Glenglassaugh is one of those ill-fated distilleries which over the years seems to have spent more time mothballed than producing spirit. Situated on the Moray Firth coast just outside of the Speyside region, this highland distillery was established in 1875 by a local businessman and his nephews, with its primary purpose to supply his grocery business. Over the years the whisky produced became a favourite of blenders (notably Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark) but alas this was not enough to prevent multiple closures, most notably in 1986 where the distillery was mothballed for a period of 22 years.
Thankfully the distillery was saved in 2008 after being acquired by an independent investment group and promptly refurbished, with production restarting at the end of that year.
While whisky from the “new” Glenglassaugh is has started to filter through to the market in the last few years, we have been treated in the meantime to some rather fantastic older stock that has been patiently sitting in the warehouses since before the 1986 closure.
I recently came across an opportunity that was too good to pass up: A Rare Cask Series set comprising 200ml bottles of 26, 37 and 43 year old expressions – a perfect chance to explore the old Glenglassaugh.
The hard water around Portsoy is said to lead to a beguiling distillery character with mineral tones and emphasised cereal notes – this was not always seen as favourable by blenders who wanted a softer Glenrothes-style character for their whiskies. How does this character stand up to and indeed influence the decades of maturation in oak?
26 Year Old
Colour & First Impressions: Golden syrup through sunlight. A very “thick” looking whisky – glass coating stuff.
Nose: Lots of sherry initially but also warm vanilla custard and currant steam pudding. On the savoury side there is a slight hint of roasting meat. Some bright, sweet yet fresh perfume notes provide balance, and boiled sweets become present given some time. This fruity-sweet side grows and grows in the glass.
Taste: A nice buttery mouthfeel, satisfyingly so given the syrupy look of the liquid. Rich dried fruit balanced with gentle vanilla cream, some nutmeg and other baking spice.
Finish: A pleasant malt biscuit builds towards the finish, drying nicely with sherry astringency.
37 Year old
Colour & First Impressions: Golden syrup again, but in a cupboard this time as opposed to through sunlight. This is another glass-coating whisky.
Nose: Lots of furniture polish and a sweet rich nuttiness: chocolate hazelnut spread. Some austere mature notes are present; leather-bound books. The same bright sweet perfumed notes from the 26 are in the background. Given some time in the glass, a lighter sweetness of birthday cake fondant appears.
Taste: Given the nose, the initial palate is quite surprising: lots of tannic sherry in the form of resiny wood notes. A second wave brings rich sherry syrup balanced with fennel and other herbal notes.
Finish: The rich woody/nutty notes from the nose are joined with liquorice and other root spice for a lingering finish.
43 Year Old
Colour & First Impressions: Dark polished copper. This is another syrupy-looking dram – a definite theme emerging here!
Nose: Surprisingly bright for a 43 year-old initially: some poached pear alongside boozy currants with custard and foam banana sweets. On the “old” side there are hints of tobacco leaf and autumnal forest floor, the old leather from the 37 is also detectable.
Taste: Initial spice, then red liquorice and strawberry laces. There is also dried fruit and warm vanilla to continue a theme across the trio. Spice is pervasive but never overly-dominating – this is a well-balanced palate for a 43 year-old whisky.
Finish: Baking spice and dried fruit combine on a very long finish that goes on and on.