McClelland’s Islay Review

McClelland’s Islay033

40% abv

Score:  68/100


Hi there, Mr. Young-And-Feisty-B**more.  You’re not hiding behind that thin disguise.  We know who you are.  The whole charade is much like an accomplished author writing under a pseudonym in order to publish trashy romance novels on the side

I assume (rightly or wrongly) that the idea behind this whisky, and the others in the McClelland’s line, is to provide an affordable entry level single malt to the market, but one which can be churned out quickly and subject to nearly no scrutiny, due to its lack of any age statement or overt lineage declaration.  Not a bad idea really.  And there’s no denying others have succeeded using a very similar tack.

But here’s where I take exception to what is, in all concession, a rather noble and clever concept:  An entry level malt has to be enjoyable, otherwise it’s not only an ‘entry’, it’s also an ‘exit’.  If any of the expressions in the McClelland’s range were among the gateway malts I tasted as I was cutting my teeth, it’s highly possible I would have turned tail and run for a beer.  No kiddin’.

Put simply:  These are not good whiskies.  They’re actually not even average whiskies, if I’m to be dead honest.  They’re too young…too feinty…probably built from the distillery’s lesser casks not selected for better vattings…and I hate to say it, but poorly put together.

The sad irony with McClelland’s Islay (ignoring the rest of the range for a moment in favor of the one we’re actually reviewing) is that peat usually works very well when young.  That’s simply not the case here.  Again I’ll come back to the top-heavy feinty notes which throw this whisky into an off-kilter weeble.

In my local Canadian market this retails for about $35.  I recommend saving your allowance for an extra week or two and opting for a proper B**more.  Even the entry level B**more 12 year old will more than do the trick.

Nose:  Peat and smoke, of course.  And some farmy aromas.  Yeasty.  Alcohol/vodka notes and an untamed feinty-ness.  Barley and Realemon concentrate.  A candied sugary note…kinda overly sweet.  A little bit of currant and licorice.  Candy apple.

Palate:  Ouch.  Gave me a shiver (and not in the good way).  Like chewing malted barley.  Sharp alcohol bite…very astringent.  Tart (bitter, actually) fruit skins, more citrus and burnt coffee.  Needs many more years of hibernation before this would be properly drinkable.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

46 thoughts on “McClelland’s Islay Review

      1. Jeff

        True, but while we agree on Black Grouse, you have it over McClelland by a narrow margin, while I like the latter by a far wider margin. I think it has to do with expectations: as a survey of the flavours involved in the regions, I think they’re alright, if raw. As an introduction to single malt they might well be a turn off, but to see where older versions of Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch have their roots, they are of interest – and more evidence that age maturation indeed matters.

        1. ATW Post author

          Valid points. Wish you were local. Could use someone with your articulation and understanding of whisky here on ATW.

  1. two-bit cowboy

    Your first paragraph is brilliant, your commentary / review are spot on, and your rating is most generous!

    This one comes to mind when I hear folks say, “I tried Scotch once, and I hated it.”

    1. ATW Post author

      Low prices are great, but I’d rather pay a bit more, get a bit less and actually enjoy it.

      If I’m being completely honest here, I would actually turn down a free bottle of this stuff. Plenty of whisky at my place. The only reason I ever drink malts like this is for reviewing purposes and to create that point of comparison.

      But…if ya like it, ya like it. More power to you. And that is the beauty of all of us having different palates.

      1. Ol' Jas

        I would turn down a free bottle too. It’s nasty. Some of the worst-spent whisky money I ever let leave my wallet was $13 for a bottle of this garbage on clearance.

  2. sandy galloway

    ….I agree that this a lower level scotch, a moonshine, if you will, but you can work through this “B” entry level to develop your nose and basic tasting profile. Hint: take a few drop in to the palms and rub until the scotch oil’s out, then take a deep inhaling. Next chew on it and take another inhaling, take a few sips of your favorite suds, sit back and take in the experience. Do this type of tasting as you work through this bottle, then your nose and taste will be ready for Bows, Arbies and Lagavies. Let’s face it, your first beer wasn’t big in the feet, you may have never had another. Don’t bonk and be of good cheers!

