Shieldaig Speyside 18 Year Review & Tasting Notes

Shieldaig Speyside Single Malt 18YrMy local big liquor store was recently acquired by Total Wine and Spirits, it was formerly known as Corridor Wine and Spirits, and I saw in a recent circular that they were selling an 750ml 18-year old Speyside scotch for only $40. Any fan of single malts will know that an 18 year old will, almost at a minimum, be double that in price. That price point is more typical of 12-year old single malts and so I was intrigued.

To be perfectly accurate, I was actually skeptical.

Where is Shieldaig?

The bottle said that it was a Speyside and there is a village named Shieldaig located in the Northwest Highlands, which is not anywhere near Spey, so that made me even more skeptical.

It turns out that the Shieldaig on the bottle does not refer to a distillery, it refer to a bottler. Shieldaig, owned by William Maxwell & Co. Ltd (now known as Ian Macleod Distillers I think), buys over-production from other distilleries and labels it as their own (well, more accurately they label it as a Speyside, like in this case, but never claim to be a distillery). They have numerous “lines” to cover different geographic areas, such as Speyside and Highland, as well as blends, such as “the Classic.”

They also have the same bottles without an age statement, which are even cheaper. For example, they offer a Shieldaig Speyside w/o age for only $18 per 750ml.

So when you buy a Shieldaig, you’re not buying a product made in a distillery named Shieldaig. You’re buying one from a bottler that sourced it from somewhere else – in this case it’s a Speyside distiller. By definition, it’s technically a mystery malt.

Shieldaig Awards

I did a little research online and it seems that the reviews of Shieldaig were mixed. I wanted to get a better idea before buying ($40 on a terrible 18 year old is still $40 wasted!) and some of the reviews were less than flattering.

The Total Wine websites says it won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (which is one behind double-gold) and I was able to confirm it in the results – both the 12 year old Speyside and the 18 year old Speyside won golds. The no-age-statement Speyside for Shieldaig won double gold.

I’m not one to put too much stock in awards but the fact that it scored a gold makes me believe that the scotch won’t be terrible. At a minimum, it has to be decent and $40 for a decent 18-year Speyside puts it in the category of I should try it out.

Tasting Notes

  • Color: A light amber
  • Nose: Slight sweetness and woodiness but nothing stands out.
  • Taste: A little sweet, some oakiness, but again, nothing really stands out.
  • Finish: Long and there’s a flavor I can’t place.

When you buy a bottle for $40 and your expectations are relatively low, it’s hard to be disappointed (and I wasn’t). It’s a decent bottle and for $40 I am not disappointed, though I don’t know if I would buy it again. It lacked any sort of distinction for me. It wasn’t fruity, it wasn’t floral, it was just… there. It was a whisky. If you forced me to pick a place it came from, sure I might say Speyside because maybe there’s a hint of sweetness and fruit? It’s certainly not an Islay thought it could easily be a Lowland.

It didn’t remind me of any other scotch I’ve ever enjoyed but Speyside has so many small distilleries that you’d almost never know. Heck, these might even be from a distillery that closed and is just looking to sell off their stock.

The one thing that I didn’t like all that much about it was the finish. It was long, like the friend of a friend who stays at your house after everyone else has left. You aren’t sure how he got there, who he knew, and he’s not a bad guy it’s just that it’s time to go. The guy in the earlier review, Kevin, said it was like two hour old bubble gum – I’ve never chewed gum that long but I can see what he means.


As luck would have it, I had a piece of chocolate later on the in the night and it paired well with the whisky. The long finish just accentuated the sweety bitterness of the chocolate. I wouldn’t go as far as to say you should go out and buy Shieldaig to pair with chocolate, I did find a nice use for the long finish!

My recommendation is that if you’re looking for a single malt that doesn’t really stand out in any particular facet (other than a long finish) but is very affordable, this isn’t a bad choice at $40 a bottle for an 18 year old. Personally, I want some distinction so I probably won’t be getting another one of these.

