What is a Mystery Malt?

Credit: bigbahookie

Credit: bigbahookie

Many years ago, I was in a Costco in Delaware when I discovered that Kirkland had a branded bottle of single malt from Macallan.

Back then, I knew far less about scotch compared to today. I knew the name – The Macallan – but I knew little else.

The price was right, I bought a bottle… and quickly polished it off (cursing myself for not buying more!). It was good.

For the longest time, I thought that was a mystery malt. The mystery wasn’t in the distiller (duh, Macallan) but in what was inside, since there was no age statement. I would later learn that it’s not technically a mystery malt, it was simply Costco/Kirkland bottling The Macallan. You can see all sorts of bottlers do this nowadays and more of the bottles in stores. The label will be standardized for the bottler and then you’ll see a distillery name underneath (usually with the year it was bottled and sometimes an age statement).

A mystery malt is something completely different and the inspiration of this post came from our Facebook group where reader David found a mystery malt at his local Trader Joe’s – Lismore.

Lismore is a mystery malt.

A mystery malt is a blend of a variety of whisky where none of the names are (usually) listed publicly.

As you’d imagine from a Trader Joe’s branded product, home of the Two Buck Chuck, Lismore is pretty cheap – usually under twenty bucks. And we have no idea what’s inside. Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell any alcohol in Maryland stores so I’ll defer to David McCowan’s writeup on Chicago Foodies but apparently it’s not bad… for $18. 🙂 [another review on Whiskey Catholic]

A fan favorite of Scotch Addict readers, Monkey Shoulder, is also a mystery malt. It’s one of the few that lists the malts included, in this case Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. Those more experienced with Monkey Shoulder will know that you can buy Balvenie and Glenfiddich in almost any store, finding Kininvie is nearly impossible because it’s not sold (more info on Kininvie distillery here on Master of Malt) publicly (yet).

I’m skeptical of mystery malts and would caution you to do more research about it before buying one.

Many of them lure you in with a cheap price (Shieldaig Speyside 18yo is tempting at $40) but you have to recognize you get what you pay for. There’s a reason a good 18 yo single malt starts at $80, don’t expect to get the same when you pay $40.

Oh, and everyone I’ve ever talked to has warned me against McClellands. 🙂

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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6 Responses to What is a Mystery Malt?

  1. David Christiansen says:

    Thanks for the mention on my Lismore find at TJs! I think it’s a solid value at $18 but it not my favorite by any means. Would be a great beginners scotch though for someone wanting a taste of Speyside!

    • Jim says:

      I find that’s common for those mystery malts, but hey, if you try it and you love it – you’ve just found a fantastic value (ie. Monkey Shoulder for many folks).

  2. Willl says:

    Great article, educational and comfortable reading, a nice match for the subject as always. Pretty much the only place I have bookmarked on this new hoby I’ve picked up.

    Anyhow, I am still a bit confused, and maybe I am just missing an obvious angle on how this works out, but: If, for example, Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three well-respected single malts (or two, at least) then how does the price dip below that of the average of the three single malts that go into it? Are these dirtier or less careful, or very young versions of Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich single malts? Is the balance tilted way towards the cheapest of the three? Is there a fourth “filler” scotch involved that brings the price down?

    I understand that blending might be a good way to achieve consistency, or to tailor a taste profile. And I understand that it can also dampen the character achieved by quality single malts. But I am not sure how the “you get what you pay for” works out, especially given the price point on the ingredients for an explicit (though possibly-misunderstood) example like Monkey Shoulder.

    • Jim says:

      Thanks Willl – to answer your question, it’s tough to say why it’s lower than each (Kininvie isn’t for sale so it could be the reason) individually. You point out to a lot of what I’d guess too. It could also be that Kininvie makes enough to go into blends but isn’t special enough to warrant making it a single malt, no shame in that, and so this is the next best and most profitable venture for it. It could be Balvenie and Glenfiddich don’t age everything as much as 12 years or whatever, so some of the volume goes into these types of products so they maximize revenue.

      Also, remember that the price point is a function of the product costs plus marketing and branding, etc, so even when they sell MS at a discount to your standard Balvenie and Glenfiddich, they’re still making a profit and still capturing a segment of the market they might miss with their core.

  3. Tina Haumersen says:

    If Monkey Shoulder lists what’s in it, why is it considered a mystery malt?

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