  3. Ben

    Nice review… hilariously true.

    A friend brought a bottle of this junk over a while back and left it in my basement after trying it. Maybe I’ll keep it for when I have kids and use it to deter them from raiding my Scotch collection!

  4. Brian

    Completely agree with your review, but with one caveat. I think it’s fascinating to get kind of this “behind the scenes taste” of a scotch in progress. It’s definitely unfinished. I think it would be an interesting tasting party to have one of these next to a Bowmore 12 just to see the difference.

    Also, this is actually putt good in a drink called The Chancellor.

      1. ATW Post author

        Yep. Agreed. I don’t want a half finished product, even if that was the concept. Either way…it’s not. This is conceived and released as a standalone malt. There is no attempt made to convince us that this is a work in progress. At the end of the day, it’s simply a shitty dram that shouldn’t have been bottled. My opinion, of course.

  5. Brian

    I feel ripped off. I viewed a documentary on Islay the other day on Amazon Prime Video, then looked at the bottle of McClelland’s that I had purchased at a duty free store (I have many of the finer Scotch brands but liked the price). After seeing the documentary I did not recall this distillery, as I assumed it was an actual place. Now I see that I will have to work my way through this as yet unopened bottle and have an inexpensive lesson on marketing. Such is life.

    1. Jeff

      If you get into American whiskey, you’ll find it’s even worse – people talking about “age-old family recipes”, which might be genuine, but leading you to believe that they operate distilleries, when a HUGE amount of product comes from MGPI.

      For an exploration of this, see:

      And for what’s largely a defense of the subterfuge often involved, see:

      As usual at WA, you might find more interesting discussion of the issues in the comments section than the key-note piece.

  6. Tim

    I picked up a bottle of this crap along with my usual poison this weekend thinking I’d try something new. If this had been my first taste of Scotch I’d never drink anything made in Scotland ever again. It wasn’t even palatable mixed with coke which is one of the ways I can cope with a cheap bottle of Jameson.

    I’ve tried some pretty funny tasting whiskey’s over the years but this stuff shouldn’t be on store shelves, it is truly awful.

    1. Robert

      Hah! Shoulda read this site first. McClellan = shit. The producer should be charged with a crime, like attempted poisoning.

        1. Robert

          Probably would kill off any bacteria, if that’s what you’re looking for. Probably a cure for Ebola and all such nasty things, as it is highly toxic.

          1. David

            40% is too low to kill off bacteria or viruses reliably. You need 60%. A’Bunadh would work better, or Amrut CS.

            But those are NAS so I don’t know if it would be appropriate to use as sanitiser.

    1. Jeff

      Yet Grigori’s sentiment (if misplaced against Curt) IS on the same sort of continuum as much of current mainstream thinking on whisky – it’s “boldness”, not subtlety or complexity, that matters (the new definition of quality – a.k.a. “tasty”) and it is, of course, NAS – because age somehow played NO part it making this stuff the rocket fuel that it is. Leave the same base spirit in cask for 20 more years? Why in heaven’s name? Everyone knows that would have no effect.

      Any word as to whether this stuff was “aged down” to 40% ABV?

    2. Skeptic

      I don’t care what Jeff says. I don’t care if my hand sanitizer is NAS as long as it kills the bacteria without stripping my skin off.

      If that means I’m buying into marketing, I’ll do it for the sake of clean hands…

      1. David

        If in fact you are actually getting clean hands…. I think you’re just getting dirty hands with dead bugs in them…

          1. David

            With apologies to LC:

            I heard there was a secret dram
            of NAS, oh what a scam
            but you don’t really care for whisky, do ya….?

            It goes like this, a glass, a whiff,
            a minor sip and a major sniff,
            A 30 YO Brora Halleluya!

            Halleluya, Halleluya…..

          2. Jeff

            Not bad at all.

            Give me back a statement of age
            What, truth is gone, we’ve turned the page?
            I’ve seen the future of fact:
            it is murder.

            Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
            Won’t be nothing
            Nothing you can measure anymore
            The blizzard, the blizzard of the Morgan
            has crossed the threshold
            and it has overturned
            the order of the dram.