49 thoughts on “Shieldaig Speyside 18 Year Review & Tasting Notes

  1. Just wanted to say I totally agree with what you stated in your review . I bought this to try… part curious and skeptic figured ok I’ll bite. Also according to the store it was popular and favorite and sells fast. Having tried it wish I’d read this first. To be clear It’s not bad but just not memorable either. I’m also a big scotch fan so I know what all is out there. This my simply be that I had high expectations as it was a 18yo but at same time low expectations due to price. This isn’t a dig against the product but more of a expectations issue and next time if I have $40 to spend I won’t be buying this again instead I’d just go with Glenmorangie original 10yo single malt that cost me $37 where I live.

    • Yeah, my expectations were set because it was an 18yo but then the price made me think… how is this possible? Life is all about expectations right? 🙂 I’d probably go with a Glenmorangie 10 too.

    • Don’t waste your money.
      I did. Spend another $10 and buy almost anything else.
      Literally – ANYTHING ELSE.

  2. I was definitely disappointed. Not because it’s a bad bottle of scotch, it’s not, but because the guy at Total Wine and More told me the same bottling story but finished with, “you’ll have a hard time distinguishing between this and Glenlivet 18”. Not true! Overall it’s not bad, just not great. It’s a great bottle to put in your decanter and serve as an 18 year speyside and have your friends try to guess which bottle you’re serving!

    • That’s probably just something they have the sales people say.. there’s no way you could mistake this and Glenlivet 18. Nooooo way.

  3. Won’t call myself a true scotch whiskey fan. Have enjoyed a few glasses of some really good scotch in my day. Must say this is an excellent buy for the guy that wants to keep a decent 18yr old scotch in his cabinet. It’s really smooth and goes down well with a nice cigar after dinner.

  4. I got this as a present. I’m not sure what you mean by the long finish, but I find it very nice upfront and no lingering taste at all. Very clean finish. I have had the Mac 12 year old, and find this to be about the same. I have been to a Glenlivet tasting and to be honest, I don’t think any of their 12/18 year olds compare to Mac or this. I found the Glenlivets to have a horrible start and an acrid aftertaste.

  5. I got this as a Christmas present from my son. So, for someone who buys cheap scotch for the norm ($22 for a 1.75L), I found it to a nice change of pace. I also got a Grangestone double cask, and as you might expect, I thought the Shieldaig was much better (the Grangestone is fine if you melt one ice cube in it to cut that initial “bite”).

    The Total Wine folks told him this was overstock of Macallan. Can’t say I’ve ever screwed up the courage to pay for that, so can’t say. I will have 10-12 yr Glenlevit and Glenfiddich when I’m on the road; lots of hotels have it priced only a buck or so higher than Dewars. But, the overstock relabeled makes me wonder if we may all be getting something different?

    Bottom line: I’d agree with everyone here on their comments as to “its nothing special”, but, at least for me, I find it smooth at the start, a nice burst of oak/smoke, and I can’t really describe what the finish is for me, except lingering (and that’s not a bad thing).

  6. I am just starting out in Scotches and this was recommended to me as a good starter bottle to get into. I cannot agree more with your comment about it having no real memorable qualities, but from a beginners viewpoint, I don’t really see this as a drawback. The only other Scotch I have had the opportunity to try since has been a glass of Glenlivet 12yo and there was worlds of difference between the brands in both nose and taste. While $40 for a bottle might seem like you aren’t getting anything good, for a first foray into Scotches, this really isn’t a bad choice.

  7. Bought this on the Total Wine “expert’s” recommendation as a substitute for my Glen Livet 15. It did stand out to me but not in a good way! The above review was spot on. The finish on the Scotch was EXTREMELY LONG. That’s a nice way of saying it had an aftertaste that hung around so long I started to get it a cell phone and a social security number. I will finish the bottle if for nothing more than a Rob Roy mixer but next time I want Scotch for that I’ll stick with Famous Grouse.

    • I feel like this is all marketing, they put the 18 like it’s a badge of honor and then price it so cheaply, but it’s definitely got some faults.

  8. Total Wine just moved into town and is taking on the two big gorillas/local chains, Specs and Twins. That alone takes some balls. TW, to its credit, has a lots of scotch and whiskey brands I’ve never, like this Shieldaig 18, which I bit on for $42. But I agree with everyone else. What a bore. Nothing pops. No pizzazz. SnoozeFest 2015. Could have easily picked a 10 y/o and blew this away. But hey, I wanted to try something new. Win some. Lose some. Tonite, I lose.

