This has been widely seen in the travel retail (or duty free) market, where consumers can often find one-off releases or separate ranges made exclusively for that space.
But, it is also being seen in releases directly to wider markets – whisky shops, specialist retailers and supermarkets.
One of the latest whiskies I’ve sampled that has been launched is the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak. Matured for its entire life in virgin white American oak casks, it is a rarity on the Scotch market which does not often use brand new casks for whisky maturation.
Speaking at the evening’s event at which I tried the new release, Phil Nickson – the regional sales executive for Morrison Bowmore Distillers, which owns Glen Garioch – said: “There’s always been a preconception that we have to use a cask which has been seasoned because it softens the wood effect, but what I love about this release is it is bringing the old and new way of maturing whisky together.”
The whisky will be available in the UK, where 120 cases are being distributed country-wide. Around 1000 cases will be available globally, focused on the brand’s biggest markets of the US, Canada, Germany, Holland and the Netherlands.
So what happens when you take a soft, highland single malt and mature it in very active casks? You get a lot of power, that’s what.
And those used to the normal flavour profile of Glen Garioch may find this a tad bit overwhelming, as I did the first time I tried it. On the nose, it was buttery with a slight caramel note, candied ginger, loads of spice and oranges, while on the palate, I found it quite oily, with a big hint of cinnamon spice, black pepper, ginger and oranges. It eased out a bit with water, adding in a sweeter touch to the nose and some more nutty and vanilla characteristics to the palate.
On the night I tried it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I really love Glen Garioch but found this to be a bit too spicy for my liking.
I’ve since had a chance to go back and sample it again (something I try to do with all whiskies I’m writing about). On re-trying, I found the nose to be quite a lot sweeter, with notes of sticky vanilla pods, pine trees and wood shavings, cherries, soft toffee and butter, fleshy fruits (maybe apricots?) and licorice. The palate was still quite cinnamon and spice heavy, with a sharp, slightly bitter turn mid-sip. Chewy fruits (again, apricots or nectarines), vanilla, wood and an aspartame hit emerged before a finish of toffees and green grass.
In conclusion, it is an interesting experiment for Glen Garioch to take and I’m intrigued by the innovation. The company has just announced it will also release an Auchentoshan Virgin Oak to go alongside it in the portfolio, so it is clearly something MBD is playing around with. It’s certainly worthwhile checking out, especially if you like hard-hitting, spicy drams, but at a retail price of £69.99 it isn’t cheap – may be one to sample with friends or in a bar so you can decide for yourself what you think of it.