The Highland distillery Glen Garioch has announced the pending release of the first in its Renaissance Collection, which just debuted in the United Kingdom, within the coming two months. Joining this first in a four-part series will be another limited release with a Bordeaux wine-cask maturation.
The tiny distillery, one of the few remaining urban whisky facilities in Scotland, plans what it calls a "quadrilogy" to be released annually in "four chapters" through 2017. The Renaissance Collection's aim is to trace the maturation of the distillery's new house style as it ages from 15 to 18 years. Glen Garioch was briefly shuttered from 1995 to 1997. When it reopened, it converted to unpeated whisky in place of what had been a markedly smoky malt, given its Highland roots.
The other new release, Glen Garioch Wine Cask Matured 1998, was fully matured in vessels formerly used to hold Bordeaux wine. Rachel Barrie, master blender of the parent company Morrison Bowmore, has said that the whisky marries the sweetness of Bordeaux with the wholesome maltiness of the Garioch spirit. The very limited release will comprise only 5,400 bottles worldwide.
The wine-matured version is being released at what has become the standard strength for Glen Garioch, 96 proof (48 percent alcohol by volume). The Renaissance has a proof of 103.8 (51.9 abv). Like the other members of the core range, the whiskies are not chill filtered.
Despite the relative shortness of its recent incarnation (new releases were continued in 2010), Glen Garioch is one of the oldest operating distilleries in Scotland, having been founded in 1797. Pronounced "glen gerry," it enjoys a hospitable proximity to The Garioch, a fertile, barley-producing region known as the granary of Aberdeenshire. The distillery is in the market town of Oldmeldrum on the east side of that tract. Its relatively urban setting has kept its scale small, as room to expand doesn't exist.
The facility changed hands over the years and has been mothballed on a few occasions. It also gained notoriety as the heart malt for the popular blend Vat 69. Following closure during World War II, it experienced persistent water shortages and was closed again in 1968. Stanley Morrison of Morrison Bowmore (now part of Beam Suntory) bought the distillery in 1970, reopened it and charged the management with finding a better water source. Shortly thereafter, it was offered as a single malt for the first time.
In 1995, Glen Garioch was closed once again, only to be reopened in 1997. The amount of peat used in Glen Garioch has varied over the years, and all the newest versions are without peat at all. While we await the arrival in the United States of the two newest releases, we've taken the liberty of adding some smoke to one of the Glen Garioch core range (12-year-old and Founder's Reserve) for this week's pairing.
Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve (96 proof, or 48 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $45 per 750-ml. bottle)
APPEARANCE: Amber and brass color. Medium speed, chunky legs.
NOSE: Sprightly mix of fruit, spice and honey, with caramel and vanilla undertones. Fruit shows up in apple and grapefruit notes. The spice is peppery with a touch of cinnamon. The honey is lurid, with heather and flowers.
PALATE: Packs more of a bite in the mouth than on the nose, with a ramping up of the cinnamon flavor, which is joined by mint and eucalyptus. The citrus rounds out a bit, and the apple takes over. The honey is now informed by toffee and cereal notes.
FINISH: This dram hangs on for a while, taking a few more spins around the block to let you once more enjoy the joy ride you've just been on. Grapefruit develops distinctively at the back end, whispering, "Have another sip, lad." This is a high value malt, considering its price.
CIGAR PAIRING: Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur Short Crystal (Honduras, 5 1/4 inches by 50 ring gauge, $7.49, 91 points, August 2014 Cigar Aficionado) Notes of spicy ginger and cinnamon are balanced by a touch of nuttiness on this golden-brown cigar. The draw is lush and the burn is even. First impression is of spice meeting spice on the palate and exploding. Hard to discern which is giving more, but in the end the cigar seems to open up under the whisky's tender mercies. The Excalibur's nuttiness then coaxes out extra bits of earthy, toffee from the Glen Garioch. The sweetness in the whisky then gives back by informing the combination with floral, fruity flavors.
Alec Bradley Mundial No. 4 (Honduras, 4 1/4 inches by 48 ring gauge, $9.95, 90 points, August 2014 Cigar Aficionado) A streaky, stretched wrapper adorns this pointed little cigar. It burns evenly, delivering a chewy smoke with leathery notes and a sweet nougat finish. This combination takes off once the leather of the cigar develops and draws out like-notions on the whisky. The Glen Garioch's spice kicks backs, and the Mundial becomes chewier and sweeter' with the expansion of that nougat note. Ultimately, a chocolate conceit appears, seemingly out of nowhere.