Thursday, June 20, 2019

Review - Glenglassaugh Octave Cask #SC36

by Billy Abbott of Spirited Matters and The Whisky Exchange blog.

Glenglassaugh is a Highland distillery which has, over the past decade, occasionally offered casks for sale. This bottling is one of those, selected by Matt and Karen, purveyors of this very blog. They very kindly forced me to take/gave me a sample and asked if I would like to write about it. I, of course, accepted.

While it was founded in 1875, the distilling history of Glenglassaugh is surprisingly short. In 1907, after just 32 years of operation, it was at first mothballed, and then operated intermittently for another 53 years. In 1960, it was completely rebuilt at its clifftop location overlooking the North Sea, and ran happily until 1986.

The 1980s were a hard time for distilling in Scotland. With a glut of spirit on the market, distilleries closed across the country, with 1983 being an especially fateful year across the industry. Glenglassaugh hung on for a further three years, before closing.

After more than 20 years of lying dormant, it seemed unlikely that the distillery would ever open again, but in 2008 it was bought by an investment group and brought back to life. While a 22-year gap in the stock maturing in the whisky in the warehouse signalled their may be some interesting choices to be made further down the line, the new owners released a mix of long-aged whisky – distilled before the 1980s' closure – as well as new and young spirit.

In 2012, the first spirit to be distilled since the closure was released: the youthful Glenglassaugh Revival, celebrating the distillery's rebirth. Glenglassaugh Evolution – the next step after the Revival – was launched later and shortly followed by Torfa, a smoky dram that revealed the distillery's dalliance with peated whisky.

It was in this era that the distillery offered casks for whisky fans to buy. Rather than focusing on larger casks – even a standard barrel is 200 litres, which is much more whisky than most people will need or want – the program offered octaves, one eighth the size of a butt, approximately 37.5 litres. A manageable and affordable amount of whisky, they sold quickly, and Matt and Karen managed to grab one.

In 2013, the distillery changed hands again, becoming a part of Billy Walker's Benriach Company, becoming a third distillery in the group along with the titular Benriach (purchased in 2004) and Glendronach (purchased 2008). In 2016, the Americans of Brown-Forman took over and made Walker and his associates very rich.

This bottling was from cask #SC36, distilled on 11 March 2013 and filled by Matt and Karen shortly afterwards, and then bottled on 9 April 2019 at six years old and 56.7% ABV. The octave was built out of an oloroso cask, and the combination of a small cask – giving a big wood-to-spirit ratio – and rich sherry character from the previous occupant should give this whisky a hefty punch and intensity after even just six years, maybe even a bit too much.

So, on to my tasting notes ...

The whisky has a richly bronze colour that fits perfectly with its rich, well-baked cookie nose, rather than the deep and dark sherry bomb you might expect. Sugar cookies studded with cherries and occasional chocolate chips roll out of the glass, slowly morphing into kirsch-filled chocolate bonbons. Candied orange and lemon peel notes develop, along with a touch of spiced spongecake batter. That's all topped with a spoonful of boozy rum'n'raisin ice cream.

The palate continues from the cookie and cake theme, with the spiced sponge now cooked and the cookies back in raw dough form. Raisins and candied fruit stud them both, and there's a tinge of charred oak cask and singed citrus peel. Stewed pears sit in the middle of the tongue, with the spicy baking-spice trifecta of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon stirred through melted, fruity dark chocolate. Sultanas and dried cherries sneak in at the end.

Sweet baking spice leads the finish, with dark chocolate, cherries and liquorice lingering as they fade, sweet and fruity.

And my verdict?

As I explained to Matt as he poured me a dram of this whisky, there's no way I should like it. One of my least favourite things in the current whisky world is the use of small casks – the big wood-to-spirit ratio means that the wood so often overtakes the spirit's own character, creating spiky, dusty, woody messes. A sherry octave? It's my worst nightmare. There's no way I could like this...

Inevitably, I do. Damn you, Matt and Karen.

The cookie and cake flavours sit on top of the Glenglassaugh fruitiness, with support from rich spice that doesn't hide the citrus and orchard fruit notes that I look for in whiskies from the distillery. Unfortunately, it's not for sale – it's all Matt and Karen's. But if you bump into the Whisky for Everyone crew, beg a dram: it's quite nice.


A huge thank you from us to Billy for writing this review. We are very pleased with how our octave developed over its six year journey and clearly could not write an unbiased review about it. Please visit Billy's other sites as they make from great and knowledgeable reading. Here is a picture of him on a boat. Thanks again - Matt & Karen.

1 comment:

Jason B. Standing said...

Did I take that photo of Billy on a boat?