Glen Moray 21 Year Old Portwood Finish

Glen Moray 21 Year Old Portwood Finish

Brands in the whisky industry fall over themselves to get a slice of that prestige pie. To be considered one of two things: premium or luxury. Yes, a bit of a tautology I suppose; they are similar sentiments. Folk want to be posh. Upmarket. Better than their neighbours. But how many actually earn it? What does it take to be a luxury whisky?

Sure, you can spaff out a press release with all the fancy words on it, and you can ramp up the price tag to sell a few hundred bottles to a niche market; but most of you handsome and wise Malt readers are jaded by that and know to look beyond such matters. You can just describe yourself as having a luxury product, which this is filed under. Indeed, this Glen Moray 21 year old Portwood finish is actually filed under the oxymoronic “accessible slice of luxury”, which rather implodes the term luxury right there. Luxury is not accessible: that’s the point.

Sources online tell me Glen Moray uses a shortish 60-hour fermentation – better than some I suspect, but not really earning the right to consider a luxurious fermentation. (Edit: I have since learned it was a very, very low 45 hours.) Whether it was worse 21 years ago remains to be seen. And what of the wood, that thing most of us cling to as a flavour influencer? This 21-year-old spirit has seen out its days by being finished in port casks, which suggests it never went in great wood to begin with; finishing is mostly remedial; finishing suggests that it probably never had years of good interaction with oak. (Edit: I have also learned it was first fill, but I don’t know if it has been rinsed at source (and not a good first-fill) or just a really bad cask.) And that again tells me the spirit hasn’t earned the right to be considered a luxury. Naturally, as with 99% of the whisky industry, I have no idea of what barley this was made with or where it came from, which hits the ejector seat on any notions of an authentically made, provenance driven product, so we’ll skip right past the general sins of Scotch.

So what are we left with?

I highlight this as Glen Moray has made a name for itself putting out really very good budget single malts. Let’s not be ashamed to sell cheap stuff – there’s a market for everyone. We are not ashamed of such things on Malt – and back in the day I have praised cheap Glen Moray whiskies; and we consistently celebrate putting out great value drams for low price points on this site.

I think the problem is when a brand seeks something greater than the niche they’ve carved for themselves. Glen Moray is well-known and well-defined at the budget end. Why strive to be luxury, when perhaps it is not actually a luxury product made with the required values that one assigns to a luxury product? One can’t assume the moniker, one can’t magic prestige out of thin air. Sure, many of you throw stones at the Macallan, but at least they’ve grafted to achieve that apogee of whisky luxury, no?

This Glen Moray 21 is available from Master of Malt for £124.95, or the Whisky Exchange will charge £120.

Maybe I am just overly sensitive to words that brands use to describe themselves. I find it interesting because words indicate not so much what the product is, but what the brand wants to be. Words, quite often, are a projection, a dream. Words are what the writer wants to wish into reality, an almost always blurred line between fiction and non-fiction. Do they always know the difference?

Anyway, some words:

Glen Moray 21 Year Old Portwood Finish

Colour: tawny.

On the nose: lots of sweet, Sauternes wine notes that linger above some grassy and straw-like core (which suggests at first that one might finish a 21 year old whisky – because the original maturation was very poor). Praline, strawberry juice, apple juice concentrate (the particularly sweet stuff).

In the mouth: a pleasing, rounded texture. Raspberry, grapefruit juice, pineapple, and yes plenty of grassiness. Dry, with some white pepper and sandalwood, general sharp acidic tang. Ribena – the cheaper squash type rather than blackberries. A hint of aniseed and a whisp of menthol. It’s not especially complex, there’s not really depth, but it is balanced at least. A dry, cloying finish.


I don’t know. I feel like these days I only want to write about a whisky when I am enthused by it, and this simply leaves me unmoved, which is why I was reluctant to mash the keyboard. Not a bad whisky per se, but just lacks soul, lacks gravitas; and when you start getting to the over-twenties brigade, you really need to start showing some soul to be worth the money.

More importantly, I go back to the point of finishing a whisky of this age: something was not perfect with the original spirit, and it really shows. Whether or not it’s down to a dodgy barrel or that wham-bam short fermentation, who knows. I think Glen Moray offers some excellent budget whiskies for those entering the single malt sector, and a very good job of it they do indeed; my problem is that this still feels like those younger, budget whiskies, but with the bigger price tag and the higher expectations.

And that brings me back to the point: they say it is a luxury whisky, but it wasn’t made like one and it certainly does not taste like one.

