Glengoyne Distillery found a particularly interesting way to select which whisky should become the next ‘Cask of the Moment’ single cask bottling. Luckily, we were present to witness the fun go down…
Anyone else spending the extra time we got in lockdown trying to find something useful to do with all these strange new hours? I guess you could get into shape. Maybe start reading more books. Personally, I’m trying to find a way to disable the “Are you still watching?” prompts Netflix has (if you have then feel free to share).
Ian Macleod Distillers, however, is clearly not suffering from a lack of productivity. The Scottish family-owned spirits company has spent the last few weeks announcing all kinds of fun things. From the next instalment of Tamdhu’s excellent Batch Strength series (more on that in an upcoming post soon…) to some cool new Glengoyne developments.
Yesterday, Glengoyne revealed that its range has become fully recyclable and unveiled a swanky Queer Eye-style makeover. However, this is Master of Malt, so while we’re excited about sustainability and love the new look, we’re even more interested in the new whiskies that have been launched alongside this rebrand. This includes the next chapter in the Legacy Series and the second is the eighth batch in the Cask Strength range. And we enjoyed both very much.
But none of this compared to the excitement we felt on the evening of Friday 28 August. I was one of many Glengoyne fans who (virtually) tuned in to a live stream of a tasting of four samples. One of which would become the new ‘Cask of the Moment’ expression.
Our voice, our dram
Global brand ambassador Gordon Dundas hosted, with distillery manager Robbie Hughes. Industry experts Rosalind Erskine, Christopher Coates and Blair Bowman were also present to discuss each dram and pick a favourite. As were we.
Yes, we the fans were also armed with a tasting kit filled with the samples. And we got to vote which was our favourite. Simply click a link, select a chosen dram and bam! Democracy. It was basically the Highland’s X-Factor.
The four candidates were single casks samples that were chosen from Glengoyne’s Warehouse #8. A sherry hogshead, an ex-bourbon barrel, a Port pipe and a Madeira cask. This is a particularly exciting line-up not only because of its variety but, as Hughes pointed out, “some of the liquid in the sample kits may have never been released for sale”. Making this a one-of-a-kind experience.
Hughes says the samples were chosen with three main objectives in mind. “One was to select styles of whisky Glengoyne isn’t normally associated with. Secondly, I didn’t want the whiskies to be too old because I wanted people to be able to afford them. The third objective was to select three whiskies that I really liked. It took us just 40 minutes to choose these four whiskies. That’s how outstanding they were”.
So, without further ado, here are the four samples and our thoughts on them:
An ex-bourbon barrel that Hughes remembers filling back in December 2004, as it was “the first bourbon cask we distilled in years”. Only two of the 73 casks remain, but despite this Glengoyne isn’t known for its use of bourbon cask, with only the 12 Year Old featuring any first fill bourbon in it from the core range.
Nose: There’s masses of vanilla upfront with desiccated coconut and some classic Glengoyne fruitiness (mostly green apples). Lemon drizzle cake adds some citrus elements among tangy elements of barbecued pineapple and blackberries. Throughout there’s a note of sticky toffee pudding filled with dates and covered in vanilla ice cream, as well as hints of freshly grated nutmeg and cacao powder.
Palate: Through drying oak spice, ginger and black pepper comes brown sugar, polished furniture and raspberry and vanilla sponge. There’s plenty of dried mango and makrut lime as well as a note of summer flowers throughout.
Finish: Lemon bonbons, dark berry jam and red apple skins linger.
Overall: A terrific whisky. There’s heaps of distillery profile that the cask enhances while bringing enough of its own personality to the table. To be honest, I thought we already had our winner with the first dram when I tasted this. Then came Cask B…
Back on 19 January 2005 Glengoyne distilled a batch of its signature new make and popped it into a 404 litre Port pipe, and boy am I glad they did. Hughes says this cask was one of the biggest ever filled at the distillery and that only three remains. This would have had Colheita Port in it for nearly 30 years (1977), which actually doesn’t sound promising as you would think it’s taken a lot of goodness out of the cask itself. Hughes says he was wary himself, but the angel share was reasonable (they lost 23.4%) and there proved to be plenty of power left.
Nose: Wow. The best nose of the range. The thick and rich elements of dark chocolate, black cherry, raisins and treacle come first, then clove, liquorice and caramelised oranges add contrast. An underlying oaky dryness adds structure to the sweet richness of the port elements before we get that classic Glengoyne orchard fruit note, hazelnut, pomegranate molasses then leather and espresso beans. You could nose this all day and not get bored.
Palate: Blackberry jam, stewed plum and black wine gums provide a similar big and bold opening to the nose with manuka honey dried apricots and fresh herbs bringing balance this time. Lots of nutty tones, vanilla and red cola cubes are present with an underlying note that’s similar to Tunes Cherry Menthol Lozenges.
Finish: Damp earth, fruitcake and salted caramel with a little black pepper remain.
Overall: A spectacular dram. It’s so indulgent, full-bodied and moreish. The cask brings an incredible variety of flavours, but the most impressive aspect is how well the distillery character has been integrated beautifully. Port is usually a finishing cask, but this is the kind of dram that proves it can do full maturation. Hughes remarked in the tasting he’s “never tasted a Glengoyne like this before,” and that he was “going to have to go and try the other two casks now… for science!”
