Yesterday, my inbox was inundated with a fusillade of headlines proffering (and not for the first time) a bargain bottle of whisky from Aldi as the finest in the world, and my blood (again, not for the first time) boiled.
The headlines, oh the headlines: “ALDI OWN-LABEL WHISKIES NAMED BEST IN WORLD” (the capitals alone are enough to make a reasonable man wince), and “Aldi’s $17 Whisky Was Just Named the Best in the World“… These statements, while excellent clickbait fodder, are simply not true.
Now the last time we got wind of Aldi’s liquor receiving any accolade, it was for a rosé which won a flurry of medals and awards (some of spurious repute, others not). An initial idea, to have a professional sommelier rate it (and perhaps other wines from Aldi), turned into a full day of Hinoki Opens a Bottle with the S1 Essential Wine Knife, which we (luckily) filmed (there was little chance of remembering much).
We also had a whisky expert come along for the ride, and a comedian, because why the hell not?
And there were some winners, too. A AU$7.99 bottle of Mosel proved to be delicious, as did a AU$12.99 shiraz from the Barossa. They also sell a bloody tasty champagne for a clean lobster, which tasted more like something for which you’d expect to pay thrice the price.
But they also sell a LOT of crap–which is fine, by the way, it’s cheap liquor. Nobody is expecting it to be Louis XIII–and this is why this continued track record for winning award upon award is so perplexing.
Until you take a closer look at two things: the awards they’re actually winning, and the nature of those awards.
I’ll start by drawing your attention to an article published by ELLE last year, lauding Aldi’s then-recent win of no less than five awards. While factual in nature, it casually glosses over the fact that the 2017 Melbourne International Spirits Competition, which it cites as its source for these awards, is not exactly the Walkleys of the liquor industry.
In fact, a quick glance at the results page and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the award categories themselves were casually created as the (paid for) entries came rolling in for obscure brands. There are wholly separate categories for Germany Gin of the Year, Germany Liqueur Distillery of the Year, Germany Rum of the Year and Germany Vodka of the Year, but not a single for Gin of the Year. Or Tequila of the Year. Or Even Scotch of the Year. Need I remind you that this is the MELBOURNE International Spirits Competition, a competition which received fewer than 190 entries, and nothing from any major distiller? There’s seemingly, and very conveniently, a specialty category for every single entry.
Including Australia Cream Liqueur of the Year.
Aldi’s Highland Black, the 8-year old blend which has once again been lauded as the GOAT by every digital outlet from here to the Hebrides, is a genuinely crap whisky. I know, because I have half a bottle sitting in the liquor cabinet–a rarity in the sense that nothing ever lasts longer than three days in there. Highland Black has now made it past the one-year mark.
Seriously, I drunkenly polished off a half-bottle of Midori over this last week.
Chock-a-block with de-flavoured spirit caramel E150a, which bestows the iconic “piss” colour endemic to all whiskies struggling to find any meaningful hue after their time spent in a third-fill cask, the look alone gives the impression of a crappy spirit. But it doesn’t stop there. Acetone and, in lesser amounts, isoamyl acetate (fake banana) dominate the nose–this, unfortunately, doesn’t much dissipate with air.
The front palate is harsh and slightly bitter, even. There is some attempt at incorporating a peated influence, but it tastes more like it’s been filtered through an ashtray from the pokies room at Rooty Hill RSL. There is some caramel and chocolate in there, but not quite enough to make a Fantale, let alone a 700mL bottle, taste palatable.
The finish is, unfortunately, quite long–normally a sign of quality I’ll admit, but here just a sad reminder of the liquid you’ve regrettably rolled around your tongue.
Which brings us to this week’s barrage of shoddy coverage, claiming that, somehow, this whisky is THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
So it scored a gold at the Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters Awards for this year, which were announced last week. So did three others in that same category alone. And gold isn’t even the highest accolade this particular award-granting body doles out–it’s called the Scotch Whisky Masters Awards as the best outcome is to be labelled a “Master” by the panel. Nobody in that category got “Master” status.
But 91 other golds did get handed out that day. In one category, “Blended – Standard”, and I swear I’m not making this up, EVERY entry was given gold. All seven of them.
Blended – Standard is basically the same as the Participation Awards every kid got handed out in Grade 2.
Oh, and that judging panel? Not a single distiller, blender, or retired distillery manager amongst them (though they did include an assistant bar manager, a whisky blogger, and a “whisky influencer”, whatever the fuck that is).
I could literally keep ripping this scam of an awards system apart for another 900 words, and wax (or, perhaps, wane) poetic about the sheer shittiness of this whisky, but I’m just going to finish on two points.
Firstly, Aldi’s cheap-ass whisky, as I have demonstrated with a fraction of the evidence available, is pondwater. And I say that with some apology to pondwater. That’s not to say that Aldi isn’t bloody terrific for everything else, mind you. That riesling is genuinely delightful–a class act.
We once bought an AU$60 unicycle for our office from there, too, and their budget coffee pods are par excellence.
And secondly, next time you see a clickbaity looking article, pumped out by some poor intern who’s filing 3000 words a day for less than living-wage, send them this. Because headlines like those aforementioned aren’t just lazy, they’re irresponsible. They can have consequences. Serious consequences.
I mean fuck… Somebody might actually end up drinking this awful bloody whisky.