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McClelland's Islay Single Malt

Average score from 12 reviews and 13 ratings 69

McClelland's Islay Single Malt

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McClelland's Islay Single Malt

This is a quick, off the cuff review, inspired by my first taste of a McClelland’s product.

It is Dec. 25 in the evening here in Calgary. I am at a party at friends of my in-laws. My impression is they are wealthy (Ms just bought a gymnastics gym). They have met me before and know of my affinity for single malts. When offered a drink it was suggested by the hostess to her husband that I should have a scotch. So he brings out this bottle and asks “is this ok?” Please tell me, what should I say? Well, I answered that I had never tried it. At least it was in a wine glass.

On the nose I get sweet fruit and peat. A touch of apple. On the palate, first sip, I kid you not, it tasted as if an ashtray had old encrusted tobacco ash, was left to soak, and the dilute liquid was poured off into my glass. On further sippage I get alcohol and peat. It is sweet. The finish is peppery and fairly long.

This is not complex. This is no Lambertus.

I accepted this to be polite and also because I had never tasted it and it’s not cool to be a snob anout something you don’t know. Sadly, I now have the answer, 1 pour too late, to the question “would I accept this if offered at a party?”.

Life lesson learned.

Merry Christmas

@BlueNote, most believe that McClelland's Islay is 5 yo Bowmore.

At least it wasn't the Lowland bottling, which is absolutely toxic. I got a bottle of it a few years ago as a birthday gift from my stepson and had to ball up and drink it. I couldn't even mix it with Coke, as it made the Coke toxic as well, so I finally finished it about a year later. Never improved, but at least it never got worse. I'd give it a negative 25. And to think he could have bought WT101 and saved money (and my tastebuds).


This whisky was a gift from my wife, but I’ll attempt to be objective nonetheless. Depending on which online source you trust, this young Bowmore is anywhere from 3 to 7 years old. There are a lot of interesting notes here, but the balance is really lacking.

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): honey sweetness, light smoke, raw chocolate chip cookie dough (seriously, it’s uncanny), black tea that was steeped too long.
  • Palate (undiluted): medium to light bodied, a bit thin, lots of cereal sweetness, milk chocolate, more black tea, a bit of raw almonds
  • Finish: medium-short with light smoke returning and barley sweetness lingering.

Adding water didn’t change the taste much, it just got more watery. Ice, however, made things interesting. The black tea note disappeared, but the smoke seemed to get “thicker” with ice. This whisky was also quite pleasant (dare I say it?) as a mixer. There’s a time and place for every whisky, and I feel that this is a better “background” whisky than a star in its own right.

Maybe a little Laphroaig & cookie dough ice cream would do the trick.

@BlueNote No worries, brother. I’m very open-minded and I live by my late grandfather’s maxim (adapted somewhat as he was a beer drinker):

There are no bad whiskies, only some that you like more than others

I would likely buy this again, as I can imagine it would work well in a cocktail or as a “background whisky”. It won’t replace Uigeadail on my list of favourites, but it’s not as expensive or difficult to obtain.


I have ruined my girlfriend. Not by tarnishing her good name, mind you, or absconding with all of her savings. No, I ruined her by introducing her to Bowmore 12 Year Old. This fine ol' standby had become a daily dram, and it was just getting too much. "At $60 a pop, I can't afford this! Is there a cheaper Bowmore available?" The Small Batch isn't that much less, so I suggested trying the McClelland's Islay. There must be a cheaper way for her to enjoy her favourite distillery!

But McClelland's does not disclose what distillery it comes from, you may say. Well, I'm about 99.9% sure that's what it is, as the McClelland's brand is owned by Morrison Bowmore. That is the only Islay distillery they own, so it stands to reason that this is young NAS Bowmore. But is it an acceptable substitute? Does it measure up?

The colour is a pale yellowish gold. On the nose there is vanilla, honey and butterscotch, with peat woven throughout. Medicinal and floral. Lemon curd and apricots. Not much oak; you can tell this is quite young, but water helps even it out.

