I’m asked many
questions, some tend to appear on a regular basis including my favourite
whiskies or distilleries, and then there is the query how many distilleries have
I visited? In all honesty, like so many others, I’ve stopped counting of late.
It’s easier to focus on those that have escaped my presence so far and this
list is starting to grow thanks to the current Scottish vogue for owning a
omission was Glen Garioch, mainly due to its location just north of Aberdeen; a
region of Scotland I rarely visit. A gap in the July calendar offered the
possibility of a trip north including a stay over in Aberdeen, before reaching
Glen Garioch and then looping back through Speyside and down the A9 back to the
Kingdom of Fife. Aberdeen actually offers the ideal base camp for such an
expedition. Just 15 miles or so from Glen Garioch, the availability of
accommodation around its growing airport ensures a comfortable start to the
day. Sadly, we can never guarantee the weather and thus even in July, a
sizeable downpour of rain greeted our departure.
Oldmeldrum, Glen Garioch sits within the town that has grown and prospered
around this old distillery. It’s a rare example of a fairly intact distillery
that still resides within a town and given the listed status of many of its
buildings is well protected from any dreaded improvements that have blighted
other producers. The imaginatively named Distillery Road dissects through the
site and visitors have to be aware of local traffic when exploring its various
to 1797 and arguably beyond, Glen Garioch was originally owned by a local
farming family and supplied whisky locally and to the regional centre of
Aberdeen, which was home to blenders such as Cadenheads in the mid 1800’s. For whatever reason, whilst other
distilleries floundered and vanished from the distilling landscape, Glen
Garioch quietly went about its business. I’ll save the historical chapter for
another review, whereas here we’re focusing on the standard tour option
followed by 2 whisky reviews. Namely their entry level No Age Statement Founder’s
Reserve and then one of several bottle-your-own options at the distillery.
During our visit, we opted for the 1st fill sherry butt, where
normally you’re taken off to extract from the cask and label it yourself.
However, here the cask was down to the last 3 bottles, which had to be decanted
in advance. Fortunately, the whisky drums had told me in advance the sherry
butt was the option to go for, although I looked longingly at the 1978 at £495
The rain was
persistent as we crossed from the former cooperage building that in 2006 was converted
into a cosy visitor centre featuring the current official range of whiskies and
memorabilia. There’s a timeless atmosphere around Glen Garioch with its imposing
stone buildings that have faced the centuries and survived, whilst harbouring
many whisky tales. The area around the kiln is directly across from the visitor
centre and was reminiscent of a section of Dalmore, where things now sit idle
and collectively without purpose. For those on tour no videoing is permitted,
but photography is encouraged in all areas except the small warehouse towards
the end of the tour. I’ve forgotten the name of the young lass who took our
internationally flavoured group featuring England, America, Holland and
Venezuela, but she did a marvellous job. During these tours, I tend to take a
backseat and observe. We had the usual rookie and beginner questions followed
by someone who seemed intent on asking about the yeast on a regular basis. All
of these were handled with aplomb and the pace of the tour was just right.
Rather than being flushed through the buildings in an overly ruthless efficient
manner that I’ve seen elsewhere. We were allowed to explore, take photographs
and soak up the Glen Garioch atmosphere.
As this was
part of its silent season, Glen Garioch was eerily quiet and still. It is worth
booking a slot on your tour given the limited confines of the production rooms.
Tours seems to be tight knit and limited to a maximum number in the teens. For
£7.50 our basic tour also included a dram of the Founder’s Reserve, and it was
good to see drivers being catered for with proper take home labelled samples;
none of this ineffective plastic cap nonsense that has been seen at some Diageo
Standing in the
redundant kiln area, you’re faced by these two massive furnaces that helped
create the distinctive flavours of Glen Garioch prior to 1995. They also peated
barley here for its sister distillery Bowmore, before the parent company
Morrison Bowmore was acquired by Suntory in July 1994. Floor malting at Glen
Garioch was stopped in 1993 – fairly late by Scottish standards – although it
was used experimentally thereafter (for the last time in 2001) and more changes
were incoming thanks to the new owners. Buildings were sold and the distillery
was closed by the end of 1995. Their plans changed as Glen Garioch as revived
by 1997, but sadly with numerous new features including indirect heating of the
stills and most visibly as an unpeated malt.
