Let’s face it, Glenglassaugh is the red-headed stepchild of the Brown-Forman Scotch stable. It gets very little love. With its siblings of GlenDronach and BenRiach, perhaps its lack of an annoying mid-word capital letter has left it ostracised.
Or perhaps it just isn’t as good. There, I’ve said it. Actually, that’s very unfair, because the issue is GlenDronach and BenRiach are very good distilleries indeed, so it’s hard to muscle in on these places that have properly embedded themselves in the hearts of nerdy, forum-dwelling drinkers out there. (You know who you are.)
But c’mon, look at the website, which hasn’t been updated since LimeWire was shut down, nor has the half-arsed product line. And yes, I know I’m being a dick about things. The issue is those closure years, the time it was silent – from 1986 to 2008 – and the massive gap in the inventory that such closures leave. They can’t dine out on 40-year-old pre-closure whiskies, as there aren’t many of them around any more. And many of them were worryingly finished – indicating that there must have been a few examples of shoddy maturation for those 40 years. (Hardly a surprise as it was chucking out blending fodder during the Scotch industry’s real low period – the early 1980s – when everyone was shutting up shop.
So Glenglassaugh – shall I capitalise a random letter in the middle to help them along? Why not… GlenGlassaugh is now really relying on the new stuff, post-2008, post-revival. Ah, there should be a lot of 10 year old stock, you might think. It’s got capacity of 1,000,000 litres! Well, Whisky For Everyone reported back in 2013 that it was only putting out 200,000 litres, and presumably when it fired up it was only putting out a limited amount. This early BBC report quotes ‘start-up funding to cover running costs for the first year’. In short, it wasn’t making a lot.
Which is why for many years now it has relied upon the No Age Statement releases of Revival, Evolution and Torfa, along with a smattering of limited edition releases, one of which I have today. This is one of GlenGlassaugh’s Octaves series – the classic (i.e. not the peated). And it’s Batch 2.
This whisky, however, has been turbocharged in mini casks. Well, 65-litre octaves to be precise, using wood from bourbon, Pedro Ximénez and Amontillado casks. About a quarter-cask, ish, but certainly not tiny. The idea is that the smaller casks have a smaller surface area to volume ratio with the spirit, meaning there’s more wood surface for the spirit to rub itself against (just like Baloo in the Jungle Book) proportionally speaking.
So in theory, there’s a more active maturation – not faster, I would say, being semantically dickish, as it is still in there for a period of time right? A few years in this, or a standard 225l cask, it’s still the same time. This is just more active.
Of course, more smoke and mirrors, because you still have to have a good spirit that goes into these casks, and I get the feeling from other whisky geeks I’ve spoken to that GlenGlassaugh doesn’t tend to put very nice spirit into casks these days. Some of the earliest spirits were described, quite simply, as awful by some.
What reference points do we have for this? So far as I can tell, the fermentation times were beefed up a few years back to a more respectable 96 hours, but was today’s whisky produced before then? There’s also not a huge amount of information on the whisky or the distillery, which is a shame as I get the feeling that GlenGlassaugh ought to be loved a bit more, ought to be more of a fan favourite, yet the whiskies never seem to achieve anything more than ‘meh’. It’s so strange. The great Billy Walker – now known for some of the worst branding in Scotch whisky (a title previously held by Glen Scotia) – resurrected the distillery all those years ago; yet that team did a very fine job with BenRiach and GlenDronach, so it makes you wonder what was different at GlenGlassaugh.
GlenGlassaugh Octaves Classic Batch 2 – Review
On the nose: quite a nice malty heft underneath the lashings of dried fruit: Horlicks or Bran Flakes. Heather honey, maple syrup. Cinnamon. Muscovado sugar. Coffee and dark chocolate, with plenty of dates and raisins. Leave it in the glass a while and some elegant perfumed, sweet floral notes come through: jasmine.
In the mouth: pleasant, medium-weight texture, again with the malty, cereal quality shining through over and above. Herbal, with black tea. Walnuts. Orange marmalade. Raisins, leaning towards lighter, dried apricots. Caramel notes, and milk chocolate. An oaky bitterness starting to show here, which didn’t on the nose; ginger, syrup, coffee and cinnamon in traces.
A decent enough everyday drinker, which just falls off a touch too suddenly to be anything more. The smaller casks feel like an attempt to hack the spirit and shortcut some oomph, which is fair enough, but the depth never really comes through, the complexity doesn’t come through, and yet again there seems to be something technically… not necessarily wrong, but a bit odd with the spirit that went into them. Because as we frequently remind everyone to the point of being annoying, whisky is not just about the wood.
At £55, though? A bit of fun, though a tad on the steep side. This is a fling (a Highland fling?) but not a dram to take home to meet your parents.
Lead image kindly provided by Abbey Whisky, who also have the commission link if you wish to make a purchase. Sample provided by Glenglassaugh, which never affects our opinion. We always recommend reading our scoring guide.