It seems strange to be celebrating the significance of age statements. I mean, they’re important in some regards, and in others not important at all. I suppose they’re important primarily because of the alternative option, which is not merely without an age-statement (or No Age Statement whiskies as they’ve become bluntly labelled as), but the fact that we get all sorts of marketing bollocks to accompany the whisky. We get stories of all sorts, romancing the storage vessel, or worse – a recent trend – finishes in exotic casks in order to give something else to talk about.
The age statement became old-school, something loved by drinkers because it gave some vague measurable, something to gauge the quality of a whisky. And to be honest, whiskies have consistently been sold for over 150 years under the premise that older is better – if one looks through the advertising archives – and the higher the number, the better. (I should say that I’d quite like to know the age of a whisky, even if it’s just three years and a day, but I’m one of these people who would like to know literally everything about the whisky: components, cask maturation, fermentation times and so on.)
Anyway, I’m rather excited about these three Glen Moray whiskies – as they are new releases, and with an age statement. Well, three age statements to be precise – 12, 15 and 18 years. A refreshing change, and part of a movement I’ve noticed whereby a few brands are starting to pop the numbers back on. But in some strange way, that means I have very little in the way of preamble. No story to dissect, no shoddy marketing copy to pull apart. Perhaps I should be rather grateful for it all – because imagine the terrifying world where we just got straight on with the reviews and didn’t have paragraphs of my nonsense to churn through?
I should probably say something about the whiskies. They’re not technically just age statements, but part of Glen Moray’s new Elgin Heritage Collection. They’re being pitched as both premium and affordable, the latter of which is rare enough for many drinkers. But you’ll be looking to pay £40 for the 12 year old, £55 for the 15 year old, and £80 for the 18 year old. Considering Glen Moray has spent a fair bit of effort establishing itself as an affordable dram to supermarket drinkers, say, where you can pick up bottles for less than £20 in some respects, this does feel like a bit of a stretch. The Port and Chardonnay casks are particularly affordable. That the 12 and 15 are bottled at 40% ABV too is a downward mark in my estimation – and I’ve not even got to the whiskies yet. If you’re going to premiumise something, at least cough up a bit more ABV, I say. Equally questionable, as I think this is is a brand very much pitching in the Glenfiddich zone (if not in sales, then in style?) and the prices are much, much cheaper in Dufftown.
Anyway, before we get to the whiskies, I just wanted to repeatedly bring people’s attention to our scoring bands, which layers a perception of value over what we’re tasting. Any lower scores may come as a jolt to some, but we wanted to move things on a bit. Anyway, to the Glen Moray Elgin Heritage Collection.
Glen Moray Aged 12 Years
Colour: pale gold.
On the nose: lovely gentle dried fruits. Quite hoppy and husky, with grassy notes coming to the fore. Hay barns. Herbal: sage, green tea. Floral honey. Dried apricots. Stir it up a bit and mead notes come through, with baked apples. Buttermilk. Has the whiff of second-fill casks (or rejuvinated oak) about it.
In the mouth: okay, quite bright for the ABV, but not quite three dimensional. Needs time for some of that raw, herbal, huskiness that repeats from the nose to fade, and allow something of the fruits to shine. The herbal, grassy, vegetative and Assam notes dominate. Prickly black pepper. Eventually, orchard fruits and apricots manifest, but for me, it lacks some of the velvety roundedness of the possibly younger Non Age Statement Glen Morays.
Glen Moray Aged 15 Years
Colour: old gold.
On the nose: much fruitier, with subtle notes of orchard fruits, golden syrup, toffee fudge. Strawberry jam (just a hint) and fresh fruits too. Once the fruit fades there’s that grassiness, that huskiness that seems to be part of the Glen Moray spirit inherently. Grape juice, citrus. Custard Creams.
In the mouth: instantly better than the 12 in construction: it’s not only more complex, but it is a better-balanced whisky too. Silkier delivery by far. Dried apricots and sultanas, a lovely warming gooseberry tartness. Notes of nutmeg and cloves. Rounded vanilla. Citrus. Slightly acidic on the finish – there’s a distinct astringent quality, which really is a shame.
Glen Moray Aged 18 Years
Colour: amber. Presumably refill sherry casks here?
On the nose: ah now here we go. Toffee fudge, hazelnuts, salted caramel chocolate: all very subtle, mind you. Slightly waxy, lemon curd, and then dried apricots. Very much at the lighter and sweeter end of the scale. It’s buttery, and needs time for any grassiness to fade to allow gentle pears and peaches to come to the fore. It’s a very attractive nose.
In the mouth: much more flavour than the other two, though the texture is rather thin. The presence (not merely from the ABV): sultanas, dried oranges, chocolate again, with notes of walnuts and dried figs. Woody – a peppery, tannic quality that lingers in all three in this particular series, and isn’t something I’ve noticed in other Glen Morays. Orange marmalade becomes prominent, with a chilli pepper warmth right at the end.
Personally, I’m a little sad not to be more excited about these whiskies. They were kindly sent on behalf of the folks at Glen Moray, and I engage frequently with some of the folk that work there on Twitter (sorry, guys!), but I’m not sure even they would want me to lie on their behalf. These are… not great whiskies – for their price bracket or their ages. Fine, but not great. The distillery has stepped outside of a nice little niche it had for offering punters really cheap, tasty whiskies. To my taste, these do not rise above what I’ve been ploughing through for Whisky Magazine this year.
And I think that’s where I want to highlight a departure from the discussion about taste preferences – merely saying you and I like different things – which is so often a factor used to shut down any discussion on the flaws of a whisky. The quality of these drams – maturation or perhaps an issue from well before that stage, I can’t quite put my finger on it – is not marrying up to the claims that it is a premium series. There’s something in the spirit, more notable in the 15 year old (as Ralfy also identifies) that doesn’t gel properly, and there’s a dominance throughout the series of acidic, astringent qualities. I’d invite others to try some of these drams and get back to me on the matter.
Turns out the folk at Glen Moray are fine with a bit of honesty after all. In fact, Glen Moray Graham tweeted the following with respect to what the vatting consisted of:
To clear up any confusion the 12yo and 18yo are 100% ex bourbon. The 15yo is 50% ex bourbon and 50% full maturation Oloroso sherry.
12yo is 1st/2nd/3rd fill with 40% first fill. 15yo is similar mix for ex bourbon and 2nd fill/refill sherry. 18yo is 1st fill.
— Glen Moray Graham (@glenmoraygcoull) October 17, 2017
Hurrah for transparency. (And I was – reassuringly – at least correct about the use of second fill casks.) You can see more of the conversation here.