Prior to writing this piece, I revisited the history of Glen Elgin distillery. Sometimes this provides a spark of inspiration to create and sustain a focus throughout the review or even a refresher for the mind before tasting the whisky itself. Interestingly the catalogued history of this distillery in my mind showcases the history of Scotch since the arrival of 1900 and the optimism of a new century.
The much-heralded boom of the late 1800’s brought wealth, employment and optimism to the most remote corners of Scotland. The Pattison Crash as it’s become known by historians thrust a killer blow into the heart of speculation and growth. Distilleries closed, projects were abandoned and lives ruined by the unscrupulous actions of Walter & Robert Pattison who were convicted of fraud and embezzlement in 1901.
Riding the crest of a wave their company, Pattisons Limited, had roots in many distilleries and profitable deals inked. When the charade came tumbling down with destructive force there wasn’t another firm that could match their size and lofty ambitions. Taking advantage of the industry panic and uncertainty thereafter, the Distillers Company Limited grew in stature and became a forerunner of Diageo today. A what if moment? If somehow Pattinsons Limited had survived and prospered would the shape of whisky today in Scotland have been the same?
For Glen Elgin, its owners comprised of a former banker and a manager of Glenfarclas distillery. Rather than pausing for the market to recover, or try to sell their work in progress, they continued undeterred. Hiring the considerable name of Charles C. Doig, a man responsible for shaping over 50 distilleries during his lifetime. Glen Elgin would be his last offering to whisky. Tapping into the uncertainty of the era, Doig predicted that Glen Elgin would be the last distillery to be established for generations.
This prophecy turned to reality until 1957 or 1958 depending on how you look at it. Glen Keith was the first distillery to open but was based around the conversion of a corn mill to a certain extent. The Tormore opened the following year and was a completely new build and one that has never been equalled or surpassed since with its brazen audacity for architectural magnificence. You see, it always comes back to Tormore eventually.
Back to Glen Elgin and finally in May 1900 production commenced. A huge milestone for any distillery. Sadly the owners whilst focusing on this goal had – as was all too common at the time – underestimated the costs involved in running a distillery. Such production costs resulted in Glen Elgin closing its doors just 5 months later. There was no gin boom or tourist trail to keep revenues flowing. For the owners the sad realisation that their dream had come to an end. Shortly afterwards the distillery was sold for £4000 which seems modest even in 1900 but then was flipped in 1907 for £7000. Maybe flipping isn’t a new phenomenon?
Now at last with the marketing recovering and consumer confidence returning, Glen Elgin went into a sustained period of production. The 1920’s was a period of consolidation and when the flamboyant owner of White Horse distillers – arguably the biggest blend of the time – came calling in 1929, Glen Elgin would form an important part of the recipe. It’s remained a faithful component of blends ever since somewhat prized by its current master in Diageo. Then post-war a tremendous boom and period of investment in Scotland’s distilleries sweeps across the country. Many distilleries were somewhat decaying and inefficient oddities in dire need of investment. For Glen Elgin with blends remaining truly buoyant, it was time to upgrade the single set of oddly shaped stills. With little regard for history the site was demolished and in its place the new facility we see today with 3 sets of stills. Thankfully the owners resisted the temptation to utilise the new fad of condensers and stuck with the flavoursome worm tubs.
Transformation complete. Glen Elgin rumbles on into the 1990’s when it’s closed for more enhancements that take 3 years to complete. Surprisingly with all this investment and focus the distillery doesn’t make its official single malt debut until the turn of the millennium with the Fauna & Flora range. Since then we’ve seen the odd limited release but it remains off limits to visitors and enthusiasts. A secret pleasure for some Speyside aficionados. Thankfully the independent sector was and is a staunch supporter. Nicely taking us to this Signatory release. This characterful indie does things its own way with iffy corks, odd bottle shapes and sometimes tins that defy brute force to open. Thankfully Noortje managed to overcome such hazards to provide a sample and a stunning array of photographs.
This Glen Elgin was distilled on 11th September 1986 before being bottled on the 3rd October 2017 at a joyous 31 years of age. Residing in a bourbon hogshead (#2525) for the full period, 220 bottles were harvested from the cask at a strength of 47.2%. This was bottled exclusively for the Belgium market and no doubt rests upon the experience rather than the name of a well-known distillery.
Signatory Glen Elgin 1986 – review
Colour: just gold
On the nose: a typically juicy and vibrant Speyside arrival. The big emphasis on those ripe meadow fruits, pine cones, maple syrup, plums and vanilla marshmallows. A lovely balance is evident with icing sugar, apricots, buttery popcorn, wood varnish, white chocolate and a slight perfume note towards the end. It’s rather decadent and intoxicating.
In the mouth: more of a gentle caress on the palate that doesn’t sway you too much emotionally. Still, really drinkable with echoes of those fruits again and Custard Creams. Surprisingly it lacks the body or development I was anticipating. Honey, barley sweets and vanilla toffee. Tasty but no gold star.
A delicious nose is somewhat eroded by the solid if unspectacular palate. What remains is a very enjoyable Glen Elgin and a whisky that hints at what patience and a good cask can truly unleash.