Quite briny on the palate - and oakier than the nose - with more vanilla as well. The butterscotch is further in the background. Again, very medicinal. Peaty and sweet, but too spirity - though that is corrected with a drop of water.

The finish is rough, with restrained peat, apple skins and heather honey. There are definitely certain notes that remind one of Bowmore - so I'm quite sure that's what this is. But unfortunately, it is not up to snuff. Although it improves with water, it is no substitute. Pam let out a woeful sigh, turned her back on it, and poured herself a Bowmore 12.

@talexander is she really that glued to the Bowmore? You need to conduct some blind tests with her perhaps. From what I understand some will turn to a peated blend to save money. I know that used to be Black Bottle before the rebranding. I think Islay Mist is a great blend for example. Im not suggesting they are the same flavour profile but it would be cost effective. Keep the reviews coming

Speaking personally, and with my comments not intended to reflect on you in any way, I think I might benefit from not eating for a while, and my kids don't eat enough to impact on my whisky buying. If I ever come across an opening bottle of the BB, I'll be sure to include the 2 of you....


Definitely some peat and smoke here, in minor and unoffensive quantities. A little bland when it comes to the isle of Islay malts but a pleasant enough finish nonetheless. Hard to give it accolades, but also hard to fault it too much considering price...

This one blends well with other sweet single malts to make a nice vatting


The story goes that this is very young Bowmore. And it shows. Still, not a horrible choice for a budget peat fix . . .

Nose: Peat and peat. Peat the color of Yellow. That is to say, if the peat were in a color spectrum it would fall into the yellow area. Just a hint of earth and a whisper of the ocean behind the peat. A bit of hay and grass also behind the peat. Now, don’t hear me wrong: this is not peat overload like Supernova. Rather, this is a resounding one sold note (with two minor notes in the background) tone of peat. With time more malt come out. Now it is basically two notes: peat and malt. But with more time the peat recedes to the background and you are left with simply malt. Now some apple notes are coming out with a touch of honey and lemon grass. Nice, austere and simple while still evolving. My only complaint is that the peat starts out strong and then disappears.

Taste: Fruity on the tip: apple, pear, peach. Then some spice, fire, with sharp mustard and horseradish type flavors (but they only last for a moment). Now oak and a little smoke. Over all pleasant, sweet with a balance of bitterness.

Finish: Fire, smoke a nice dollop of peat fire coat the mouth. Not a huge explosion. More like lava or magma oozing down into the floor below your room. You are left with a nice struggle for air and the salty remnants of a peat fire.

Complexity, Balance: There is a complexity to this cheap no-name Islay single malt . . . considering. I will give it points for presenting several flavors and not being a one or two note chord. However, it is more like a fireworks display where once the rocket goes off it is finished.

Aesthetic experience: I dislike this bottle (which is why I put it into my decanter). It does remind me of the old Bowmore labeling. Hate the name, the label, the 40%, the use of E-150a, and the chill filtration. The only things I like about this bottle are that there is peat, it is a standard shape, and it is cheap.

Conclusion: For a while this was a standard in my open cabinet. However, of late I enjoy mixing my own peaty blend (Old Bastard Reserve). Next time I find it under $20 I’ll pick it up again.

This one is great for vattings. I vatted mine with Isle of Skye 12. It vatted up handsomely and my guests who aren't whisky Connors like it very much, with or without ice. The McClellands was $22 and the Isle of Skye $20. That's a lot of tasty whisky when they are married together into a vatting. By themselves, I found the McClellands to be a bit weak. Together: heavenly. The IOS filled in the weak notes and the Mc's added a nice level of peat to the mix. I hear the Legend Bowmore is much stronger than this one. I don't doubt it. This one seemed more watered down than 40% to my taste. It seemed quite weak for 40% to me.

