One only has to spend time in a whisky shop or at a whisky festival to remind oneself of the plethora of whisky brands and styles on the market. It sometimes seems like a never-ending story (though, without the large, flying white dog; *oh the ’80s*).
Usually, just when I feel I’ve tried a fair old schwak of drams, I read about one I’ve not gotten to yet and find myself updating the list I keep to remind me to try them.
One that came to my attention of late is a brand from the Morrison Bowmore group: Glen Garioch. During a recent tweet tasting, I sampled a first fill edition from 1995, which I absolutely adored. Filled with notes of peaches, cream and a tiny hint of smoke, it went down so well that I knew I’d have to find a time to try more.
Luckily enough, the brand’s London ambassador – Alasdair Dickinson – was recently in town and was kind enough to take me through some drams and the distillery history.
As a bit of background, the Glen Garioch distillery is based in the eastern Highlands (quite near to Aberdeen) and dates from around 1797 (the date you’ll see on the bottle).
With capacity for around one million litres per year, it is on the smaller side of distilleries. It went through various ownership hands over the decades, finally ending up in the possession of Stanley P.Morrison (the then owner of Bowmore) in 1970 after it was left silent by previous owner Distillers Company Ltd in 1968.
It was around that time that the distillery also started making its own single malt, having previously been used only for blends.
The distillery maintained its ties to tradition, keeping its floor maltings until its wider parent company (Morrison Bowmore) was bought outright by the Suntory group in 1993. It closed for a period in the mid-’90s, reopening in 1997. Crucially, upon starting up again Suntory decided it would no longer use a peated mash bill in its making, meaning newer whiskies are quite different from older styles.
The distillery has short stills but very long lyne arms (the longest in the industry, according to Alasdair), which help to create a oily but fruity malt. Spirit is matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso casks. All of the releases, meanwhile, are non-chill filtered and bottled at a minimum of 48%.
I started with the Founder’s Reserve, which is comprised of whisky in the age range of 5-8 years matured solely in ex-bourbon casks. On the nose, it is a bit spicey with notes on honey and heather, while in the mouth is is rich and oily, with flavours of toffee, honey and nutmeg and a slightly salty finish.
Next up was the other main seller, the 12-year old. This is bottled at 48% and is made up of a mix of whiskies matured in ex-bourbon or ex-oloroso sherry casks. On the nose it was fruity with pear and blackberry notes, plus a slightly minty hint at the back. On the palate, it had a great earthiness that combined with some floral flavours and a slightly woody, tannic edge. It was very pleasant.
I then tried the 1995 (which I’ve mentioned above) and followed it with the 1991, which was my favourite of the day. This 19-year old whisky was also made from a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry cask matured whiskies and bottled at the relatively high strength of 54.7%. Despite that, it was not overpowering on the alcohol strength, with buttery, cherry notes and summer barley and hayfield scents flowing from the glass. On the palate, it was like a cloud in the mouth: very soft and fluffy, before a quick burst of peat that came through at the back of the palate that made it hedonistic and satisfying.
I finished on the 1986, a special release for the UK only. Bottled in 2012, this 26 year old dram was made solely from ex-bourbon cask matured whisky and came in at 54.6%. On the nose, there were lashings of tropical fruits (pineapples especially for me) along with a dash of butter. On the palate, I became obsessed with the note of Love Hearts and lavender – it was surprisingly sweet and a bit dusty.
By the end of the tasting, I had found a new friend. I really enjoyed the rich, fruity notes and the higher ABV of all of these drams. That’s one more off the list. Now, it’s back to the whisky shop to be inspired for the future!