A venerable Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8%

One of the best things about a good Whisky Festival or very well stocked bar is an opportunity to try something that ordinarily you would never be able to buy on your own… That is exactly why at Berlin’s  Union Jack we shared a very clear brief – we wanted to end our evening with something truly exceptional and rare. Our preference was a discontinued distillery – something that we would otherwise never ever have a chance to experience….

My tasting companion mentioned interest in a Port Ellen however we were open to anything. Our whisky guide for the evening consulted the Union Jack owner and came up with a remarkable short-list: Rosebank 25 year, Glen Ord 1975, Brora 27 year (2015), Macallan-Glenlivet 1968/1983 (Berry Bros)… to which we also added the Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965), which my eye had spotted as soon as we walked in the door… A light sniff of each bottle made the choice very clear…

Obviously you can tell which one we selected!

We had earlier discussed the Glenglassaugh distillery and how challenging it is to have stock of remarkable old vintage whiskies produced before its closure vs a young upstart that was – frankly speaking – initially bottled before it was ready. I shared how malt maniac Krishna Nakula was so enthusiastic about the “old” and had once shared a sample of the “new” make spirit from the re-start.

For those not familiar, Glenglassaugh followed the path of many a Scottish distillery. Founded in 1875 until its closure in 1986. It was re-opened in 2008 and had a wee bit of a rocky re-start however understand it is getting its game together and was joined a few years ago by master blender Rachel Barrie.

However enough pre-amble… what matters most is what we discovered!

Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8% (Murray McDavid Mission) Bottle 084/411

  • Nose – Simply superb, berries mashed and fresh, nuanced, like an Eaton mess – full of crunchy mirage, berries and cream, an antique quality opening up further to reveal a hint of coffee richness, a fruity compote, red liquorice, red candies
  • Palate – Exquisite, soft yet big, silky smooth, full flavoured yet elegant, more of that hint of coffee, so balanced with a curl of smoke sneaking up from behind, chocolate coffee cream
  • Finish – Gorgeous – such a long fruity fabulous finish

Having the great fortune of sampling a few venerable, I was poised for something a bit shy… instead this was an absolute delight. Classic and yet still full and flavourful, not a single off note instead it was pure indulgence.

There was such sophistication – from bursting berries to that hint of smoke… it was simply outstanding and well worth choosing as our grand finale.

What more do we know? The label shares it was matured in Sherry and Rivesaltes Casks. I’ll admit I had to look up “Rivesaltes” to find it is a sweet wine made from red or white grapes from the Languedoc region of France. Like sherry, it is a fortified wine of which there are several variations using Grenache, Muscat, Malvoisie with styles ranging from amber, garnet, tuilé or rosé. I will certainly keep my eye out for “Rivesaltes” in future as it clearly did great things for this particular whisky along with the Sherry cask.

The best quote of the evening came from our guide?

“I just cry that they don’t make whisky like this anymore.”

To put into perspective, the average value of this bottle in auctions is approx € 1755 though likely impossible to find now. As for us? It set us back a hefty EUR 80 for a glass however we both felt privileged to have had an opportunity to try.

Before this “penultimate” dram, we had  explored three sets of “pairings” which included:

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Glenglassaugh Revival 46%

The best thing about sampling blind is being saved from your own prejudices.

I will have to admit my first brush with Glenglassaugh was in 2015 with an open bottle of Torfa at Quaich in Singapore. To put it mildly, I wasn’t impressed and my strongest memory was that of solvent. Fast forward two years and I had an opportunity to compare minis of both Evolution and Torfa – better, definitely better. Late 2018, I was introduced to their Peated Port Wood – certainly moving in a much better direction. And now, in May 2019 I found a Glenglassaugh that clearly hit its mark.

