You’ll have seen the cavalcade of news stories around the best whisky investments, the top performing distilleries, and their ilk. Such articles really make my blood boil. They attract the worst kinds of individuals to the whisky realm, where the main behaviours should be based around opening, sharing and experiencing whisky.
The articles themselves are perfect in today’s clickbait environment and are often compiled by individuals or companies who have a vested interest in ensuring the secondary market remains buoyant and fuelled to a farcical effect. Take, for instance, this piece on the top 5 investible Scotch whiskies of 2018. Kindly spread over five pages to boost the click interaction.
It reads like a Top of the Pops show with an annoying lack of detail and appreciation for the actual liquid. Smashie and Nicey may have done a better job in retrospect, but those guys only turn up for charity gigs. Sadly, bottom of the list in today’s whisky world are things such like charity or enjoyment. Instead, the iron grip of greed and financial gain remains the order of the day.
Springbank moves on up with a totally poptastic thrust into third place. Recently on social media, there was chatter around the WhiskyBarrel charging £150 for the new Springbank 12-year-old to stop the flippers. I can see the debate from both sides; I really can. I know the WhiskyBarrel had issues with flippers during their Daftmill Winter outturn and went to the trouble to cancel orders and relist them. A positive move, but charging auction prices—arguably beyond—is difficult to defend. I’m sure it is annoying to see bottles purchased and sold on for-profit almost immediately. Some clients go so far as to ship directly to an auction house from retail.
These are the situations where retailers should be more proactive and cancel such orders, as clearly, they are not being bought to be enjoyed. Ban customers who ship to auction houses; don’t turn a blind eye and moan about the issue. I’m not just picking out a single retailer here, but the wider market. Make it as difficult as possible for a flipper to send that bottle to auction.
Meanwhile, back to the investment chart countdown, and we should note Glenugie in 5th spot. It’s a real rarity, yet I could tell you still about the actions of Speyside residents chasing the latest Chivas 37-year-old Glenugie bottling; sadly, they are not in pursuit for their own personal consumption, but simply for pure profit, and stuff the whisky.
Mark and I have a general rule that each distillery has a benchmark piece here, an article that contains the history of the distillery, and from then onwards, subsequent releases adopt a more philosophical or current “state of play” perspective. Glenugie is so rare that this marks our first opportunity to discuss it for Malt. I’ve been fortunate to have tried a few releases previously; these have almost been an exclusive moment rather than “I must sit down and create” opportunity. For you, this time, we’ll talk a little about the history of the distillery, then take in two whiskies from this unicorn of the departed ranks. My own personal thanks to Whisky_jer for generously sharing these examples, and trust me, he’ll be rewarded.
Glenugie was situated in the much-maligned whisky region of the North East of Scotland, an area devastated by the closures of the early 1980’s, as well as by a general lack of investment from the industry. Eventually, things came to a head, and these smaller, inefficient and capital-restrained distilleries with a limited single-malt presence were deemed disposable. Arguably, it is an easy decision to make on paper, from the comfort of an office on the 23rd floor of a building in a major city; however, data can be manipulated to underline any desired outcome. More often than not, it is what the information doesn’t tell you that is lost amongst the decision. Making and replacing a style of whisky once it’s lost for good isn’t straightforward.
The distillery dated back to 1834 and had an imposing presence from the photographs of the site set near Peterhead. Distilling of one form or another was performed here prior to the official establishment of Glenugie. Originally, it was known as Invernettie and was established by Donald, McLeod & Co. Chopping and changing was to become a common theme throughout its existence, and after just six years, Invernettie switched to become a brewery. This lasted until the mid-1870’s, when investment on the site by new owners determined its future purpose as a distillery.
Throughout its existence, Glenugie was a small producer with just a pair of stills providing stock for the blended market. Part of its issue was the haphazard periods of production with long durations of inactivity and the site being mothballed. New owners made further investment during the 1950’s, but by the end of the 1970’s, Glenugie was showing its age once again. The end arrived with the closure of the site in 1983 and the land being sold to companies involved in the North Sea Oil and Gas industry. The brand itself and the inventory of casks was acquired by Chivas, which has prompted the odd official release in recent times. These releases include the bottling we’re about to review right now.
On a side note, can I just say how refreshing it is that Chivas put out this release stating a 3rd fill cask. I can almost hear Mark screaming in outrage! However, it just goes to show how poorly regarded Glenugie was towards the end of its life. Plus the stark reality that anything sells nowadays.
Glenugie 1981 Distillery Reserve – review
Distilled on 19th June 1981, before being bottled on 6th August 2018. A 3rd Fill Hogshead, cask #3197, produced 300 sized 50cl bottles, at a strength of 48.8%.
Colour: A golden hue.
On the nose: A light, gentle and delicate whisky. Lemon peel, sherbet and freshly sliced apples. Icing sugar and then a minerality followed by cookie dough. A well-worn shammy. Decayed cinnamon bark with its last remnants of aroma. A surprising waxiness and a floral nature – elderflower? Gentle wood spices, coconut flesh and pineapple.
In the mouth: Very fruity! Sparking an internal debate as to whether it is tropical or meadow fruits. Hmmm, I’d say a combination of both. Plenty of natural sugars, a gentle oiliness and the essence of a relaxed and humble dram. Buttery, pear drops and barley sugars. More waxiness and Custard Creams – so that’s vanilla and biscuit. Memories of those glorious pastéis de nata or Portuguese custard tarts are revived. On the finish an oaky bitterness and scraping of cardamon.
Signatory Glenugie 1977 – review
This was distilled on 18th October 1977 before being bottled at 27 years of age. From hogshead #5506 at a strength of 46.7% resulting in an outturn of 220 bottles.
Colour: Lemon flesh.
On the nose: A gentle vanilla and floral honey greets us. Tangerines and a hint of waxiness. Pulped apple flesh and a flowing citrus undercurrent takes us along. White grapes, sherbet and oddly, mashed potato.
In the mouth: A lovely relaxed oily texture. Not much development it must be said and a sense of restrainment. Some soft meadow fruits, buttery pastry, a touch of caramel and nutmeg on the finish. A dulled vanilla, wood bitterness and popcorn with pink peppercorn towards the end.
Looking back over both of these whiskies, there are many similarities. What also struck me was how timid the cask influence was even after 27-37 years. Perhaps a sign that Glenugie wasn’t appreciated and left to work with the most dreary of casks on a 2nd or 3rd fill basis, or god forbid, 4th fill.
Yet despite this, the strength of the distillate and distillery character – or distillery DNA as I call it – shines through. Put this liquid into a really good cask and you’re unleashing a whisky of mass destruction. And that kinda fits in with the Glenugie’s I’ve had over the years.
Now I must do my bit and source a bottle and open it for others to enjoy. That is what whisky is for at the end of the day. Enzo didn’t create Ferrari to sit in sterile garages or amongst collections. They were created to be appreciated. That same logic applies to whisky.
Lead image from Wikipedia and the other fireside photo provided by Whisky_Jer who opened the bottle – that’s what to do folks!