The Beginning, Part I – Some rough notes on the McClelland Islay 5

The first step in my journey to what is now a love affair with Scotch Whisky began with something not too pleasant. This post isn’t meant to be a review in the standard sense, as my encounter with this whisky was way too many years ago. It does, however, explain the first step in my Scotch journey.

In my second year of college, my lovely housemate (knowing that whisk(e)y was my drink of choice) bought me a bottle of McClelland 5yr Islay with a card that read [paraphrasing], “This was my intro to Scotch. Hope you enjoy it!” At the time, I did enjoy it—I preferred it to all other ‘standard’ drinks, enough to believe that Scotch was my drink. In hindsight, the McClelland 5yr was good only insofar as it did that. I remember it being harsh, with strong alcohol, and if you tamed it with water, it lost much of its peaty flavour—which was a shame, because that’s pretty much all it had going for it.

Nose: Peat, saltiness, alcohol

Palate: Very much like the nose. Peat, saltiness, and alcohol.

Finish: Like the nose and the palate before it, but without the alcohol.

Grade: D

While I wouldn’t drink this one again by choice, I will credit McClelland’s 5yr with two things:

1) the whisky sold me on peat. Peat was delicious, and I wanted more.

2) It gave me the false impression that older whiskies must be better.

While I thank McClelland every time I pour an Ardbeg or a Laphroaig that it taught me the wonders of peat, and in the end, the plus of 1) outweighs the minus of 2), it took me years to give young whiskies a chance again. My first response to a cracking young whisky would be “Imagine how amazing this would be at 12, 15, or 18 years!”. It took me years to pick up on the fact that these drams were crackers because they were young. Peat, for one, loses robustness with age. Part of me now cringes at the thought of what the Laphroaig Quarter Cask might be at 15 years (not to mention that a QC would probably saturate the whisky after that long…)

As you can see from my rankings, and will see from further reviews, No Age Statement (NAS) expressions make up five of my A- and A ranked whiskies, of which 2 are very young, and the others probably have a significant portion of young whisky in them.

I’ll impart that lesson here: age doesn’t imply quality.