By a huge margin this is the oldest Glen Keith that I’ve ever sat down with to experience. Distilled in 1973, before being bottled in 2017 from a bourbon hogshead. This netted an impressive 156 bottles at an ideal strength of 43.2% and would have set you back in the region of £260. A bargain, hence its popularity upon announcement and I was fortunate enough to purchase this before splitting it equally with other enthusiasts.
Glen Keith was founded in 1957, which is relatively young in Speyside terms with Strathisla just up the road and was the first malt distillery established in Scotland since the Victorian era. Situated on the Spey, Glen Keith was a former corn mill when Seagrams decided to convert it into a distillery. This explains the old style buildings and frontage of Glen Keith that aren’t in keeping with a 1950’s style and hark back to the 1890’s. Primarily used by its then owners for producing for blended whiskies such as 100 Pipers and of course Chivas Regal. Glen Keith was also designed initially for triple distillation but this changed in 1970 when the number of stills was increased to 5, which meant a switch to double distillation. This was again increased to 6 in 1983, but the distillery remained faithful to the region by maintaining the double technique.
The distillery has been home to rumour and experimentation, becoming in effect a Chivas Brothers laboratory with various unique methods and variables attempted to understand their effects. Some of these approaches have been bottled independently by Signatory in the form of Craigduff and Glenisla, both of these are exceptionally rare whiskies but interesting to taste and I do have at least one review of these to write up in the near future so we’ll save that chatter for a more specific review. Meanwhile, Glen Keith made its debut as a single malt in 1994 with a 10 year old whisky, bottled in a distinctive square-ish shape this is a solid Speyside whisky. I quite like it as an easy drinking whisky with its roots in the 1980’s if not earlier, and it’s still quite cheap at auction.
Only a few years later in 1999 the distillery was mothballed by Chivas due to a lack of demand for whisky globally that also prompted other closures. Yet as we know, demand revived and in June 2013 the distillery started production once again after a substantial renovation. The Saladin boxes were demolished and a new wing added to the existing building, with the still house modernised but all 6 stills only refurbished. I had the privilege of touring Glen Keith in 2014, as part of the Spirit of Speyside festival as part of a Manager’s Tour. Normally not open to the public, it does open occasionally for the festival, including the 2017 edition and is worth experiencing particularly this year as the £60 ticket price includes the current 17 year old Cask Strength Edition from the distillery; the only official release currently available. The most memorable aspect of the tour, apart from the picturesque walk down past Strathisla and along the river bank, was the shaking still that does vibrate during distillation!
A look at the vital resource that is WhiskyBase confirms that this according to their comprehensive records is the oldest Glen Keith released to date. Only Gordon & MacPhail comes close with a handful of 42 year old expressions. We know that this Glen Keith will have been distilled using the classic double method and using its own Saladin box maltings on site that closed in 1976. I’m really looking forward to this experience, so let us begin.
Cadenhead’s Glen Keith 1973 – review
Colour: gold armour
On the nose: abundant vanilla icing followed by juicy red apples and lovely pears. There’s limes and camomile with a herby sage element polished off by a little beeswax. Returning there is plenty of sugar as golden syrup, an almost tarte tatin presence with caramelised apples and crispy pastry with the tinges of alcohol on the fringes. Water I felt unleashed melons and an oily buttery note.
On the mouth: a very gentle Speysider with fruity character, liquorice, chalk and a delicate vanilla essence. There’s dark chocolate and also an subtle ash-like finish with traces of apples once again. I felt water wasn’t beneficial here and to a certain extent locked out a couple of layers.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to taste some seriously matured whiskies but a couple have lost that balance between the spirit and the wood. I’m pleased that this Glen Keith retains a balance and poise; certainly harking back to an era of distillation where there was more of a craft and hands on approach. Gentle and elegant, it reminds me of a bygone age.