Nice, fair review of this often-slammed bottle

I cut my teeth on a few bottles of this, but I haven't had it in a couple years. I admit that I've considered myself "graduated" past it and my last few peaties have been Laphroaig CS, Ardbeg Oogie & Corryreckan, Ardmore TC, and Longrow CV. I just bought another bottle of the McClelland's, though, after spotting it for the ridiculous clearance price of $13. At some point, I intend to administer a blind tasting to myself of this plus a couple lower-powered peaties (probably Longrow CV and Caol Ila 12) to test whether I really find the "better" bottles to be better.

My sense of pride is rooting for me to discern the inferiority of the McClellands's. My wallet is rooting for it to compare favorably. We'll see!


Attractive packaging with no mention of age statement. Light golden color.

Immediately after the pour, the nose is Islay without being overpowering or offputting for the unitiated.

Nose: salty bacon, peat, smoke, some dirt, sea water, band-aid and something fishy and metallic that's not unpleasant (like the smell of your hands after catching a trout). Smooth. Adding water doesn't do much for the nose, except maybe weaseling out some wood character out of the whisky.

Palate: much of the same, altough it is less refined and more one dimensional with the peat, salt water, band-aid and bacon dominating. There's a slight citrus note at the end, probably due to the young nature of the whisky. The palate is also somewhat harsh and bright, but not as much as I would've expected from a young spirit. I prefer nosing this than drinking it.

Finish: longish, dry, but flat with smoke, bog and dirt. Not a lot of oomph. The smoke still dances in the nostrils and mouth a few minutes after sipping.

Overall: A decent to good bottle, which was surprising to me. Sure it doesn't measure up to the Bowmores, but at 35$ a bottle in Quebec (the Bowmore 12 is almost 60$), this makes for a good, very approachable dram that doesn't fatigue the palate, doesn't need much work to be enjoyable and boasts a tremendous price/quality ratio.

Scotch IS very expensive up here, even the blends. I also like a lot of the canadian whisky offerings, which very often offer good to great quality for the price (Gibson's Finest 12 yo and Wiser's Small Batch are a mainstay of my cabinet). Pity that the SAQ (the equivalent of the LCBO in Quebec) can't get its head out of its own backside and start getting some of the products from the new distilleries that are popping up in Canada in the US (Forty Creek especially), but that's for another day.

Returning to McClelland's, rough and ready is an apt descriptor of its nature: it reminds me of the early mornings fishing with my grandad, with the sea air, the smell of the fish and the scent of his twelfth cigarette of the day :)

@Frank1, I am in sync with all of your points on quality and price. And yes, McClelland's Islay does appear to be a young Bowmore. McClelland's Islay is basic and doesn't get a lot of love, but I find it quite enjoyable. Jim Murray gives it the highest number rating I have ever seen for it, 88. There is a young "rough and ready" quality about it, though, that turns a lot of people off, it seems...and sometimes I wonder if some people won't give it a chance because it is inexpensive. Your $ 35 in Quebec for, I surmise, 750 ml, looks extremely expensive to me here. I paid about 35% of that price: $ 28 for 1.75 Litres of McClelland's Islay. That was 2 years ago, though, and prices have climbed a bit.


Peat, smoke, earthy dominate this young Bowmore Islay, strong young alcohol gives way to peat, smokey malty grain goodness. Medium slow finish.

FYI I've seen the folks from Morrison Bowmore on record (I can't remember where, alas) saying that they do occasionally source casks for McClelland's, so it is not safe to assume that it is always from Bowmore, though, I think that is the most common distillery.

@PMessinger, I'm a big Islay scotch fan. The Bowmore Legend runs about $20 here, at that price I usually have some on hand. The legend is a decent scotch, what I like is that smoked bacon flavor. The McClelland's Islay is about two dollars more. How would you compare the two?


Old gold in colour and very shiny. Light smoke and a touch of pungent bog aromas. Smooth, with like 8 o's (that's smooooooooth), and soft. Flavours are burnt cherry wood. Short finish and we are off and running.


my first ever whiskey review, i found this to be quite enjoyable even at its young age. good enough to get me interested in exploring the whiskey world.