Now these idle
kilns engulf visitors and act as a gateway into the rest of Glen Garioch. As we
drift from the glowing red mill towards the singular and encased mashtun, I’m
reminded of distilleries such as Old Pulteney and Bunnahabhain where space is
at a premium. Goodness knows how they would replace the mashtun today given the
elaborate wooden beams that are layered overhead. The stainless steel washbacks
themselves have a visible upright and compact presence, almost standing to
attention they seem smaller and less dominant than those in other distilleries.
We then negotiate the iron stairs back down towards the safety of terra firma
before moving into the still room.
Blink and you’ll
miss the spirit safe which sits at the back beside the stairs and much like
Glen Garioch is small and confined. The stills stand uniform in line with the addition
of a wash still in 1978. Part of the still house is grade listed and therefore
like much of the distillery protected. Silent season meant things were idle and
I quite like the opportunity to stick your head into a still and get up close
and personal with the productive side of distilling. Photo opportunities galore
we then stepped outside onto Distillery Road and many darted to the small
warehouse across the road with a viewing platform to escape the rain. However,
I just reflected on the environment and timeless quality of the small side
streets and the age of Glen Garioch itself.
group, we were able to nose and taste some of the various cuts of spirit and an
array of casks waiting patiently for their time to come. Within this warehouse
are the bottle-your-own options including the 1978 and a wine cask. All it must
be said, very tempting but I only have one to bring you below. After a
conversation around maturation we returned to the visitor centre to enjoy a
dram of the Founder’s Reserve, but as Speyside was calling, we left our group
to their whisky selecting the driving option instead.
Back in the
comfort of my whisky den, we have 2 Glen Garioch’s both dating from the
resurrection of the distillery. To many enthusiasts these will be of inferior
character, but Glen Garioch Mark 2 is a different entity now and should be
judged on its own qualities. However, we’ll get around to reviewing more of the
older stuff later this year.
Bottled at 48%
strength, this No Age Statement expression is the entry level whisky. It does
have colouring and will set you back around £36.
noticeable arrival of alcohol and vanilla bolstered by golden raisins and
marzipan. A pungent presence of barley sugars followed by white chocolate and
Caramac bar. A floral component and a citrus lemon quality and with water more
honey, apples and cinnamon.
malt and light, a lemon sponge cake and buttery quality. More vanilla, apple
and caramel, in the background a wisp of smoke but I felt water didn’t’ unlock
Overall: a well
sculpted nose I felt, very interesting but the palate in comparison is a bit
flaccid and watery even at 48%. A very inoffensive whisky, which upon
reflection the entry level malt should be so not too shabby.
hand filled cask 008
A first fill
sherry butt filled on 9th September 1997 and bottled just under 20 years of age. This was 1 of 3 remaining bottles, this is number 556 and we know
from the butt in total there are 558 bottles harvested. At a strength of 58.3%,
this cost £130.
Nose: a rich
vanilla laced with cherries and undercut with a mint dark chocolate array.
There’s sweetness and a sticky sense with maple syrup followed by fennel, Hovis
biscuits and a wholemeal earthiness. With water more nuts and varnish qualities appear.
blackcurrant jam, baked figs with vanilla, more of the dark chocolate but hold
the mint. Midway there’s bitterness from the wood, assisted by cherries and a
touch of chalk. A touch of charcoal, a black Scottish breakfast tea blend
specially into the peppery finish. The addition of water brings out more raisins, a creamy aspect and leather with aniseed on the finish.
proper dominant 1st fill sherry bottling, arguably turbocharged as this
was some of the last liquid extracted from the butt. It’s intense, robust and
delicious. Interestingly this on paper would have been just the 8th cask filled at Glen Garioch after its closure.
I'm glad to have ticked Glen Garioch off the list and chances are I'll be back later in the year for more of the same. A lovely traditional distillery with bags of character and enthusiastic staff armed a variety of whiskies.
Labels: bottle your own, distillery, distillery tour, founders reserve, glen garioch