Whisky and Words Number 98: Glengoyne 18-year Scotch Whisky

Glengoyne 18’s deep color.

As mentioned in the review of their 10-year expression, Glengoyne is run by a family firm (Ian MacLeod Distillers). It’s interesting to review the smaller producers, who manage to compete with multibillion-dollar giants like LVMH ($54b revenues) and Diageo ($18b revenues). The smaller companies cannot achieve equivalent economies of scale as these multinationals who have attendant pricing power.  For an example take Glenmorangie. A holding of LVMH, Glenmorangie offer an 18-year expression available for $121 locally, to Glengoyne’s 18-year at $196.

Glenmorangie can offer lower prices as, with 12 stills, they have six times the yearly output of Glengoyne and, with LVMH behind them, benefit from large firm economies in marketing. Yet smaller distillers do flourish; they focus on their niche, messaging and product quality.  They can be nimble and selective. The Glenmorangie malt master(s) have a huge stable to manage (not only multiple vintages, but also variants such as Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, Nectar d’Or, a line of ‘prestige‘ releases, etc.). How much focus can the Glenmorangie malt masters put on any one expression? Are they able to replicate at scale the obsessive attention a smaller producer can apply to an expression? It must be a challenge. For what it’s worth, I reviewed the Glenmorangie 18, and it was pretty good, but unremarkable. At a small distiller like Glengoyne, you’re going to have more focus from the malt master on their smaller line of expressions. That’s the theory.

I like to do head-to-head comparisons when I can. For a similar aged whisky, today’s is not terribly direct. I have a 17-year Glenfarclas, which is presumably more sherried (100% sherry casks) and a Speysider at that. But we can get an idea of the relative merits. I also, of course, have the Glengoyne 10 on hand still. So we can do a head-to head there as well.

The 10-year (l) vs. the Glengoyne 18 (r)

Let’s start with first impressions of the 18-year. This was a big hit with my whisky group. Uncorking reveals a rich sherried nose, so I am suspecting they have more sherry-treated barrels in the marry than with the 10. There is a touch of leather in the nose that you get with older whiskies, but a lot more spice than I expected (cinnamon and cardamom). The palate has a good balance of toffee, caramel, and hints of marshmallow carrying the sweetness. The palate is surprisingly lively, with a good helping of the aforementioned spices and quite a bit of vanilla. It has enough oak to clean up delicately, leaving the vanilla to hang around for a long time with traces of tannins.

Compared to the 10, the nose of the Glengoyne 18 is far richer, with more sherry, and the palate is unctuous, more varied. The finish lasts quite a ways longer and the vanilla really lingers where in the 10 it fades pretty quickly. 

Nice carton..but you don’t drink the carton.

If we bring in the Glenfarclas 17, what is notable is that the Glengoyne, which is not known as a sherry monster, has a tad more sherry on the nose than the Glenfarclas 17. Perhaps apropos of nothing, the Glengoyne’s color is  darker. Is that color from E150 or first-fill barrels? We don’t know about Glengoyne, though I confirmed with my Glenfarclas 17 review that Glenfarclas uses no colorants.

The Glenfarclas 17 and Glengoyne 18 are close competitors, but the Glengoyne has a richer mouthfeel and more broad flavors on the sweet side: the Glenfarclas does not carry as much vanilla, which gives Glengoyne that marshmallow richness. For me, the tip goes to the Glengoyne by a couple hairs. But the Glenfarclas 17 is no slouch and the wife preferred it.

Glengoyne 18-year Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 43% ABV

Nose: Sherry fruitiness (grape and raspberry), a touch of leather, very slight mineral.
Palate: Unctuous, smooth, toffee and marshmallow with plenty of vanilla. Following that, there is quite a lot of spice (cinnamon and cardamom).
Finish: Long; mainly vanilla with some cinnamon and finally oak lending a touch of bitter to clean up.

Bottom Line:  At $196 locally, this is an expensive whisky. Comparing to it closest competitors in my stable, the Glenfarclas 17 and Glenmorangie 18 (both around $120), it’s pretty steep. In fact, the Glengoyne 18 is more expensive than the Glenfarclas 21, which is surprising (and a testament to the Glenfarclas efficiency). Is the whisky worth the coin? The 10-year was good, so expectations were high. But I think the Glengoyne makes the grade. The nose is luxurious, the palate impresses, and it has a long if not overly complex finish. This is a good selection if you’re in the pink and want to treat yourself to a moderately sherried Highlander with a solid and luscious delivery. It also makes a good gift, as the carton and labeling are very elegant. If your budget is tighter, go for the Glenfarclas (another family firm)…you won’t get a fancy carton, but the whisky is quite rewarding.

A worthy single malt in its natural place of rest.

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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