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?
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
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.
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