Trader Joe's Scotch - Lismore Single Malt

April 26 2013 - 11:00 AM

The Trader Joe’s in the South Loop has begun to sell hard liquor. The selection is not very deep, but it is interesting and pulls together classic stock like Stoli, Hennessey and Bailey’s, as well as local spirits such as FEW white whisky, Next Star vodka and North Shore gin.

But what most caught my eye were the Trader Joe brand exclusives.  The grocery chain is famous for their private label wine – two buck chuck, anyone? – but this was the first time I’d seen a store negotiate their own bottlings of single malt Scotch.

After poking around a little online, I found that while we may just now be getting this mystery hooch, California has had plenty of it for some time now and the reaction has been mixed. Independent casks of Glenlivet and Bowmore were panned (and mercifully do not appear these Chicago shelves), while two generic “Highland” and “Speyside” malts showed value, even in the lack of complexity.

LismoreBut our shelves hold an even less discussed bottle under the label Lismore. This Speyside Single Malt without any age statement, is priced at the hard to believe – and impossible to pass up – $17.99.

Lismore is what is sometimes called a “mystery malt.” There is no distillery in Scotland with that name and there is no website with any reliable information. It is instead a black sheep of one of the big boy lines, that—due to young age, flaw, or simple oddity,—doesn’t want it around mucking up their good brand name. The collective speculation of the internet is that Lismore is likely a 5-8 year mix of single malt from the Glenrothes distillery, but no one official will confirm nor deny.

But, with all that preamble, the only important question is, “Is it any good?” Surprisingly, yes it is.

Lismore has a very sweet, pleasant nose reminiscent of sherried Scotches, though on the tongue it’s much drier and restrained. It is certainly a young whisky, and you can taste the heat on the first sip, but it’s not unpleasant. The follow-through is relatively gentle with cascades of woody resin, caramel and honey.

This is a simple whisky playing a single note, but an enjoyable one priced exactly right. Everyday drinking doesn’t need to be transcendent and it can’t be expensive. Lismore fills the niche well.

Lismore Single Malt, 40% ABV (80 proof), $17.99, available at Trader Joe’s South Loop

Color: Darker than expected; a deep amber or burnished copper.
Nose: Sweet, fruity and sherry-like; slightly floral (clover); rich and malty with caramel and toffee.
Palate: Initially astringent, followed by a burst of spice and youthful heat; the mid-palate is caramel and honey with woody, resinous notes; dry toast; a distinct lack of fruit despite the nose… but maybe unripe peach along with whiffs of orange hidden deep; the flavor is restrained and a bit closed, as if there are flavors waiting to pop out, but never do; a (not necessarily distracting) twinge of something artificial, soapy.
Finish: Mid to long finish, gradual and gentle; drying; no surprises; lingering.