Yet I knew none of this when I picked up that Glencairn glass and began to sniff, swish and sip my way…

Glenglassaugh Revival 46%

  • Nose – Sour curd, spice, prunes, raising, chocolatey custard, black pepper spice which then shifted into red chillies, oily, orange cloves and Christmas pudding, tobacco, dusty
  • Palate – Greeted with a bit of spice, tobacco, prunes, medium body with a good mouthfeel, wood smoke, chestnut, caramelized apples, some oak, honey malt
  • Finish – A great chewy cherry finish, more of the prunes carried through, had staying power

Of the three whiskies sampled that evening, it was by far the most robust and complex. The character also kept changing. Most remarkable was when it was revisited there was a delightful perfume!

While I couldn’t find anything specific on the bottle which indicated which batch, our host thought it was from their first release.

What do the folks at Glenglassaugh have to say?

The Revival is the first expression released from Glenglassaugh distillery after being mothballed for more than 20 years. The Glenglassaugh Revival has been matured in a balanced mix of ex-red wine and fresh bourbon casks, vatted and re-racked for double maturation in rich sherry casks. Bottled at 46%, non chill filtered and of natural colour, Revival is a stunning Highland single malt with a coastal charm.

  • Colour: Copper
  • Nose: Sweet caramel and toffee with notes of nutty sherry, milk chocolate and honey. Ripe plums, red berries and oranges. Caramelised sugar and earthy, charred oak.
  • Palate: Sweet, rounded and creamy. Oranges, plums, cherry and walnuts, chocolate, honey-mead, sherry and soft, spiced oak.
  • Finish: Medium with warming mulled-wine spices, sherry and caramel.

While not sure where our host sourced this whisky, it is available at Master of Malt for approx $40.

What else did we try?

What about other Glenglassaugh experiences? Read on…

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Smokey Night – Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish 46%

We started our Smokey Night on a lighter note… with something from the Highlands…

Long back our Mumbai original group tried some new make spirit from Glengassagh. I then had a chance to try the Torfa – ugh. I then revisited it as a mini together with the Evolution… better. I reminded myself to keep an open mind and see what we discovered with this bottle.

Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish 46%

  • Colour – Bright ruby red
  • Nose – Began with a bit of tar, smoke yet very mild, a bit rubbery, butter crème, spice, raisin, ginger…
  • Palate – Spice, steamed plums, brandy cherries, raisins, very peppery, wood, some mystery pulpy fruits, however pleasantly rolled around the palate
  • Finish – Then sweet

It was pronounced a good daily whisky. While not terribly distinctive, it was easy to enjoy.

As for me? I was happy to try a Glenglassaugh that I enjoyed!

Here’s what the Glenglassaugh folks have to say about their Peated Port Wood Finish:

Glenglassaugh’s waves of fruit and smoke are amplified in Peated Port Wood Finish. Whilst finishing in ruby Port pipes, the open structure of the oak brings waves of velvet tannins and peppered dark fruit, reminiscent of Winter berries by an open fire, kissed by the sea.

  • Colour: Rose gold
  • Nose: Heather honey drizzled over a medley of fresh red fruits, all backed by intriguing waves of sweet peat smoke
  • Palate: Delicious wild red berry compote and clotted cream balanced by a hint of cracked black pepper, surrounded by a fantastic sweet campfire peat note.

Would we agree? Not sure we would call the light smoke “waves” or describe as campfire peat… but overall, the notes weren’t far off.

Our Smokey Night with the Whisky Ladies also included:

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Minis – Glengassaugh Torfa 50%

This particular peated Glenglassaugh and I had a rather unpleasant 1st experience two years ago…. hence I deliberately decided to keep an open mind to try again and see – better, ok or gasp! worse??

What did we think of the Glenglassaugh Torfa 50%?

  • Nose – Smoke – quite acrid then more ash, cured meat, salty, sour, dish rag
  • Palate – Sweet, oily, a bit chewy, then peat, a little cinnamon spice slipped in and it became increasingly sweet
  • Finish – Like chewing on a cinnamon stick, dry, peat

As we found Evolution benefited from being set aside and revisiting, we did the same with the Torfa. All we got was peat, sweet and spice.

