By Ken Gargett
To be honest, I knew almost nothing about the Glenglassaugh distillery until very recently. It is not one that is on many people’s radar, but that is changing.
Glenglassaugh has its genesis back in 1875, when Colonel James Moir, a local businessman, established the distillery at Sandend Bay. With his two nephews, Moir exhibited a talent for making quality whisky. In 1892, the enterprise was sold to the firm of Robertson and Baxter, after Moir and one of the nephews passed, and then immediately purchased by Highland Distillers. A rather chequered history followed – a bakery in WWII and mothballed for lengthy periods, it was revamped around 1960, closed again in 1986, briefly reopened around 1998, all the while going through various changes of ownership. It reopened again in 2008 and five years later , was sold to the BenRiach Distillery Company. In 2016, Brown-Forman, owners of Jack Daniels, acquired not only the Glenglassaugh Distillery, but also the GlenDronach and BenRiach distilleries.
The new era had begun. Initially, they kicked off with three aged whiskies – 21, over 30 and over 40 Years, plus a couple of “spirit products” – ‘The Spirit that dare not speak its name’ and ‘The Spirit Drink that blushes to speak its name’. If anyone knows what in earth they were (are?), please enlighten me. Then came the Glenglassaugh ‘Revival’, the first from the revamped distillery (the other whiskies being from older stocks). ‘Evolution’ followed.
What will really excite whisky lovers is their Rare Cask Releases. These include the Massandra Collection. Glenglassaugh purchased casks from the famous Crimean winery, Massandra, which was built back in the 1890’s, by Prince Lev Golitsyn. It has an absorbing history and story behind it, not least that it is the proverbial stone’s throw from where the famous Yalta Conference was held. Hard to imagine that Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt didn’t at least sample these local wines. There are supposedly more than a million bottles maturing in their cellars, many of their own making, but also many of the great wines of Europe from days gone.
These Releases come from a collection of vintage casks which were discovered in recent times, dating back to before the distillery fell quiet, forgotten treasure. They have been bottled in batches, without chill filtration, each cask telling its own story.
The first Batch had eight different bottlings, from casks from 1968, 1972, 1973, two from 1975 and 1978 and one from 1986, finished in a range of butts, hogsheads and puncheons – Manzanilla, Oloroso, Moscatel and Port. The second Batch of casks, eight releases again, came from 1972, two from 1973, 1974, two from 1975, 1976 and 1978, again finished in hogsheads, barrels and puncheons with several from Massandra – Madeira, Rum, Aleatico, Pedro Ximenez and Port.
Now we have Batch 3, from 1965, 1967, 1968, two from 1972, 1973, 1975, 1978 and 1986, finished in puncheons, barrels and hogsheads which held Madeira, Pedro Ximenez, Bourbon and Sauternes. Each cask is individually numbered.
In Australia, a bottle from Cask #3510, 50-Year-Old 1965, from Batch 3, costs around A$8,000. As only 285 bottles were ever released, many will consider these to be collectibles only. A shame, as this is a glorious malt. The good news is that the prices vary considerably. The 1986 is less than a tenth of this amount.
Every time one returns to this extraordinary whisky, more is revealed. An amazing malt. There are florals, bright tropical notes, hints of oatmeal, stonefruits, glacéd fruits and a note which is akin to rum and raisin ice-cream. The finish, incredibly long, has a lovely soft creamy caramel character. Intense, complex and full of flavour, while maintaining a line of elegance throughout.
Brilliant stuff and if you can somehow get hold of a bottle, you will never regret it.