Whisky and Words Number 63: Glenglassaugh Torfa

The Glenlassaugh Torfa, a light 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. It also had a 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.


Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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