In principal I like the idea of having a nearly cask strength whisky i.e. 50%. I also enjoy a good peated whisky too.

And.. at least this time I didn’t get cleaning solvent as I did back in 2015!!

Perhaps I need to wait another 2 years… or more… and see what these folks come up with.

However, for now, while happy to revisit and certainly not the disaster I remember from two years ago, it simply isn’t my kinda dram and I’m not going to be running out to buy anything from Glenglassaugh anytime soon.

What do the folks over at Glenglassaugh have to say?

At Glenglassaugh, in addition to the traditional production, we also produce a very limited quantity of whisky using richly peated malted barley as the cereal varietal. The malted barley has been dried in the traditional way, over peat infused kilns, giving the whisky its unique smoky flavour. Glenglassaugh ‘Torfa’, with its peaty, phenolic nature, is a unique expression, and is quite different to the usual style of whisky produced in the Highlands.

  • Colour: Gleaming yellow gold.
  • Nose: Vivid, sweet, sooty campfire smoke and sea air infuses zest of lime, apricot jam and ripe soft fruits; all gently warmed by hints of stem ginger and cracked black pepper.
  • Palate: An eloquent, sweet coastal peat smoke engulfs candied peel over melon, pineapple and roasted red apples. Oat biscuits, hints of heather honey and a gentle cigar box spice all combine to give a terrific balance to the expressive smoky character.
  • Finish: A heady, yet elegant, harmony of distinct coastal peat and striking spiced fruit flavours.

What else did we try in our miniatures session?

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Minis – Glenglassaugh Evolution 50%

What happens if a distillery was founded (1875), closed (1908), re-vamped and re-opened to be used in blends (1960), completely mothballed (1986) then opened again (2008), release into the market spirits immediately and then manages to be sold (2013)?

Welcome to Glenglassaugh’s illustrious past of operating only approx 1/3 of its history! However there is hope since BenRiach Distillery Company took over – a most respectable brand along with its other distillery GlenDronach. With Rachel Barrie more recently being added to the equation, let’s see what happens next!

However for now… we have two NAS expressions to sample – Evolution and Torfa – both bottled at a bold 50%.

What did we think?

  • Nose – Initially sour curd, wet cereals, old banana, musty & dusty, soaked oats, even in the sweet there is a little sour like sour mash, a bit grassy, porridge with honey
  • Palate – Dry, light spice, bitter yet sour
  • Finish – Bitter
  • Water – Add a dash and we were ‘rewarded’ with rotten fruit

We began to joke it was like having a great mouth disinfectant. Not something you would choose to sip but maybe swish around for the medicinal benefits.

Had we not left it alone to breath, would have overall been rather scathing with this one.

However our revisit was interesting – salty caramel, toffee & fudge – sweet and much less bitter than earlier. There was also a sharp tingle on the nose like industrial metallic. Still not great but it managed to redeem itself a little.

What do the folks over at Glenglassaugh have to say?

Glenglassaugh Evolution is created by maturing the whisky in a unique combination of the finest hand-picked ex-Tennessee first-fill whiskey barrels. This expression shows great depth of character and finesse, a harmonious combination of whisky and oak. Bottled at 50%, natural colour and non chill filtered, Evolution represents the heart of Glenglassaugh’s distinctive personality, and indeed the landscape in which it is set.

  • Colour: Crisp harvest gold.
  • Nose: A luscious syrupy combination of sweet barley, delicate pineapple and waves of soft buttery vanilla. Deeper oak spices and caramelised pear develop and warm the nose.
  • Palate: Robust, white peppery oak floods through crisp green apple and freshly cracked barley. A gentle salted caramel emerges alongside hints of ripe banana and fruit salad syrup.
  • Finish: A vibrant combination of classic oak spices and delicate soft fruits surrounded by fragrant waves of vanilla pod.