  9. Agreed with the previous reviews…Especially the comments on the finish. Abit “hot” and aggressive for an 18. Overall, not great, not horrible. I’d rate this a solid “meh”.

  10. Good review, I agree. It isn’t bad. I am having my first dram and am neither underwhelmed or overwhelmed. I’m not a whiskey expert, but know what I like. I tried this because they were out of my usual nightly dram (for some reason, Aberlour tugs at my heart strings and taste buds). This has something, though. Not sure what it is. It might take me a few days to put my finger on it. Definitely not disappointed, it really isn’t bad at all. But, as you said….nothing really distinguishing other than being a solid, simple whiskey. With this odd something that I am starting to like…

  11. Looking forward to trying this bottle I just bought. I wonder, do you ever do blind testing? It would be interesting to see the results on various bottles you have no preconceived notions about.

    • FWIW, at least with Shieldaig, I didn’t have any preconceived notions based on the brand, it was just on the price. I don’t know how it would stand up in a blind test, a good point.

      • After trying this for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised. I am not a connoisseur, but I will say this scotch is smooth and very drinkable. I usually drink 10 and 12 year old Glens, Balvenie and Macallan.

  12. Was looking to price a 15yo Glenfiddich at my local Wine & Spirits. All they had was 12 & 21. Our Sam’s Club sells it(15) for $50 when they get it. Know from experience my palate cannot discern the difference between 15 & 18 so no point buying more expensive aged. Clerk recommended the Shieldaig, said when they have tastings most who taste it buy it. Wife convinced me to get a bottle for myself for Christmas. Looking forward to trying it after reading the comments. Usually drink Jameson or Telimoredew.

  13. Hey Jim !
    Just starting to get into scotch drinking and got this one because it was recommended by the sales person . I thought it was a pleasant drink , very smooth but I can see what you mean by nothing special . What would you recommend for the same price ?

  14. I purchased a bottle tonight from total wine, on a rec from a friend. I’m seeing a theme develop throughout these reviews. I’m guessing total wine has a stake in this label. On an earlier trip, they pushed copper pony rye whiskey hard and I regret buying that too. I had never heard of it, nor can I find much info online. I could have had the Glenmorangie 10yo for $30 and I got this instead at $43. Oh well, it’s not terrible, just a little hot and not all that intriguing.

  15. As the only woman reviewing this scotch, I love it. Very smokey to me which I like. Smooth and not too peaty. I received this as a gift and would definitely put on my top shelf as a favorite.

  16. Was given this 18 scotch for Christmas by my sister in law. She said the sales people said it was among the best scotch available. She drinks Cutty and soda.

  17. I agree with most of the posters, except:
    The 12 yo is a rich,smooth,malty highland-like blend, with none of the grain rawness that comes with many blends.
    It had many similar nice, easy characteristics ad the Famous Grouse 12 yo malt blend at half the price.
    In fact, it bests Chivas 12 yo and all the other commercial blends for $22 US. It is definitely the malt blend to enjoy after you have d light smoke. An incredible value.
    had your first fine dram of the evening. It has honey, light toast an light smoke, and is rich, round, and smoot

  18. I like it. For $40, I think it is a great bargain. I try to always keep a bottle around. Do I pull it out when I want something special? No. I’ll probably pour a Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition. But that is only available at duty free stores, so I can’t run down to Corridor for a bottle.

    The Shieldaig Speyside 18 is fine as an every day single malt to sip while winding down in front of the tube, though. Lately, I’ve also been drinking the Shieldaig Islay, which is a bit smokier and a real value at $20.

  19. First I am far from a scotch expert but have been enjoying Glinlivet 15 and 18 for a few years now. I too was steered by the total beer and wine personnel to this scotch. I have to say that for the money and taste the Shieldiag 18 year is well worth the money spend and money saved. I would buy it over the Glinlivet 12 year and 15 any time. Thank you for helping me understand why I have to travel from Ohio to MD to replenish my stock of Shieldaig. apparently they are the only distributer who sells it, soooo disappointing.