So is it, then, a luxury? I’ll let you decide.

Score: 5/10

There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Graham says:


    I absolutely agree with Glen Moray being an acceptable budget distiller that is creative and punts interesting things out which are reasonably priced. The bottle your own was about £50 last time I bought one which is about half the entry price elsewhere.

    Recently though Glen Moray have had fancier aspirations such as hook ups with the SRU etc but I think they need to watch out as many of the whiskies in the next tier are head and shoulders above their current distillate.

    As for cask finishing, some casks such as sherry can overpower If full maturation is carried out. So a maturation in bourbon or virgin oak to give a rounded spirit to finish makes sense. Because it is also used to cover bad spirit the main issue isn’t finishing itself, for me the issue is that a consumer simply does not know until you taste it which approach they are buying into.

    1. Mark says:

      Hi Graham. Yes, and that’s the thing – a budget distiller, nothing to be ashamed about. Even cheap whisky is out of a lot of people’s price point. But you’re right – they’re not in that tier, not by any stretch.

  2. Scotty says:

    Luxury is just more marketing fluff. Luxury is associated with cost. Unfortunately some distilleries market themselves as being a luxury brand but produce a lot of over priced NAS insipid spirit.

    Glen Moray do what they do reasonably well. They are just another shark in the fish pond looking for a bit more of the action.

    The taste should be the only guide to luxury.

    1. Mark says:

      Quite right, Scotty.

      I do think ‘how it’s made’ has a lot to do with luxury too – but, indeed, that usually shows up in the tasting too.

  3. Alistair says:

    This was on the list at a whisky tasting I was at last night.

    My view? Pleasant enough, but a bit of a waste of a 21yr old and definitely not worth the price point.

    A 21 year old should be able to stand on it’s own two feet, and I feel that a port wood finish just doesn’t float for its age.

    1. Mark says:

      That’s precisely it, Alistair – it should stand on its own feet. Whether a fresh cask or a seventh fill, something wasn’t quite right for it to be chucked in a rather heavy thing like port (though the port could have been a rubbish cask too). The problem with this, I feel, is the pretty lifeless spirit that went into the original cask.

  4. John says:

    Hey Mark,
    That Glen Moray seems like a luxurious waste of money!
    Too much talk and less walk is indicative of a product’s quality.

  5. Jeremy Watt says:

    Is their fermentation time not approximately ballpark for quite a lot of distilleries, just most don’t talk about it unless it is quite a lot higher as it’s a selling point like any other (including “luxury”)?

    I’m a little puzzled how something that you view as being bad wood and spirit manages to get a 5, which is a pretty decent all round whisky mark?

    1. Mark says:

      I’d say 45 hours was much less than the ballpark (50-60) though going back in time it’s hard to say what was what. A lot of people do say it – I repeatedly make a point of highlighting what contributes to a good spirit in the hope that people catch on. Long, slow fermentations are a good sign that people care about making good whisky.

      5 – it’s not utterly bad, it’s not utterly good.

      Our scoring system says: “Bang average. Not bad, per se, but don’t expect your pulse to raise.”

      Which is fine. But not exactly what I would call luxury…

    2. I’m not a fan of Glen Moray (certainly official bottlings) by any stretch BUT I have noticed recently that some of their younger (10 year old ish) stuff by independent bottlers, unchillfiltered and cask strength, is excellent – 2008 10yo Douglas Laing old particular 66.7% (mic drop).

  6. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    A fermentation lasting 50 hours is considered short and a 60 to 75 hour fermentation average, while 75 to 120 hours is a long fermentation. After 48 to 50 hours the yeast will have made alcohol and when distilled the resulting spirit will tend to have a cereal taste. Fermentations lasting longer than 60 hours take advantage of the yeasts dormant resting period when it produces new flavours resulting in a more complex spirit.
    Longer fermentations (over 55 to 60 hours with standard distiller’s yeast) produce little or no more alcohol, but the longer the fermentation the more flavour that is likely to be generated. Longer fermentations also tend to produce a wash that’s easier to distill as they have less of a tendency to foam (see distillation).

    I think Dr Bill Lumsden once said that fermentation under 50 hours is not worth the effort or some such.

    But on the other hand if Glen Moray would have had any claimt to being luxury it would still be in the hands of LVMH.
    It was sold off because the brand had no luxury standing and was not able to be made into a luxury brand without lots of money.

    If they do what they do best it is a nice whisky in many expressions for fair prices.

    No need to be ashamed for that.


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