Whisky and Words Number 63: Glenglassaugh Torfa

The Glenlassaugh Torfa, a medium amber color

More Highlands today, but with a twist: peat. Oh, and another twist: 50% ABV. Not cask level but that’s still a hefty ABV. I’m expecting a mouthful of flavor.

Founded in 1875, Glenglassaugh was mothballed from 1986 to 2008, when they were purchased and then and refurbished by the Scaent Group, a holding company with over 25 companies in “various economic sectors.” Glenglassaugh was again purchased in 2013, this time by Benriach; that company was in turn (along with GlenDronach) gobbled up by Brown-Forman in 2016. Brown-Forman appear to be good stewards of their brands; the GlenDronach 12 was a solid performer and I expect the same here.

The fiery sunset on the label is a tell…

From the carton, we gather a few facts about the whisky: “Richly peated, non-chill-filtered, and natural colour.”No age statement. With the relatively high ABV, they are putting all the ingredients together for a nice craft whisky. On the back, they talk about the history of the distillery in pretty good detail. They also point out the Torfu is a unique expression, as Highland whiskies are not usually peated. True enough. They add tasting notes, but I’ll check them after I’ve tasted it. I’m not expecting smoothness, as a NAS whisky can have young casks in its vatting.

As you can see from the photo leading this post, the bottle is clear glass with a modern design. The spirit is a medium amber—impressive for a whisky with no colorant. They must use very charred casks.

So, for uniquely peated Highland to where do I turn to compare? I have plenty of Island whiskies which are really peated, but that’s hardly a fair comparison. I do have a Speyside whisky which has also been peated. Oddly enough, it is also from Brown-Forman: the BenRiach 10-year (which is next up for review).

The story is all here. Click for hi-res.

The BenRiach has a nose of subtle earthy peat and very light smoke while the Torfa has less—barely a hint of smoke. Both have as their main element the herby scent of lighter Highland and Speyside whiskies. The Torfa has a stronger young oak aroma than of peat, so I’m beginning to doubt the “richly peated” claim. For me, a richly peated whisky sends my mother-in-law scurrying from the room, and I think she’d hardly bat an eye at the Torfa. I pulled down the Talisker 10, a classic island whisky which, while peated, has similarly just a whiff of smoke on the nose and a more medicinal delivery of phenol. Though similar in style of peat, the Glenglassaugh has more earthiness and lacks the Talisker’s range of complex phenols, vanilla and fruit on the nose. Talisker has nothing to fear from this whisky.

Surprisingly, given the ABV, the Torfa was easy on my nose, whereas the BenRiach (46% ABV) stung.  That said, on the palate the Torfa was harsh, but the peat came to the fore—a solid whack of oily smoke tempered by a decent mid-range of toffee and vanilla. With a little water to tame the alcohol, it became quite pleasant and the tannins came through (rather than just burning the mid-tongue). However, those tannins are very bitter, though they balance the toffee. It’s an unpleasant bitterness, quite sharp and that is the predominant note of the finish.

Compared to the BenRiach 10, the Torfa has far more smoke and phenols on the palate richer toffee sweetness and smoother mouthfeel than the BenRiach, which I find surprising (10-year vs. a NAS). Between the two, the Torfa is a better pick for someone looking for a peated whisky

Glenglassaugh Torfa (NAS), Highland Single Malt, 50% ABV

Nose: Malt, earthy peat, new oak, fresh cut grass, watercress.
Palate: Decent amount of smoke and oily phenols; solid delivery of toffee, vanilla, but a harsh bite to the mid tongue. Add water to smooth the delivery but that heightens the bitter tannins.
Finish: Fairly long, with some unctuousness from the toffee and vanilla but the sharp bitterness hangs on and needs taming.

Bottom Line: At $57 this NAS whisky compares nearly in quality and price to the Talisker Storm, another NAS whisky. The Storm is a decent whisky with a bigger, peatier nose than Torfa and overall a nicer balance (richer mid-palate and does not have annoyingly bitter tannins). The Torfa has potential and if developed a bit more I think it could be a really nice Scotch. It has the bones: a rich and unctuous midrange palate, deliciously oily and phenolic palate that would make some Island whiskies jealous, and a surprisingly gentle nose for the ABV. They just need to tame the bitterness of those tannins.

The Torfa is an earthy, oily, peaty whisky that can use some water to tame it.


Whisky and Words Number 62: GlenDronach 12

GlenDronach 12: all sherry, all the time.

After spending some time in Speyside, it’s back to the Highlands with GlenDronach. Their carton is quite informative and they stake their claim straight out: they use “the finest Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks from Spain” and declare not only is this spirit non-chill filtered but also has “natural cask-emparted colour.” That throws down a marker: no monkey business with colorants. Add the 43% abv and these choices point towards a ‘craft’ oriented production, reinforced with the notation that the spirit is “Distilled, matured and bottled by the proprietors.” (Some whiskies are matured off premises). They even give the address of the distiller, in Forgue on Huntley, Aberdeenshire, with no mention of a large corporation as ultimate owners.

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Whisky and Words Number 61: The Glenlivet 15 and welcome followers 50 & 51!

The Glenlivet 15. Nicely presented. Sorry for artificial light, so much smoke outside, no sun.