  20. I think Total Wine has prepped the sales staff on this one. I was buying a 17 yr Macallan FO and they suggested I give the Sheldaig 18 a try because it flies off the shelves. Well what the heck, I got a bottle and as a guy who appreciates a Scotch with a bit more character this one is not for me. If you are just starting off as a Scotch drinker give it a try since it will create a baseline to which you can definitely climb higher.

      • I agree with Deb and Chris. It’s a good bottle. I like Mac 12, JW Blue but my favorite is Mac Rare Cask. Forget the year. Flavor is specific to the person. But $275 a bottle even at TW. This 18 is a good drink at a fair price and I’ll buy another.

  21. Let’s be clear about something. The reason Total Wine pushes this brand (and Grangestone, and Ensign, and a few others) is that it is a Total Wine private label product which means the store gets higher margins when they sell it and the sales person gets a higher commission! There is a TW store in Atlanta where the onsite whiskey expert (“Bud”) puts little signs on the whiskies he recommends – to no surprise, he only whiskies he “recommends” are these Total Wine private label brands. Shieldaig is garbage. There are countless single malts and blends that are way better for less $$$.

  22. I should have known better. Several areas within Total Wine where they had displays.
    I bought 2 (dumb a–) me. It is sip-able but not something most will describe as remarkable, No malt depth, no body.

  23. Got a bottle of 18yr old Shieldaig for Valentine’s day. My wife gave it to me after I’d already poured a Lagavulin 16 yr old. She insisted I try it when I’d finished my Lagavulin I did. It came out very much second best. I usually drink Glenfidich and occasionally McCallan when I’m feeling expansive. The Lagavulin was another present from her and very much appreciated! With the Sheildaig I had two impressions. First was that it lacked substance. It did not taste like a scotch with character. The second was the impression of a vanilla after taste that lingered. I’m taking mine back to the retailer-Total Wine-and suggest they allow me get something more appropriate for a scotch drinker.

  24. On the 18 (purchased May 2017). Not to be a smart-ass, but my tasting notes (probably subconsciously influenced by the name) have a combination of sherry which would be a positive, and shellac — a stringent chemical taste. A long finish, but the shellac note is the dominant taste in the upper palette.

    Most of the general public is not invested enough in Scotch to know the names of the relatively small number of distilleries from the bottlers, so it’s natural IMHO for bottlers to take advantage and pass their “single malt” products off as distilleries. At $40-50 for an 18-year old, it’s hard to fault this as taking advantage of this confusion, but for me it doesn’t do justice to the extended aging that has been invested in it.

    I personally also can not fault Total Wine sellers from pushing their own in house brand. It’s somewhat uninteresting, but not an objectionable dram, if a purchaser is solving for “lowest price highest age statement.”

  25. I got sucked in to this scotch at the same location (though the new, bigger Total Wine Corridor location — you pretty much have to stop there if you’re on 295 for any length).

    Very much agree with the review. It’s fine, and an unoffensive “rail” single malt, considering the unbeatable price for an 18 year old, but it’s nothing memorable. I much prefer the Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old for an “every day” affordable Speyside scotch. Here’s hoping Glenfarclas will get their 15 year old to the states soon–that’s a fantastic Speysider.

    I wouldn’t recommend the Shioeldaig 18 year old Speyside, but I wouldn’t discourage someone from buying it, either.

  26. I had a similar experience to many others here. I was curious about the 18 yr old being priced so low ($46.99) My initial reaction was hmmm, well it’s not bad, not great but not bad. Then that finish just kept lingering and lingering and it got worse and worse. I have to say as average as it was, I feel I completely wasted my money. Would much rather spend a few (ok more than a few) extra bucks on a nice Balvenie 15.

  27. I like a wee dram now and again and I must say for $ 40.00 you can’t get a better deal. In parts of Scotland where I have relatives, Glenmorangie is known as drain cleaner. I must admit that Shieldaig is not Glenfiddich but I will not pay $ 150.00 to $ 200.00 per bottle for anything. So you will know my taste in whiskeys, for gin I will go for Beefeater, Tanqueray or Bombay. My taste in vodka runs to Vox and Kettle One. I refuse to buy Grey Goose because of where it is made. So you can see I do like the good stuff. I will buy Shieldaig and enjoy it when I desire a little scotch.