Cask C is an ex-sherry refill hogshead, which means we’re in very familiar Glengoyne territory here. The hogshead’s capacity was 148.2 litres, which Hughes says is one of the smallest he’s seen. Cask C is the last one of this particular batch, so it’s exceptionally rare. Hughes also remarked that when they tried this one in the warehouse they didn’t think twice about putting it in the tasting, so that gives you an idea of the standard we’re working with here.
Nose: Big notes of sherry-soaked fruit upfront (dates, plums and blackberries) as well as pomander balls, Christmas cake and marzipan. Grape skin, strawberry pencil sweets and vanilla come next with toasted almonds, old leather, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco and toasted brown sugar. Sublime.
Palate: Chocolate ice-cream, vanilla pod, Seville marmalade and red fruit (cranberries, mostly) lead with baking spice, potpourri and cracked black peppercorns in support. As the palate develops there’s nectarine in syrup, caramel, stewed pear and resinous wax. With water, there’s a really beautiful note of fresh melon as the palate becomes lighter, creamier and more aromatic.
Finish: The finish is tannic and dry with red apple skin and melted chocolate.
Overall: A beauty. Sadly, this sample has much in common with the core range and this meant it became a little overlooked compared to the more intriguing cask types. But it’s an expression any fan of the distillery would love if they purchased it.
Our final dram of the evening is the Madeira cask, another very rare option as there’s only two of these left on site. This one dates back to 2007 and was probably the sample I was most intrigued to taste. A quick look at MoM demonstrates how rare whisky fully-matured in Madeira casks are.
Nose: Salted caramel, rhubarb and custard cake and old leather initially followed by black cherry, banana foam sweets and tinned pineapple chunks. Underneath there’s a note of coke and vanilla ice cream float.
Palate: Beautiful, for my money the best palate of the range. There’s nectarines in syrup, marmalade and acacia honey with drying spice, balsamic vinegar, condensed milk and toasted almonds adding depth. Tangy pineapple, creme brulee and apricot jam arrive in the mid-palate with marzipan, creamy vanilla and stewed orchard fruits.
Finish: Stem ginger, resin, sultanas and a hint of banana milkshake.
Overall: I love this whisky. It’s an exceptional example of how to do Madeira cask whisky right. And a lesson in balance between distillery character and a cask that can often easily overwhelm the liquid. It’s a multifaceted, complex and integrated whisky. The palate offered new notes with every sip.
And the winner is…
As you can imagine, casting my vote proved very difficult. Cask B has the best nose. But the palate on Cask D was *chef’s kiss*. I felt bad for not giving Cask A enough consideration, which was sublime. Then I felt really bad for Cask C. It would stand out in any other tasting. All the fun and exploration didn’t give it much room to shine, however. Glengoyne could, and should, release all of them (I’m not being greedy).
Hughes says that Glengoyne’s spirit works well in so many different cask styles as the new make has few harsh spikes that need ironing out with time in a cask. “It means our original character, which is light, with strong fruity, estery notes, doesn’t change dramatically over the years. It doesn’t diminish quickly in the cask and the cask rarely domineers it either. It’s quite a strange combination, to be honest, but the end result is excellent,” he explains. “What is also key is that you must get your cask selection right from the start. It isn’t enough to just produce an excellent spirit. You must have quality oak casks to put it in. Once you put them both together and leave time to do its stuff you can get something special”.
As far as the format for picking a new whisky goes, I was a huge fan of this process. I can’t remember the last time I did a round of tastings and enjoyed each whisky so much. The execution of the event was smooth. The delivery was on time and came with clear instructions. The live vote brought genuine excitement and anticipation. The range also worked as an insight into the effects of full-term, single cask maturation. And as an education in how distillery character reacts to different profiles of casks. I’d like to see this become a more common approach. Dundas believes the brand could do it again. “When you’re able to engage your fans in such a unique way, it makes sense to see how you can evolve it to make their experience with Glengoyne the best it can be”.
Anyway, you’re probably all anxious to learn which dram was the winner. Well, first here’s how the panel ranked the samples:
Robbie Hughes – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask A)
Rosalind Erskine – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask A)
Blair Bowman – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask A)
Christopher Coates – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask D)
Gordon Dundas – Winner: Cask A (Runner up: Cask B)
So, Cask B was the clear winner there. But, the public still had the ultimate say. And the winner was…
It would appear the panel’s thoughts carries some weight. Although Cask B was so good it’s perfectly possible the entire Glengoyne community came to the same conclusion in unison. Hughes, who picked Cask B as the standout whisky of the evening, summarised that “Glengoyne has a top-notch core range offering and we release high-quality single cask whiskies as well. But Cask B has a point of difference from them all. It has enjoyed full maturation in a Port pipe cask since January 2005. So this isn’t simply a cask seasoned with Port for a couple of years,” he said. “This cask has a pedigree and over the 15 years of maturation, the Glengoyne spirit was, in my opinion, able to develop into one of the finest single casks we have produced. It’s yet another example of what this wee distillery is capable of producing. It never fails to surprise me!”
It’s a worthy victor. I highly recommend the purchase, although I will note that it does come with a premium price. However, one of the many advantages of going for the Port pipe was that it’s huge and so Glengoyne was able to fill 789 bottles from it, meaning there is still some left (at the time of writing). The whisky is available to purchase at the newly reopened distillery shop and online via the Glengoyne website. And don’t forget, you can pick up Legacy Series: Chapter Two the Cask Strength series Batch No. 008 now!