McClelland is a range of whiskies marketed by Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd, known also for their Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch. They purchased T&A McClelland’s, a blender from Glasgow, in 1970. The range as we know it today consists of Speyside, Islay, Lowland and Highland and was launched for the first time in 1986. Recently, a Speyside 12 Year Old was added.

On the nose, I get citrus and peatsmoke, but mostly vanilla and unfortunately something that reminds me of babypuke. Very spirity. Also some tobacco, touch of tar and smoldering wood. After a few more minutes: coffee and hay. Strange combination, if you ask me.

On the palate, this McClelland Islay shows his budget character. Astringent grappa with bitter wood, no balance whatsoever. Berries, maybe? Some salted butter and burnt vanilla. I even make the association of blood (from a bloody nose), slightly metallic. Definitely a young beast!

The finish is (too) long and much too bitter, preventing the Islay character to come out.


Intro: McClelland's Islay label is whisky produced at the Bowmore distilleries on Islay. The McClelland's Islay Single Malt Whisky is listed at 5 years old.

Nose: Medicinal, moderate peat, some sea salts

Taste: good strong flavour. Like the nose, the taste is also medicinal, peaty, and salty.

Finish: there is a long finish, with the peat, especially hanging on.

Balance: For a 5 year old malt, this has a lot of character. This is thoroughly drinkable, wears well, and is definitely good enough to look forward to drinking. I would encourage those who already like Bowmore products to give this one a try. The quality is rather good, and the value for the money is exceptional.

Hear, Hear. I had the exact same experience yesterday at the liquor store and did not buy it fearing it would not be good despite the price. This is the real value of sites like this for people who are new to whisky. Now I will buy it knowing it is a reasonable example without having to spend $50 to $100.

I'm glad you posted this review because I was at the LCBO today browsing around and I saw this and was wondering what distillery it was from. Now that I know it's from Bowmore I might have to try it out, especially because it's so cheap.


In a lot of ways, this Glasgow-made 'Islay' tastes like someone snubbed his cigarette in a pool of old blood on the floor of the Lagavulin malting room. What's worse? I like it. It's rich and rough.

1st nose: Smells like an Islay. Smoke. Peat. Brine. Tobacco. Sherry. 1st taste: Tastes woody. Like the barrel char. 1st finish: Peat and ash. Burnt currant.

2nd nose: brine and buttery chardonnay. 2nd taste: mixture of berry and orange reduction, more like a strange cough syrup than compote sauce. 2nd finish: blood and cherries.

3rd nose: currant and tobacco. 3rd taste: dark chocolate and berry. 3rd finish: velvety cigar.

Great review!

At first I thought it a bit flippant. But I'm sitting here having a wee dram and realised that a "snubbed ... cigarette ... on the floor of the Lagavulin malting room" was pretty-much exactly what I was tasting. A rather blunt analysis of a very positive experience. Accurate and unconventional. Much like the malt in question.

Anyway, I love the stuff! Lagavulin is my perennial favourite, but it's about $125.00 here in Toronto while McClelland's Islay is about $30.00. It therefore presents a very pleasant value proposition.

Great questions about the rating. I believe the top and the bottom of the scale should be hard to reach. Also, I've had some amazing and fascinating malts, like a Bowmore 39yo, which I would put at the top of the scale. Lagavulin classic 16yo is a perfect yardstick for my scale, because I love it on many levels. I would rate Lagavulin at 8.5 out of 10. I have to respect room at the top for greatness. Likewise, I love Ardbeg's Uigedail and would give it about the same rating. I see a bunch of folks rating things at the top of the scale, which means that good whiskies are perfect and only substandard whiskies get a real rating. That breaks the whole utility of the scale. Just my opinion, but there you go. What do you think? Where would you put Lagavulin relative to the finest dram you've tasted?

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