  28. So I’m drinking the non-age statement (the Big S) shieldag while I’m studying and it was really bothering me that I recognized the flavor profile. At first I’m thinking is it Old Forrester’s menthol flavor? Yes a bourbon but no that wasn’t it. I couldn’t quite place it but I knew I knew that flavor. And then it hit me when I left this page and started going over tomorrow’s material I need to get thru. Old Pulteney. I currently have a bottle of 12 year old sitting by my recliner by the furnace and that’s it. So I can’t speak for the 18 (you guys really didn’t sell me on getting a bottle lol) but the NAS definitely Old Pulteney overtones. Without the salt.

  29. I just received a bottle of the shielding 18 year old speyside. This will be my first 18 year old scotch. I’ve read the reviews first and I will provide my review after I’ve had a chance to taste the whiskey.

  30. I realize that this post is quite old. I haven’t tired this 18yr old, but I have tried the Sheildaig Islay and find it quite enjoyable, and a whisky I would use to introduce someone frightened or cautious of a peaty whisky. Ian McCloud does source much of it’s whisky, but these days it is also the 10th largest distiller in Scottland. Glengoyne, and Tamdhu which are multiple award winners giving them in house stock to draw on if they want to. It’s clearly not going to compete with Ardbeg or Lagavulin. Ian McCloud produces some nice blends, and decent single malts in their portfolio.

    Where the Shieldaig whiskys are fun is in using them as starters for infinity bottles and then blending your own whiskys.

    Best wishes

  31. I have come to learn that the quality of Scotch is left to personal taste. I personally do not like peaty Scotches… If you do, this one is not for you. If you want something you can enjoy on the rocks with a fine cigar that is not peaty, may want to give this one a try.

  32. Yeah, agree with most of your review, however, I found a lot of tenon in the taste and finish. It was OK, but not what I would spend $44 USD on for whisky. Kids came over for Christmas. I keep a cabinet displayed with my whisky from all the regions with tasting glasses open and available for guest. They know where it is and are told to help themselves. My son in law and I are talking whisky and I brought up the Shieldaig I bought from Total Wines. I told him the salesman gave me a sample that was very good for a $44 whisky. Bought a bottle and mine did not taste like the one I sampled. Guess what my son in law gave me for Christmas, yep Shieldaig 18yo. He apologetically told me he would take it back. Nah, let’s taste it. Out come the Glencairn glasses. What? It was completely different. This bottle has a sweeter arrival, less tenon. I read Shieldaig buys their whisky from distiller’s overruns or for whatever reason (maybe it didn’t turn out to their standards?). I believe that the same label is applied to all bottles, and two different bottles could be from different distiller’s overrun; i.e. one from Glenlivet, another from Glenfiddich. Guess you may never know what you will get? Are you willing to spend your money on inconsistent bottles of whisky? Life and money is too short for me.

  33. I work for total wine and i sell scotch. Lots of it. Nobody pressures me to sell Shieldaig. I’m 74 years old and i’ve been drinking scotch since high school( chivas Regal, thank you very much) .Over the years I’ve been enamored of and outgrown many different whiskies and i try to explain to customers that tastes change, that every brand has its marketting ploys and they should understand that the big, famous distilleries profit from their reputations although their product might not always agree with their personal tastes. Scotland has so many small distilleries and bottlers that noone has ever heard of . Consumers can be overwhelmed by the choices , especially at Total Wine which has many arrangements with small, unknown distilleries and bottlers but which can certainly compete favorably with the big names like Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie. In our store we offer “try before you buy” tastings, allowing customers to taste small drams of Shieldaig, Grangestone and other proprietary brands and allow them to decide for themselves. After they taste these whiskies, I have no difficulty selling Shieldaig. 12, 18 or 21 and the Grangestone lines, despite recent price increases . I have no idea where Shieldaig gets its whiskies. Nor do I really know where all the many other brands we sell get theirs. But I and many of my customers know that Shieldaig whiskies are deliscious and eminently affordable. I tell my customers not to dismiss a product because you’ve never heard of it. If you like it, drink it.

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