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 52: Edradour 10-year

The Edradour 10-year Distiller’s Edition. Dark and lovely.

I first encountered Edradour whisky at The Ship Inn, located on the water in a little town called Stonehaven. Stonehaven is just north of Dunnottar Castle on the east coast of Scotland. The Ship Inn had a hefty book full of single malts to try and I liked their description of the Edradour 10-year. You can read the description in the photo below. It was a good dram, and I was pleased to find when I returned to the US I could find a 10-year ‘Distillery Edition’ in my state. I do not know if it is the same expression as I had at the Ship inn, as that might have been their cask-strength version, which is also 10-year aged (and non-chill-filtered).

Description of the whisky at the Ship Inn. Click to zoom.

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Whisky and Words Number 36: anCnoc 12

Four anCnocks, Edinburgh style.

This is one of the whiskies in our cupboard which has a (brief) story behind it. Like the Caol Ila 18, this one is a pick by the wife. While in Edinburgh a year ago, we stopped by the very same whisky shop where my single-malt obsession began many years ago. A friendly, energetic woman invited us for a taste of her wares and had on a little table a number of Balblair, anCnoc, Speyburn and Old Pulteney whiskies. These are all owned by the same conglomerate, ThaiBev.

We tried the anCnocs and my wife was quite taken by the one in black — the Rascan. I remember liking all three of the anCnoc whiskies, so when the anCnoc 12 appeared at our local shop, I was amenable when the wife suggested we give it a go.

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Whisky and Words Number 32: Oban 14

A dram of the good stuff.

Oban distillery is a petite operation by Scottish standards. Comprising only two stills, their output is listed on Wikipedia at 670,000 barrels a year. That’s about half the rate of Ardbeg, itself a distillery of modest output. With such limited production, Oban concentrate on their 14-year old, though there is a Distiller’s edition and some older releases.

Oban distillery is located in the seaside town of Oban. That’s a good place to stop and spend some time if you are working your way to the islands. Oban is a port of call for Caledonian MacBrayne, the ferry service. (You can get to Jura and Islay from there, though it’s a much longer trip than from Kennacraig.) The town has a lively main street, with lots of shops, hotels, and restaurants. There’s even a really nice bookshop, Waterstones. The distillery, shop and visitor’s center are right off the main drag. The visitor’s center is nice and spiffy but not lavish like the LVMH joints like Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. The Oban distillery is owned by Diageo, which is foremost a spirits company, not a luxury brand like LVMH. It is interesting to note that the other Diageo facilities we visited — Caol Isla and Lagavulin — were similarly nice and modern, but not lavish and marketing-forward like LVMH.

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