Sorry… rewind? Seriously? Were we having the same whisky?? “Depth of character and finesse”??? Had we not given it considerable time to breath, we would have missed the salty caramel… however it is hard not to be cynical reading the marketing speak.

All I can say is this – I hope for better in a few years. Much better.

What else did we try in our miniatures session?

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Minis – Glenglassaugh Evolution + Torfa, Inchmurrin

After a few months hiatus, our miniatures sessions are back!

This time we decided to explore a revived discontinued distillery (Glenglassaugh) and a whisky my cohort couldn’t resist… having grown up with Tintin tales of Loch Lomond whisky (Inchmurrin)…

For my part, I was keen to revisit a freshly opened bottle of the Torfa, having had a rather negative 1st experience a few years ago at Quaich in Singapore. And was equally curious what else Glenglassaugh had to offer. As for Inchmurrin? I had no pre-conceived notions… however found our tryst with Pendryn’s Madeira sufficiently interesting to be curious to compare.

The minis were followed by Royal Brackla 16 year 40%… just because it was already open and I hadn’t tried it yet… a most acceptable justification! Turned out to be a great food accompaniment.

Other miniatures sessions:

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Glenglassaugh Torfa NAS 50%

I’m all for experiments. I’m also not averse to trying younger variants and have found some promising young bucks out there!

When I shared that I had already traipsed through most of the suggested whisky sample sets at Quaich bar in Singapore, the Glenglassaugh Torfa was recommended. I thought why not?

However just because something is ‘new’ (or in this case ‘re-new‘) or ‘different’ doesn’t necessarily make it ‘good’…

Glenglassaugh Torfa (Whisky Lady)

Glenglassaugh Torfa (Whisky Lady)

  • Nose – Overripe fruit, peat, grass… as it continued to breathe, could identify some gingery orange citrus. After sipping, the nose took on a sour curd note with a hint of jackfruit
  • Palate – Sharp, bitter, almost like diesel, young, brash and not balanced. My fellow sampler identified something akin to cleaning solvent. As soon as she said this, I couldn’t help but agree and then couldn’t get past this element either…
  • Finish – Smoke, but nothing significant and quickly dissipated
  • 1st impression – Disappointing

As the 2nd whisky we sampled (Hazelburn 12 year) was simply so much more to both our tastes, we left the Torfa alone for some time. We found it mellowed out a bit yet still retained the overall young attitude.

So we decided to see what happens when we added water…

  • On the nose, it shifted into overripe fruit, salty (almost like salted popcorn)
  • On the palate, became smoother, then some spice and finally light leather in the finish

As my companion put it

“Kinda like a hip hop dude who realised he needed to drop the attitude and be a bit more real.”

Certainly the drops of water helped, however the Torfa still feels like it has been pulled out of the maturation process too soon. I wonder if that is also the case with the other Glenglassaugh expressions – Revival and Evolution?

Of the three, Torfa is their ‘richly peated’ expression and my issue isn’t with the peat, it is the lack of balance.

However, in fairness, I should share that we have no idea how long this bottle lay open with Quaich and whether that had an impact, dulling other elements. The official tasting notes speak of melon, pineapple and roasted red apples on the palate – we discovered nothing of the sort! And when I checked the reviews from folks whose opinions I’ve found reliable, they seemed to have a different experience.

Bottom line – would we buy? Nope. In fact, we didn’t even finish our dram.

If this experience is any indication (which it may not be), one has to wonder if the investors for Glenglassaugh are simply being too impatient. The Speyside distillery only re-started production in 2008 and has already pumped out a trio of whisky expressions plus a few experiments like “The Spirit Drink that dare not speak its name” which is one mash of malted barley, fermented and distilled twice then bottled without ageing and “The Spirit Drink that blushes to speak its name” which is produced in the same way then aged 6 months in California red wine casks.

Now, if the Glenglassaugh folks had the advantage (or disadvantage) of a hot climate like India, perhaps one can understand releasing expressions after limited time… however in Scotland? Me thinks a wee bit more patience is in order!

What others say:

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