Glen Garioch (pronounced ‘glen geery’) is an interesting place. The distillery is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland, dating back to 1797 with just a couple short periods of closure, in 1968 and 1995. The distillery has been part of Morrison Bowmore Distillers (Auchentoshan and Bowmore) since 1970. Morrison Bowmore was acquired by Suntory in 1994. There are some great details about the distillery on Morrison Bowmore’s site. There is a lauter for the mash tun and they use stainless steel washbacks. They have three sizeable stills, of which two are presently used, according to various sources. Their production is small, at about 1M liters per year. That’s one-third the size of Glenfarclas, for example. On the Glen Garioch web site, they state they produce without chill filtration, and play up the small batch aspect of the spirits. Their 3-minute video gives some views of the well-tended distillery.
Glen Garioch have a 12-year (which is on my radar), but this review is for the Founder’s Reserve, a low-priced NAS offering ($47 here in Oregon). That’s even less than Talisker’s Storm or Highland Park’s Magnus.
Today’s entry is going to be a benchmark for some craft whiskies to come. In the U.S., we’ve see billboard ads for Bulleit products fairly regularly over the last 10 years. This is a brand with some history (mid-1800s), though it was dormant for 120 years. The brand was reflated in the late 1980s, then sold to Seagrams, which was gobbled up by Diageo.
Diageo’s Bulleit bourbon is centered in two plants, the larger being almost 7 M litres per year. That dwarfs most Scottish distilleries. But that’s not all. This 95 Rye spirit is distilled at another facility, MGP Indiana, a contract distiller. This is a typical arrangement for American whiskies. Whereas in Scotland they have contracted out much of the maltings, cooperage and some bottling and warehouses, in the US, it’s more common that the distillation is contracted out en toto. So what’s a brand in that case? Some ‘producers’ do their own finishing: cask and aging. Others buy the stuff finished and just supply the marketing. Mostly, that’s fluff and sometimes gets them into legal trouble.
I’ve covered the standard Ardbeg 10 and Corryvreckan whiskies on the blog previously. The 10 is a solid performer in the Islay peat stakes and a reasonable $55. They distillery releases some older whiskies and also a range of NAS offerings both on the value and premium and of pricing. The cheap and rascally Wee Beastie and to-be-tasted An Oa hold the low end of the line (under $50). The premium NAS offerings, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, increase the stakes as they are priced here in Oregon at $82 and $92, respectively. Going into this testing I’m expecting a smoother delivery than the 10-year and the signature excellence in robust but balanced flavors I have come to expect from Ardbeg. I’m also very curious to see how the two premium offerings compare, and I’ve got an impressive competitor as well, the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10.
Woodford Reserve is the premium whisky from the folks at Brown-Forman, famous for Jack Daniels (as well as some Scotch labels such as BenRiach). Oddly enough Jack Daniels was the favorite tipple of Keith Richards (until he went dry in 2018). He could afford better, and the distillery does make a better whisky. With Woodford, Brown-Forman are going for a higher price and more refined flavor. And to one-up our valiant competitor Knob Creek, Brown-Forman even include a pot still in the Woodford Reserve production, whereas Knob Creek is all column-distilled. But there’s more to whisky than the still.
Auchentoshan, uncommon for being a lowland whisky, is also unique for using triple distillation. (Springbank’s Hazelburn line uses the same technique, but no other Scottish distilleries triple-distill routinely.) Triple distillation used to be more common, since with a mix of grains, you should get a smoother whisky with a third distillation. Over time, the rationale has become moot, as single-malt Scotch has been codified to use only barley malt for the grain, so the expensive extra step for a third distillation isn’t seen as necessary. Auchentoshan continues with the practice to produce a light whisky with fewer heavier oils and proteins from the mash. Since the mash uses only unpeated barley, we’re anticipating a delicate flavor.