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Glengoyne Behind the Scenes

Any would-be visitors to Glengoyne Distillery on the 16th February would have left disappointed, as the distillery shut its doors to enable the most exclusive event during its 185-year history.

Announcing the event in December, the 36 tickets were snapped up within 24 hours at a cost of £180 per person. For fans and enthusiasts, it marked a rare opportunity soak up the environment whilst enjoying the company of and access to the distillery manager, Robbie Hughes; International Brand Ambassador, Gordon Dundas; and the current Malt Master, John Glass. A full itinerary was created that featured tastings, tours, interactive elements, a four-course meal, and much more besides. At the centre of the whole experience was the launch of their new limited edition for 2019: The Glengoyne Legacy Series – Chapter One, which we’ll come to later.

Malt was offered the opportunity to attend as the only media invited, and given how resolute Glengoyne is at asking us to its events, we decided to make the effort to reach Dumgoyne for the 0945 start. Our thanks to the Glengoyne team for the invitation, and for covering our travelling costs.

Shutting its doors is a very rare occurrence at Glengoyne, as (unlike many other Scottish distilleries) it has enjoyed a sustained period of being in production since its inception in 1833. For Malt, we have been consistent visitors over the years to the distillery. When I have guests staying with me, Glengoyne is quite often an option for an enjoyable day out. Mark took in a visit in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed himself, including the creation of his own vastly overrated (in his mind) blend. The blending option, called the Malt Master Tour, is good fun, as I’ve taken it myself previously. It’s also the No. 1 Warehouse Tour.

Here, you can step into the warehouse and pontificate as to the qualities of two exclusive casks before bottling one to take home. The predictable route would be to take the sherry cask, which is synonymous with Glengoyne. However, the last time I visited (with Linh in 2015), we found joy in the ex-bourbon expression, and selected it to take home.

Generally, when we review any Glengoyne whiskies here, they tend to perform well. Personally, it is a distillery I’ve been meaning to return to, not only in physical form, but also in its most important liquid form. “Glengoyne Behind the Scenes” seemed like the perfect opportunity to do both.

The day’s events were split into three separate camps, with attendees broken up into smaller groups to ensure a more hands-on experience. Our collective scored when we headed to the tasting competition in the old manager’s house and blending room for the very first event. Consequently, our taste buds were fresh and free of whisky for a gentle walk through the Glengoyne range.

The competitive aspect came from picking our various characteristics, and then matching these against the official tasting notes. Hosted by Stuart Hendry and Gordon Dundas, it set a friendly and humorous tone for the rest of the day’s events. During this process, we dissected the twelve-year-old, the latest Teapot dram, the Legacy, and at last, the 25-year-old. Resisting my competitive urges, I sat back and let our smaller group debate the characteristics, with only the odd piece of input from this particular enthusiast. The fun perspective was just how similar the teams were in picking out the smells and tastes, with only the slightest of differences. The competition itself came down to the final dram, and to the very last choice from the plate.

Our small band celebrated victory with a modest cheer, and then with the recognition of an actual prize. Taken from a cask earlier that day, we walked away with a 200ml bottle of European oak Glengoyne, distilled in June 2001 and bottled at around 57% strength—a cool wee memento, and something to enjoy with friends next month.

Next up was a stroll around Glengoyne with the distillery manager, Robbie Hughes. A real character, it must be said, with a side-line in humour that you’ll either love or hate. These are the best tours, in my view, because you’re venturing into areas of the distillery other tours might not, whilst hearing an honest and candid opinion. Having worked at twelve or so other distilleries during his career, Robbie can certainly call upon a few stories, as well as a wealth of experience. With such knowledge and familiarity with the distillery, inside and out, we discussed more than just the production steps.

The general theme of the tour was patience, and the need to keep Glengoyne as it is. The avoidance of peat, and the necessity of taking time with the fermentation, mashing and distillation to ensure that the traditional flavours remain intact was a focus. Glengoyne remains a small distillery, and Robbie was quite open in his views that they could make changes to the milling, fermentation and distillation to speed things up. Such changes might boost production by up to twenty percent, but the end result would be a more nutty and forced style of whisky. “Not on my shift” seemed the message of his delivery, as well as an ideal in which everyone else on the team believed strongly. On that note, our Patreon supporters have been and will be treated to more exclusive videos of the tour during this week.

Our final host was the Glengoyne Malt Master, John Glass, who offered a generous assortment of cask samples in the oldest warehouse. These were punctuated by opportunities to try the goods straight from the cask, with our group taking in both a 14-year-bourbon cask and a 1985 sherry butt. Both were highlights, with the 80’s offering a lovely buttery, creamy and gentle sherry reminder. In retrospect, the bourbon cask was probably my favourite of the day—fresh, vibrant and sparkling with enthusiasm. It was a whisky I just couldn’t pour away. Here, we discussed elements of role our guide, John Glass, employed, as well as the art of blending and documenting whiskies to hand. I just wish they’d do something with a pure bourbon cask expression.

John was extremely passionate and open about his craft, and I certainly enjoyed listening to him in the warehouse, and later on during an extravagant meal. The work and preparation that goes into each release and his own thoughts and views on wider industry issues were all informative. He’s a lucky man, seeing how the Glengoyne 50-year-old is next on his list, and Chapter 2 seems still at a very initial stage, if at all.

On to the Chapter 1 release, which will be available globally including £54.95 from Master of Malt and bottled at 48% strength. The name rightly suggests a beginning, and for any distillery, this represents those that helped form what we know today. The story for this release centres on Cochrane Cartwright, who was the distillery manager way back in 1869. He is credited with introducing the use of sherry casks at Glengoyne and with bringing a less hasty work ethic to the distilling practices utilised at the time.

