The east Highland distillery of Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-geery) has released the third whisky in its Vintages range. It follows on from the popular 1990 and 1991 Vintage bottlings. This new 1994 Vintage has an alcoholic strength of 53.9% ABV and will retail in specialist whisky specialists for around £60. There is to be only 900 bottles released in the UK, with approximately 11,000 bottles distributed to other world markets. The whisky has been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks and was produced in the lightly peated style, which the distillery made prior to its closure in 1995. When it was re-opened in 1997, the change was made to an un-peated style.
Glen Garioch was founded in 1797 by Thomas Simpson, making it one of Scotland's oldest whisky distilleries that is still in operation. The original name was Glengarioch (the 'Garioch' is a fertile strip of local farmland that is well known for producing top quality barley) before changing to Glen Garioch in the 1930s. It is located in Oldmeldrum, a small town in the Highlands, which is close to Aberdeen. The distillery is Scotland's most easterly and has an annual production capacity of one million litres. Glen Garioch is currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese drinks company Suntory. They took control in 1994, temporarily closing the distillery one year later, before reopening it in 1997. The single malt range has been recently revamped and while remaining small, it is occasionally punctuated with limited releases such as this 1994 Vintage.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale yellow gold and the nose is light, fresh and vibrant. There are an interesting array of aromas that hit your senses - honey, lemon sherbet sweets, vanilla, plenty of cereal grains, custard powder, dried grasses and a hint of something floral (maybe honeysuckle?). The cereal aroma increases with time in the glass and becomes quite gristy/malty with a faint whiff of dusty peat smoke. On the palate, this is initially tangy and full of zesty, juicy lemon notes and plenty of barley sugar sweetness. This freshness penetrates your taste buds and gives great intensity to begin with. This begins to soften after a few seconds and some lovely, softer notes of honey and vanilla come through. The combination is good and is further joined by notes of bittersweet cereals, oak shavings, coconut, dried grasses and a background dusty, earthy smokiness. The finish is quite spicy with plenty of drying oak and grains evident. The faint smoke lingers longer than anything.
A few drops of water take the initial tangy/zesty edge off both the nose and palate, although the lemon notes remain. These are more integrated with the softer, sweeter notes and the palate becomes creamier. The bittersweet cereals and dried grass notes also become less prominent. The whisky seems to lose a little something with even a few drops of water, but this makes it more approachable in our opinion and possibly more appealing to a wider audience.
What's the verdict?
This Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage is a surprising whisky. By 'surprising', we mean that when compared to the other Glen Garioch whiskies (including the other two Vintages) that we have tried to date, this one is lighter, fresher and more vibrant than expected. It is delicious and mouth watering, but more reminiscent of the lighter style of whisky from the Lowland region of Scotland (well, one with a hint of smoke if you can imagine that!). Glen Garioch seems to remain an under rated distillery that produces good single malts that don't make it on to most people's radars for some reason. This is another decent whisky and makes you wonder why this is the case?