Welcome followers 50 & 51! Also, since I updated to a more mobile-friendly format, thanks all for a solid 2x increase in viewership in 2020. That is about the only part of 2020 that has not sucked (pandemic, massive worldwide recession, collapse of American democracy, you know, all that stuff…)

Here comes another Glenlivet, this time the 15, on a huge sale at my local Oregon bottle shop. At $65 it is a $12 discount to the usual tariff. I was going to wait a while to post again, but a combination of this compelling sale, and the fact that we are locked inside for a weekend due to the horrific fires in Oregon (and resulting smoke) and a little celebration for my 50th (and 51st) followers has resulted in a bonus mid-week update.

While The Glenlivet usually uses mostly American oak (ex-bourbon of course) and some sherry casks, the 15 boasts additional maturation in French oak. To wit (from the carton): “a portion of the whisky is finished in Limousin Oak delivering lingering notes of toasted almond.” I usually try to avoid reading tasting notes before I try a whisky so I’ll forget about the almonds. Let’s nail down instead, what the heck is Limousin oak? This time the Glenlivet’s web site comes through:

The Limousin oak we use is cut in France’s Dordogne region, where it’s often used to mature cognacs. Its low density allows whisky to sink deep into the wood, and we carefully control how long the whisky matures in the casks so as not to overpower the desired result: a unique, pleasing spiciness.

Limousin is a common oak used for distillates, and you can read a bit more here from the Oak Barrels Shop. The OBS site explains that “this type of oak provides a golden yellow colour.” The 15 is built on the 12, which is a light amber. The color of the 15 is an almost-identical light amber (The Glenlivet calls it “a deep rich gold”) to the 12-year, as you can see below.

Glenlivet 15 on left vs. the 12; pay attention to the spirit in the glass, not the bottle (in a larger bottle it will look darker)

I found the The Glenlivet 12 disappointing. The 15 promises more, and it should deliver. Normally a substantial $77 a bottle, it compares to the 12 at $51—a 50% markup. The 15 has a lot to answer for. What’s it got inside the bottle?

Taste chart. Is it spicy? Yes, it is spicy. We warned you.

The nose absolutely has more heft to it than the 12 and it is gentler, smoother, luxurious where the 12 is somewhat thin and has a bit of alcohol bite. You get a nice earthy note as you inhale deeply, without the boggy notes of the 12. I get walnuts, not almonds, and some cinnamon spice. Pretty good, over all. They must use more sherry butts in this vatting than in the 12. That alone is worth a bit more on the nose (and the pocketbook). The palate is nicely chewy and unctuous, not too sweet—we’re into the grown-up malt at Glenlivet now. This is not a dessert whisky (unless you like heavily spiced nutmeg-and-cinnamon cookies). Coming from a Glenfarclas or Glenmorangie your taste buds are going to think you wandered into the spice aisle. In a head-to-head with the 12 it blows the 12 out of the water. It’s instructive to look at the flavor wheel on the back of the carton (photo, above); the malt master tips his hand here.

The Glenlivet 15-year, Speyside Single Malt, 40% ABV

Nose: Fairly intense sherry, with the some ‘pink lady’ apple backing of the 12. A little earthy on the deep draught: walnuts and cinnamon.
Palate: Fairly complex and balanced with some golden syrup and toffee heavily braced by a lot of spice and sturdy tannins—almost to the point of astringency.  Major notes are sherry, toffee, cinnamon, spicy oak.
Finish: Long, spicy and dry…a tad bitter, but mostly that spice goes on and on.

Bottom Line: At $65 this is the Glenlivet to buy, if you dig a nutty, spicy sherry vehicle. It definitely takes you on an adventure. At a modest markup, the 15 is a no-brainer over the vacuous 12 and compared for instance to the similarly-priced Clynelish 14, is more interesting. At the normal price, getting up towards $80, it has stiff competition with the likes of Bunnahabhain, Springbank, Edradour, etc., which take a craft-distilling approach and achieve excellent (and more balanced) results.

Luscious looks and a fruity nose belie the explosion of spice that awaits the unsuspecting.

Whisky and Words Number 60: The Glenlivet 21

Snazzy box…nice veneer.

Switching it up on you today! The last review was The Glenlivet 12, now we’re on to the Glenlivet 21.  As I mentioned in the previous post, with 14 stills, The Glenlivet produces 6 million bottles a year. They are consistent, I’ll give them that. But the 12 did not impress with depth or complexity. Today’s question: can they produce an outstanding whisky, given 9 more years?

The 21 is tagged ‘Archive’ and priced here in Oregon at $209 per bottle. For reference, our un-flashy benchmark Glenfarclas has a 21-year that retails for $145. I’m hoping there is some special mojo in the Glenlivet to make it worth that coin. Whiskyloot has a tidbit—the ‘Archive’ moniker is because there are whiskies up to 40 years in cask vatted with this expression. Now they have my attention. We had a dram from a 34-year cask at the Balvenie and that whisky had a thickness and depth that was transformational. Old whisky is different.

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Whisky and Words Number 59: The Glenlivet 12

The Glenlivet 12 in 375ml size.

You might be surprised I have not reviewed this before, as The Glenlivet, along with The Macallan and Glenfiddich (the other massive Speyside producers) are found just about everywhere. Even in biker bars, for the occasional effete sipper of single malt, will you find The Glenlivet. To attain such reach, these distilleries are truly huge. The Glenlivet, with 14 stills, is the baby of the bunch, producing 6 million bottles a year. You might ask, at such scale, what kind of whisky can they produce as a single malt?

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