I’m almost ashamed to say that Glengoyne is up to this point, the only Scottish distillery I have set foot in. Unfortunately, with my wife having no interest in whisky it’s quite difficult to manage, and a solo holiday might not go down so well when we have a young child in the house. However, this year I am hoping to add a couple more to the list, with a planned trip to the Glasgow Whisky Festival in November perhaps presenting an opportunity to tick off at least one more. Speyside would be the dream if I can persuade the other half. Here’s hoping!
I visited Glengoyne last October on our way up to Edinburgh. It seemed like a great opportunity to take a slight detour and visit the distillery, before heading east to the capital. Walking into a Scottish whisky distillery with real heritage for the first time was magical. The sights, the sounds and the smells all contributing in a way that is difficult to put into words, but anybody that has been to a distillery before will know all about. Its as if the atmosphere itself is different.
I pre-booked the £30 Collection Tour and Tasting, and was surprised to be the only person on it that afternoon. I initially though it could make things a bit awkward, but I had an enjoyable and informative personal tour, exploring the various parts of production, followed by a whisky and chocolates pairing flight, which included the 10, 18 and 21. It was a close call on the day between the 18 and 21, although the 10 is certainly no back number despite being only 40%, and can be had for a fraction over £30. They all tasted pretty wonderful in that moment.
The one factor which may well have influenced the tasting was the distillery experience. Although I was drinking these drams on a leather sofa in a lovely stone building called Burnfoot Lodge, and not in the warehouse straight from the cask, I had just been around the sites and smells of the distillery, the whisky geek in me was jumping for joy at this opportunity to see a working distillery in all its glory. I had put my nose into the washbacks, I had seen the spirit running off the stills, and there is always a good chance that will accentuate the experience beyond what the cold reality of sitting at home with a dram can produce. The warehouses over the road from the distillery were the only part I felt I really missed from the tour, and I wish Glengoyne would find a way of including them. Whisky is made in warehouses after all; the distillery only produces the new make spirit. Warehouse 1, which you do get to see, is very small indeed, and the casks are locked away behind metal gates.
I must admit I have never been a fan of whisky and food pairings, especially sweet things, as they accentuate the bitter notes in a whisky. I prefer to drink whisky with water alone and save the food until later, unless it is perhaps a more social and relaxed session, when some savoury snacks often go down well. The only reason I chose the tour was because the drams on offer at the end were better on paper. Nevertheless, the chocolates were good, and I took as much time as I dared whilst sitting alone with a tour guide sitting opposite me who wasn’t partaking; for obvious reasons. Another guest or two may have helped with that part of the experience, as we could have bounced thoughts off each other.
The distillery shop is rather expensive. Perhaps it is because Glengoyne feel they have a captive audience who are willing to spend over the odds in that environment. I’d rather they rewarded the whisky fan who has made the trip, and left them as happy as possible, because when they later notice the price they could have got online or in a specialist retailer, it might leave a bitter taste. I must say if you do go on a tour, a 10% discount is given for the shop to take the edge off it slightly, but in the end I just came away with the Glengoyne Time Capsule of three 5cl miniatures, which includes the 12 year old, Legacy Chapter 2 and the 18 year old I am reviewing here.
Glengoyne already has a well respected reputation amongst whisky fans, but it is a slight frustration that we don’t get 46% and non-chill filtered, which i’m sure would elevate it to another level in both quality and reputation. There is also the sticky issue of price, particularly when we go beyond the 10 and 12 year old bottlings. The 18 is now coming in at around £115, with the 21 anywhere from £160 and beyond. The much celebrated teapot dram has also seen considerable price hikes recently too. It’s safe to say, the 18 will have to wow me to even be considered a possible purchase somewhere down the line. I am much more comfortable operating in the £30-60 area when it comes to my whisky purchases, and the rare occasion I go beyond that has to have some justification to it.
The 18 year old is matured in a combination of first-fill and refill sherry casks, bottled at 43%, and with natural colour. It is very likely chill filtered due to the lower ABV. The colour is quite light for 100% sherry maturation, so I would suggest a high proportion are refill, which is not necessarily a bad thing with an 18 year maturation.
Glengoyne 18 Years Old – Review
Nose : Immediately I get a rich and deep aroma of treacle, toffee, christmas cake and espresso coffee. Then I get household furniture polish (Pledge), candied orange peels, fresh leather and meadowsweet. I also get blackcurrant menthol reminiscent of Halls Soothers lozenges. I added a very small drop of water and initially thought I had killed it, but after a few minutes it comes back to you, with more honeyed notes and a little bread dough. Give this time and it rewards you.
Palate : Rich and full flavoured, with a better than average mouthfeel for a 43% and chill filtered whisky. More of the sweet toffee that has a slight burnt and bitter edge to it, along with charred oak tannins and a little warming peppery spice. Then comes seville orange, raisins, stewed dark fruits, heather honey and black tea, with a little ginger note.
The finish is quite drying, and although the bitterness and the tannins subside a little, they remain. There is the slightly menthol blackcurrant again I found on the nose, along with ginger, almond milk, copper coins and malt.
Conclusions : There is no denying this is an enjoyable whisky, and it noses beautifully. Even at 43% there is a big impact on both the nose and palate, especially if you allow it time to sit in the glass and add a suggestion of water (just a couple of drops off the end of a teaspoon). The palate isn’t doing it for me quite as much as the nose did, with the balance teetering on the edge of being a touch too bitter, woody and tannic at times for my palate.
The price point is a little sticky for me as mentioned previously. I can see it available for £105, but that appears to be an outlier, with other retailers more likely to charge £115, and the distillery themselves asking £124.95! Prices are increasing rapidly for 18 year old plus age statements, but I find it a touch heavy handed, particularly at 43%. It is far from alone in charging these kind of figures for this age statement, but when the likes of Ledaig, anCnoc, Glen Scotia, Deanston and Loch Lomond are all putting out 46%+ 18 year old whiskies for comfortably below £100, it makes it a difficult purchase.
It still gets a more than solid score, but it appears to be on this evidence, that whisky does indeed taste better at the distillery, a conclusion that i’m sure surprises nobody.
Score : 6/10 Good
(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)
ABV : 43%
Non-chill filtered : No
Natural Colour : Yes
Maturation : First-fill and refill sherry casks
Region : Highland
Colour : Gold
Bottle picture courtesy of Master Of Malt and used with permission