Prior to the Whiskybase Gathering event in Rotterdam, we had a knockout competition over on our Instagram channel. A clutch of distilleries faced one another in a contest to decide the winner. The ultimate prize being a commitment from us to purchase a selection of whiskies at the event to do a vertical through the ages.
An extremely tight contest unfolded during the grand final held over 24 hours. The evergreen Caol Ila faced off against the old and dignified Glenlossie from Speyside. Needless to say, you can see which distillery emerged victorious by just a single vote. Personally, I was extremely pleased with the outcome. For as much as I do rate Caol Ila, the Islay distilleries receive too much acclaim and coverage. Big bruising whiskies with a mouth to match. They are not the be all and end of Scottish whisky.
From an independent perspective, it also highlighted the growing interest in Glenlossie and that our readership, collectively, wants to discover new distilleries. Possibly they are fed up of the same old stuff and finding bottles of Glenlossie nowadays is becoming increasingly difficult.
As is the tradition with any vertical, a little background on Glenlossie, which never seeks or hogs the limelight. The distillery was founded in 1876 near the Speyside town of Elgin principally by the former distillery manager of GlenDronach, John Duff, who led a small consortium. It was a short tenure as by 1896 his company was liquidated. However, a vital connection was established shortly afterwards when a railway route was completed enabling Glenlossie to export its wares more efficiently. The importance of the Speyside railway cannot be underestimated in bringing whisky to a wider more appreciative audience. Whilst Islay, Campbeltown and Highland faced a more arduous route to market. The majority of the Speyside distilleries could ship casks with relative ease and less cost.
Glenlossie has few interesting nuggets to pacify onlookers who delight in morsels of such information. The distillery was the 1st Highland acquisition by the looming giant, Scottish Malt Distillers, in 1921. Already Glenlossie enjoyed a strong reputation amongst blenders who valued its produce this was a period dominated by the blends and not the single malt genre. SMD as a forerunner of Diageo has kept a tight grasp on the distillery ever since.
Modernisation arrived in the early 1960’s as was the case across the Scotch industry. Production is upped with an extra set of stills installed. Today’s annual output is just under 4 million litres although technically it is a big fat zero until Spring 2019. Glenlossie has been closed since January 2018 for further modernisation work that Diageo is undertaking across its range of distilleries. This sets up Glenlossie for the foreseeable future as a contributor to its portfolio of blends.
For years it seems no one really cared much about the distillery including its owners in reality, with the dominant share of its production going towards its master’s blends. The most likely Glenlossie you’ll see anywhere is the 10 year old Flora and Fauna. A simple whisky that we’ve never reviewed – mental note taken – and is still widely available for under £50 from Amazon or via the Whisky Exchange. A solid expression, it is very unassuming and subtle in parts, only whispering a mere hint of its true potential.
Stepping into the breach are the independent bottlers including the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and in particular those Cadenhead’s renegades from Campbeltown. Armed with a healthy portfolio of maturing casks from the distillery, they’ve been able in recent times to deploy a handful of intricate and gorgeously layered whiskies. Whether at retail or via their warehouse tour experience, the Glenlossie has been landing a few knockout blows.
An almighty thunderous Rose-like punch was landed in 2017 with the release of the 23 year old Glenlossie, adorned with the Cadenhead’s gold label. They don’t stick these luxurious labels on anything let me tell you and arguably this is the nearest the Campbeltown bottler comes to a bling release. There’s a nice chemistry between the practical outer packaging that harbours a bottle that radiates a glow for miles. Natural colour of course, as is always the case, no Diageo E150 Lagavulin saturation here folks.
I had already heard on the grapevine how good this whisky was and eventually tracked down a bottle after missing out a couple of times. The resulting whisky experience confirmed it was my whisky of 2017. We have compiled a nice selection of Glenlossie reviews here at Malt but we must do more while we can. The recent Cadenhead’s 24 year old that was released in November 2018 was an instant sell-out in the UK at least. Everyone is chasing that bit of Glenlossie magic and the cat is now firmly out of the bag. Even visiting a few prominent whisky bars in Scotland recently highlighted either that they just don’t stock Glenlossie, or whatever they do offer, is being quickly snapped up.
We’ll go into the distillery details another time as there will be another time for a Glenlossie review. For now, we have 5 whiskies purchased at the Gathering event that come from a variety of independent bottlers. In addition, we also have the latest Cadenhead’s 24 year old that you can see as the lead image. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this experience and if you do stumble across a bottle then you know where to find me.
Cooper’s Choice Glenlossie 1997 – review
An outturn of 300 bottles at 46% strength, this was distilled in November 1997 and bottled in 2015. Matured in an ex-bourbon cask #7066.
Colour: Olive oil.
On the nose: A fruitful arrival with wine gums and pineapple chunks. Liberal doses of honey, lemon peel and a vanilla caramel. A sense of a sunshine infusion. Sugary, a sweet pastry dough, white grapes and a touch of strawberry and marzipan.
In the mouth: More restrained and a little disappointing. A resin quality, vanilla cream, meaning this is pleasant and approachable. A touch oily with red apples and Kiwi fruit. Oatcakes towards the end with some green pepper. The finish has a chalky mineral aspect.
