states it’s a good one, but all the other Jura’s aren’t. So she did well there. I think I’ve tried the standard Jura, and I don’t think I was overly impressed. I’ll let you know a bit more about this one as I make it further down the bottle. I now have 6 bottles of whisky on the go, and I’m thinking that may be too many… though I’m sure my official birthday bash in a couple of weeks will help sort that problem out…How many bottles is too many?

That’s it for now. Later in the week I’ll be posting a feature about booze tourism in Venice, and there may be one or two more posts too, so please come back soon and feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. In the meantime... enjoy yer booze.


  1. That Tesco brandy is for cooking purposes only!

  2. can i just note while aldi malibu tastes the same you could drink it all night an not get drunk, aldi amaretto is similarly weak albeit not THAT weak. I am also going to attempt aldis ballycastle this week, although i can highly recommend irish knights as an alternative anyway. Apparently the best amaretto is LIDL's.
    I am also sure to try the buvarian highly praised wheat beer from aldi, which i am quite assured is going to be excellent

    1. Thanks for reading Pezz, and of course, for the information. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for the Irish Knights. I have tried the Lidl amaretto, and its fine for mixing, though a little sticky if you want to try it neat or over ice.

      You may also be aware that there is a Ballycastle Premium. I got to trying that recently and should have a post up soon.