  7. Robert

    Bought bottles of Timorous Beastie and Rock Oyster, along with a Kilchoman 2008 Vintage. Douglas Laing site recommends making a Bloody Mary with the Rock Oyster, and after tasting it, I’m going to go get the ingredients tomorrow. I’m betting it makes a killer Bloody Mary. You need to review these batted malts.

    1. ATW Post author

      Hey, mate.

      Appreciate the comment, but wish it was articulated to greater lengths. If, as I assume, this is a defense of the whisky, well…you do realize this actually is a VERY entry level dram? Literally priced below almost everything else on the market. It is not meant to compete with the ‘big boys’, ergo expectations are low. Having said that…this site is about honest discourse. If someone is at risk of dropping money on shitty products and in the hunt for some advice, well…let’s face it…this is not good.

      Cheers, ‘Water’.

      1. Jeff

        Yeah, this whisky survives because of the quality (modest as it is) that it delivers for the price (even more modest, relatively speaking). Some people might call this value (perish the thought).

        JW Blue Label: 88 pts./$300.70 = 0.29 pts./$
        JW Red Label: 70 pts./$29.95 = 2.34 pts./$

        In order for the value of Red to be only nearly equal to Blue, you would either have to rate Red Label around 8.7/100 at $29.95/bottle or, rated at 70/100 with a value of 0.29, its price would have to be about $241.

        For comparison to a decent, but not really expensive, single malt:

        Glenlivet 12: 83 pts./$58.45 = 1.42 pts./$ and Red Label still comes out comfortably on top in value.

        and, for comparison, McClelland’s Islay: 68 pts./$44.95 = 1.51 pts./$. But, for the record, I don’t think this stuff is actually worse than Red Label in quality.

    2. David P

      Aye mate! I find reviews such as these to be mostly subjective based on what is already known about the brand and the price. Put McCleand’s in a plain bottle with no label and watch the reviews change or better yet, re-label as 30 year old Scotch and You will see the snobs gush over it.

  8. Martin N Anderson

    I’m an Islay fan. I prefer Laphroig or Bowmore, but I’m a retired civil servant. I like McClellands Islay better than any blend, better than Bruichladdich, better than Ardmore, and better than any bourbon I’ve ever had. And I can (sort of) afford it. Long live McClellands.

    1. Stephen

      Hear, hear. I am a devoted Laphraoig fan and alsoo love Ardbeg and Lagavulin. This whiskey can’t touch any of those three, but at $25 a bottle it is a drinkable single malt for unwinding after a workday by the fire. I wouldn’t try to pass it off as something it isn’t or serve it to guests as if it were a 50 year old. That said, it beats any blend that I’ve tried, JW Blue included. All that glitters is indeed not gold.

  9. horatio

    The trouble with cheap scotch is that it actually is chore to finish a glass of it. I can get through this and if put in front of me I would drink another. By contrast, I bought some Johnnie Walker Red and I don’t see how I can even tackle it. Also, I wonder if reviewers here are receiving differing concoctions as I would think it would be hard to control variance at this price.I would rate this as 4.5/10 but would rather drink only 6 or above. As for JW Red, 1/10 or maybe half that.

  10. David

    I tried this at a party in December. Luckily I was called away to my sick daughter before I was done so I had to dump half. I gave it a GENEROUS 70/100.

  11. David

    Glad I am not a Scotch Whiskey Expert !

    I find everything about McClland’s enjoyable. The surprising peat taste and the smoothness of this “Cheap” whiskey is quite pleasing for those like me who are not whiskey snobs that think you can’t enjoy a shot without spending 80 dollars or more a bottle.

    If you are not of that ilk and don’t have that budget or the desire to get a loan just so you can enjoy a dram or two of Scotch with a friend forget these negative reviews and just enjoy!

  12. Ong Troi

    I love peated scotch but find McClelland a bit too harsh to drink on it’s own. The complexity of a malt is nowhere to be seen in this pour. Having said that, I’m never without a bottle in my cabinet. McClelland Islay is perfect when I want to add a little peatiness to one of my bourbons. Bourbons are assertive and needs something equally assertive to make any noticable change.


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