Whisky is now flowing to America from the long-shuttered Scottish Highland distillery of Glenglassaugh as the company that also brought back BenRiach and GlenDronach introduces five new whiskies.
Two are hyper-aged malts with 30- and 40-year age statements. The other three are first tastes in America of whiskies made since the distillery was taken out of mothballs a little more than five years ago. Alistair Walker, the regional sales director of the owner of the three distilleries, BenRiach Distillery Co. Ltd., sees Glenglassaugh as having "effectively two sides...the pre-shutdown version and the modern version."
The latter three releases from the company, which has specialized in reviving silent distilleries, are no-age-statement whiskies that stem from the efforts of the Glenglassaugh's next most-recent owner. Scaent Group, made up of Russian investors and based in Amsterdam, purchased the facility and restarted distilling there in 2009 for the first time since 1986. While that group sold some of the warehoused stock that came with the purchase from the Edrington Group, it keyed on marketing something called the "Spirit that dare not speak its name." That product was an unaged new malt, which couldn't legally be called "whisky" and was something like the "white whiskeys" often sold by microdistillers in the United States.
BenRiach purchased the distillery in March of 2013 and, says Walker, "we liked what [the previous owners] were doing," especially referring to the Bourbon barrel and red cask maturation that created what now reaches the market as Revival ($64.99). BenRiach added a six-month finish in large Oloroso Sherry casks to add body and flavor before bottling it. Walker notes that such treatment is unusual for a whisky of that age.
The second new release, Evolution ($79.99), was aged strictly in former George Dickel Tennessee whisky barrels. There is some ironic synergy to the marriage as both distilleries were, until relatively recently, not operating. Walker describes the result as "honest, simple and straight-forward." The bottling may be a one-off, however, as barrel acquisitions from Tennessee are becoming more difficult.
Torfa ($74.99), the third of the new releases, is an anomaly for the Highlands region because it is so intensely smoky. The name comes from the Old Norse word for peat. All three whiskies are natural color and not chill-filtered, as are the two older whiskies of the five releases.
The 30-year-old was aged in refill Oloroso Sherry butts and sells for $499.99. The 40-year-old comes from a mix of Bourbon barrels, European oak hogsheads, and Oloroso Sherry butts. Its price is $3,000. Walker says that much of the value of purchasing silent distilleries comes from acquiring old stocks—in this case made between 1963 and 1986—that can be sold at a high price. The risk is that some of the stock may not be usable.
The younger whisky from Glenglassaugh will continue to reappear in no-age-statement versions, with the possible inclusion of malt aged in Pedro Ximénez sherry puncheons, says Walker. Then, in 2019, the company will release its first age-statement whisky (10-year-old) made from the modern version.
There's currently a vogue for malts that don't reference a number of years, which Glenglassaugh will likely take advantage of. "People aren't as precious as they used to be about age," says Walker, adding that while some whisky of great age is brilliant, "it is not a guarantee of quality. It is a guarantee of a very high price."
The parent company was formed by Walker's father, Billy, a 35-year veteran of the industry, in conjunction with two South African investors, with the purchase of the shuttered BenRiach in 2004. Its first two distilleries were bought from large companies who, in the younger Walker's view, "weren't giving them the priority we thought they deserved." Glenglassaugh is a bit different in that it was owned by an independent company that sold after suffering financial ills.
The distillery is located in Banffshire in the northern Highlands, not far from Speyside. It enjoys the maritime influence of nearby Sandend Bay. The name means something to the effect of green valley. Pronunciation of Glenglassaugh is variable and "depends on what part of Scotland you're from," according to Walker. Popular candidates are glenglah-sock, glenglah-suck and glenglas-off. Walker is not much of a stickler for which one you choose. It's all in the taste after all. We tried the newer Glenglassaugh releases:
Glenglassaugh Revival (92 proof, or 46 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $64.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Light color, but with the brassy and pink tint of the red wine casks. Quick, thick legs.
NOSE: Quite floral with slight bread-dough and cheddar.
PALATE: Very chipper flavor with the fruity charms of youth with no attendant rawness. The red wine makes a dramatic mark with lighter pear notes and honey. An arresting, bold flavor, but without much complexity.
FINISH: It hangs on remarkably well considering its youth, but doesn't develop new flavors in the finish.
CIGAR PAIRING: Hoyo de Monterrey (5 1/2 inches by 50 ring gauge, £21.26, 94 points, August 2014 Cigar Aficionado) Rich and complex impressions of coffee, earth and cocoa powder interweave with graham cracker and nutmeg notes. A delicious medium-bodied smoke. We were hoping the chocolate of the smoke would add complexity to the sweetness of the whisky-and it does-but the bonus is how well-rounded the malt became, with cherry notes and barrel flavors arising. The smoke benefits from new, fruity dimensions.
Glenglassaugh Evolution (100 proof, or 50 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $79.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Very light yellow color, owning to the lack of added coloring. Markedly slower, thick legs.
NOSE: Again, very flowery on the nose, but with an appearance of honey and toffee notes.
PALATE: Breaks out with very floral and fruity flavors and then delves into the caramel/vanilla flavors suggested by the Tennessee-whisky-barrel maturation. While ageing to Walker's estimation of "straight-forward," we hasten to add that it is by no means one-dimensional. Spice and honey make weighted appearances as well as some eucalyptus.
FINISH: Another strong finish, this time with a more well-drawn spice character as it transforms.
CIGAR PAIRING: Hoyo de Monterrey (see above) With this pairing, the whisky seeks out the coffee and earth notes of the smoke and makes an instant partnership as the malt gets even rounder. The graham cracker and spice elements are more pronounced in the Glenglassaugh and the Hoyo takes on a leathery quality that wasn't previously detected.
Glenglassaugh Torfa (100 proof, or 50 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $74.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Again, the lack of coloring reveals a very light yellow color. Its legs are very quick to fall in big droplets.
NOSE: The peat dominates the bouquet, but some floral notes make their way through.
PALATE: Smoke is the definite first impression, but more cereal flavors quickly give it added depth, before honey, caramel and light fruits make an appearance.
FINISH: The flavors linger long, but, once again, without much development beyond some spiciness.
CIGAR PAIRING: Hoyo de Monterrey (see above) - The whisky's peat is like a cattle prod to the latent leather in the cigar. In turn, the Glenglassaugh opens up beyond the insistent smoky first impression and hidden fruit and oily flavors open up. The marriage shows impressive synergy with the sometimes difficult prospect of smoke banging heads with smoke. Very successful.