For Chapter 1, John Glass, married together a combination of casks of two different types – first fill European oak Oloroso sherry casks and refill casks. It is un-chillfiltered, and for Glengoyne, it marks their first new concept in almost two years. Distilleries love a concept, and above all, a series. We’ve seen Highland Park, Macallan and Dalmore utilise these themes to great effect. How many chapters in total are unknown currently, but speculation is that we can expect three to four in total, each with an annual debut. Personally, I don’t mind a concept or a series if the whisky is good and is priced accordingly. On paper, Chapter 1 has an affordable entry fee, which essentially equals time for the contents.

The Glengoyne Legacy Series Chapter One – review

Colour: A golden dawn.

On the nose: Familiar notes of almonds, honey, marzipan and a dirty vanilla. A buttery oily quality, varnished oak, a withered tangerine, and pastry. Toffee, pear drops and a gentle marmalade with some ginger added. All in all, very approachable and engaging. Better without water on the whole, with a splash revealing green apples and caramel.

In the mouth: Marmalade with a citrus vibe, shortbread and toffee, but midway it goes a touch flat and spirity, revealing an uncouth side. There isn’t the progression the nose had suggested. The middle section lacks body, giving us marzipan and lemon peel, but revives for apricot and hint of pineapple on the finish. Water brings out more of the wood spices, with a hint of dryness, almonds and pecan.

 

Conclusions

Let’s start with the day itself, which was a huge success. Everyone I spoke with who turned up for the event had a very enjoyable experience. A setting enthused by access and the opportunity to get to know the team and their craft equalled a positive outcome.

A real benefit was limiting the numbers of attendees, even in the face of widespread demand. It felt like the right number and allowed everyone the time and opportunity to enjoy their experience and interact with the team and fellow enthusiasts. Outside of general Glengoyne chatter, I had some stimulating conversations on whisky generally, and much more besides. This discussion included some great feedback for what we’re doing here at Malt, which is always humbling. An attendee exclaimed that the whole experience was to him a bargain upon reflecting on his day out, as well as a greater appreciation of whisky. Such accolades were a fair summary, and the team involved should be proud of their efforts.

A special mention for Gordon Dallas pictured above, who is not only a writer and comedian but is also a tour guide at Glengoyne. He played the role of the distillery manager, Cochrane Cartwright, to great aplomb. The fact that Cochrane met his end in the distillery dam in 1899 after one dram too many, meant great hilarity as the drams flowed alongside the historical observations.

The mixture of faithful Glengoyne fans from far and wide—a special mention to Sweden!—combined with more general enthusiasts and others making a day of it, either as a wedding treat, or a father-and-son outing. This unique mix bonded over the course of the day, which culminated in a meal that showcased a marriage of whisky and food. A special mention is merited to the 18-year-old, as well as the stick Seville marmalade pudding with brown sugar ice cream and rose hip syrup. It was a real crowd pleaser that everyone, I’m sure, would have gladly taken a second helping. The Legacy Chapter 1 itself was paired with slow braised beef shin, to impressive effect.

Amongst it all was the launch of the Chapter 1 Legacy that received generally positive plaudits from attendees. My own opinion is that the price helps, and that it was important to try the whisky again away from the distillery environment, which I did later that weekend. I find it inoffensive, and it’ll be interesting to see how it performs at retail for £54.95. We’re looking at roughly around 30,000 units, which isn’t massive in Ardbeg or Glenmorangie terms. For Glengoyne traditional limited expressions such as the Teapot Dram, however, numbers are under 3000; consequently, this release is a big leap for the distillery.

The average age of the whisky is around eleven years old, with the youngest casks being nine years in age, and some teenagers added in to balance out proceedings. For some enthusiasts I know, it won’t be sherried enough, and the majority of casks feel like refill or second-fill variants. However, there are other drams in the range to cater for heavily-sherried needs. Instead, the expression offers some subtle elements without being forceful or demanding. For the price — and again, that’s the key aspect here — it’s a pleasant sipper.

Score: 6/10

My thanks to Glengoyne for the invite and their hospitality. This included a free ticket and transportation costs, which is appreciated. I returned the favour by making some distillery shop purchases. As always we recommend you read our scoring guide. Photograph 2 kindly provided by Glengoyne. There are commission links in this review but this never influences our opinion.

Jason
Jason

JJ is the artist formerly known as Whisky Rover. Based in Scotland it means he’s able to reach out and enjoy a wealth of distillery trips and whiskies, although it’s more than likely you’ll find him in the Edinburgh Cadenhead's shop.

  1. Avatar
    James says:

    I’m visiting in April. On the subject of Sherried Glengoyne can you comment on the rest of the range? I’m hoping they still have Teapot dram available by then – considering this or I guess the 18yo or the cask strength (21yo a little outside my price range!)

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi James, I like the 21yo personally. A few friends are more the 25yo and the value isn’t there for the 30yo.

      The bottle your own when I visited was a 10yo sherry puncheon at 60.2% for £100. The teapot dram is what it is at £90. I don’t think the 18yo is too bad before the sherry really starts to kick in. Something to be said for more bourbon in the mix in the younger editions as well.

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          I’m not a big fan, I think Glengoyne has more to offer than just a big lick of sherry. Most seem to be snapped up to continue the series by collectors.

  2. Avatar
    Matthew says:

    Hi Jason. Immediately I personally dont have too much enthusiasm for this as of writing and would say that calling it “The Legacy” is somewhat a disservice to the actual brand that has been created. NAS and not bottled at cask strength leaves me wondering what is actually on offer here? Hope I get a chance to try it at least and mabye prove my initial thoughts wrong.

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