A complex assortment of flavors create a harmonious and rewarding flavor profile
Those who refuse to add water to their whisky will only get a sliver of what this dram has to offer.
When I started my whisky exploration journey, I took a common path that will sound familiar to many of you: trying as many offerings as I could from well-known distilleries that could be found on the shelf at any store with a spirits section. For single malt scotch, this meant gobbling up all of the Diageo classic malts (Talisker, Lagavulin, Oban, etc), Speyside behemoths (Balvenie, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich), and brands with a huge enough reputation to still be commonly available in most places (Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Glenmorangie for instance).
Some people become content to stay within these fertile borders. Between the nine distilleries I just listed, you can find several dozen different expressions of single malt bottlings in any price range with relative ease. But I couldn’t find contentment staying within the borders of mainstream single malts. Perhaps it’s just my personality. Perhaps it was the huge influence impressed upon me by a certain overly generous Boston-area physician with the most eclectic scotch collection on the planet. Once I got a taste of what’s “beyond the borders”, I became obsessed with seeking out every obscure distillery and independent bottling hidden within the nooks and glens of Scotland. It’s an obsession that still drives my scotch adventures today.
Which brings me to the whisky headlining today’s review: Glen Garioch 12 year old. There’s a fair chance that many of you have never heard of this single malt, yet Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery) is one of the oldest single malt distilleries in Scotland (by both foundation date and number of years in production). Tucked away near Aberdeen in Oldmeldrum (due east of the Speyside region), Glen Garioch is the easternmost distillery in Scotland. It was owned by Morrison-Bowmore when they were bought out by Suntory, which means it currently belongs to the Beam-Suntory empire. B-S, however, seems content to let this little highland distillery do its thing, rather than attempt to overly commercialize or advertise it, ala Bowmore or Laphroaig. Despite it’s corporate ownership, Glen Garioch still operates like a small, independent distillery. It produces between 750,000-1,000,00 liters of spirit per year (for comparison, Balvenie produces over 4,000,000 liters per year), sources it’s grain locally, matures its stock of ex-bourbon and sherry casks in a single onsite dunnage warehouse, and bottles everything without chill filtration or added coloring. The 12 year, by all accounts the “entry level” single malt, is even bottled at a hearty 48% ABV.
Since the late ’90s, Glen Garioch uses only unpeated malt (any vintage from 1995 or earlier will be peated). It’s distillation style yields what most would call a heavy, meaty spirit that has character of its own and cannot be easily “sanitized”. In other words, no matter what kind of cask you mature it in, or for how long, Glen Garioch is gonna taste like Glen Garioch. I like to use the term “Character Malt” to describe it. (Springbank, Laphroaig, Mortlach, and Clynelish are other good examples of “character malts”).
All of this information aside, what really matters is the smell and taste. Is Glen Garioch a hidden gem? Or is there a reason it so often flies under the radar?
- Producer: Morrison Bowmore (aka Beam-Suntory)
- Grain: 100% malted barley (unpeated)
- Cask type: marriage of ex-bourbon and sherry casks
- Age: At least 12 years
- ABV: 48%
- Non-chill filtered, natural color
Tasting without water added
Nose: Resinous, acidic, and a bit locked up. Malty vanilla intertwined with orange marmalade, lemon peel, and heather. Somewhat syrupy.
Palate: The arrival is sharp and bitter/sour, with the sharpness sticking around as notes of orange peel, heavy citrus, fresh ginger, sultana, and astringent oak develop.
Finish: Fresh oranges, orange blossom, fresh grain, oak sugars, and an ambiguous floral note. Long.
Tasted neat, I’d probably score this in the 78-79 range. Bursting with potential, but hindered by a shy nose and brutish palate.
Tasting with 1/2 tsp water added
Nose: Sour fruits, soft florals, and bitter spice. It’s most definitely come out of its shell. Resinous. Orange blossom, fresh orange, melon. The fruit is bright and aromatic. Malted vanilla, syrupy sultana, and a touch of dried strawberry.
Palate: Malty and sour fruit arrival. The sharpness and bitterness are gone. Dried strawberry, fresh ginger, candied orange, and orange blossoms. Honey, grapefruit, and a touch of saline round things out. The entire dram has a lovely resinous quality to it.
Finish: Orange cream, delicate florals, fresh grain, barley sugar, and a touch of spice. Medium-long.
Buying Recommendation: Buy it now! What a difference a bit of patience and a few drops of water make. Glen Garioch 12 year is a lesson taking your time and getting to know a whisky before passing judgement. It leaves the mainstream, crowd pleasing, sweet and simple profile far behind for something much more colorful, complex, and challenging to the senses. This really is an experiential single malt. Many will never find it, and many who do will not give it a second glance on the shelf. But for those who step beyond the borders of mainstream scotch with an open mind as to what a single malt can and should taste like, a true hidden gem awaits them in Glen Garioch 12 year.
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: Truly Exceptional
All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.
[wpurp-searchable-recipe]Glen Garioch 12 Year – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]