Signatory Glenlossie 1992 – review
Distilled on 18th November 1992, bottled on 3rd April 2013 at 20 years of age. Matured in hogshead #3443 which produced 274 bottles at 57.1% strength.
Colour: Gold wire.
On the nose: A dusty, wood arrival that soon dissipates leaving us with pine nuts and sliced green apples. Dried hay and a faint waft of dried solvent and decayed vanilla. Time reveals a twist of lime, oddly cucumber and a white wine-like note and then fermented spirit.
In the mouth: Boom! Lots of joyous juicy fruits with a wonderful interplay. Classic Glenlossie in effect. A harmonious balance with the wood, vanilla wafer, green tea with a medium finish. Backing up we have white chocolate with cracked pepper.
Cadenhead’s Glenlossie-Glenlivet 1993 – review
Bottled in 2018 at 24 years of age this is a foreign exclusive from a bourbon hogshead, resulting in 240 bottles at 48.4% strength.
Colour: Lemon peel.
On the nose: A refined Speyside arrival with meadow fruits, mostly a varied assortment of apples and a touch of lychee. A nice dram but not hugely detailed. Margarine and a sweet pastry with a little cinnamon.
In the mouth: 24 years old, really? Tasty but simple with a slightly drying finish. White grapes, flour, icing sugar, white chocolate vanilla poached pears and crushed almonds.
Scotch Single Malt Circle Glenlossie 1984 – review
A 25 year old distilled on 4th October 1984 and bottled on 24th February 2010. An impressive 563 bottles were harvested from the cask at a robust 60% strength.
On the nose: Muted at first this needs time before water. Maple syrup brings sweetness and a sense of the wood alongside fennel and a peanut brittle. Balsawood, golden syrup and oatcakes follow. Rhubarb, cinder toffee and honeycomb provide some richness.
In the Mouth: A dense presence, clay-like and closed off. This will need time and water, but we’ll press on just now. Quite a kick to it. A rich caramel and dried cranberries. A sense of being shut out. Ok, water, it is time to work your magic. A Crunchie bar with more dark chocolate, a little sulphur and an unpleasant aftertaste. Water isn’t the miracle cure I was hoping for as this is too much cask and the subtle character is lost.
Moon Import Glenlossie 1966 The Costumes – review
Distilled in 1966 before being bottled in 1988 at a strength of 46%. From hogshead #3778, this was bottle 265.
Colour: Apple flesh.
On the nose: Stunning is the immediate impression. Sheer balance and interplay are what impresses. Symmetry between the cask and spirit. None of this 70% bollocks. Harmony. Where to start? Buckets of meadow fruits and gentle wood spices. A handful of rice – odd I know – white chocolate, pears, cinnamon swirls, fresh pancakes, heather honey and a fine silver needle tea. No water required.
In the mouth: Amaze-balls. Gentle, elegant and refined. More meadow fruits with the apples in the driving seat, a delicate vanilla and lemon sponge. More of the white tea dynamic bolstered by a puff of smoke with a touch of ginger on the finish, which is chalky and drying with a touch of bitterness. I wish I had more of this, it’ll likely be my only time in its company. I rarely do this but what the heck…
Cadenhead’s Glenlossie-Glenlivet 1993 – review
Bottled in 2018 and distilled in 1993, this 24 year old Glenlossie comes from a single bourbon hogshead, bottled at 53.6% with an outturn of 240.
On the nose: Fruits certainly, but here vanilla toffee takes control or more fudge-like given time. Icing sugar, treacle sponge, tinned peaches and chocolate mint leaf. With water shammy leather, pecan tart and the fruits step forth with some lemon.
In the mouth: Pily, dark chocolate and a strong cereal emphasis towards the end. A touch of ash and a black breakfast tea. The fruits are more subdued again, stroopwafels! Water flips the fruits back on with a mineral quality towards the finish.
The Signatory bottling is a fine introduction to the joys of Glenlossie in a good ex-bourbon cask. Plenty to saviour and consider, in what is a delicious whisky. Just one of those low key releases that you wish you hadn’t ignored in 2013 amongst all those Japanese whiskies. A mental note has been taken to pick up some Glenlossie Signatory.
The Cooper’s Choice is hampered by the reduction to 46% strength. You can nose and smell the potential, much like a ruined castle. An echo of its former glory. Still, enjoyable but what could have been, is sadly lost to time. The Scotch Single Malt Circle has been erased by the power of the cask. We’ve talked about the bull the industry sprouts about the cask giving so much flavour. Here’s an example where it has been the dominant force. The whisky could be from any distillery. I might as well be drinking a sherry instead.
Moving on, the export Cadenhead’s Glenlossie is solid but we know there are better casks out there. As for that 1966 Costumes? Beautiful in every sense and one of those whiskies. Precision balance and a flavour train that never stops. Special indeed and worth the trip to the Netherlands on its own. I’m sure it was a high scorer during the live event as well and deservedly so. The latest Cadenhead’s release falls sligthly short of the 2017 sister cask and lacks the old school fruit bomb x-factor.
Looking back through what we’ve experienced, I can see a common thread of character throughout all the drams – excluding the sherry abuser. The distillery character if you will, its DNA and not all from the wood. Clearly, Glenlossie comes of age when into its 20’s and please don’t buy any if you do see a bottle. Thank you.