Is it safe now to venture out of the shadows and talk about Glenlossie again? For a moment there, this overlooked and relatively obscure Diageo distillery had stumbled into the dazzling whisky spotlight. Slightly star-struck by the commotion, independent bottles of repute were chased, assaulted and hopefully opened.
With the market so eager for anything single malt, it’s a surprise that Diageo hasn’t seen fit to showcase more of its stable and their potential. History shows us that changes take time. Turning the good ship onto a new course isn’t merely achieved with a grappling of the wheel. For years, Diageo was quite happy to let Brora fall into disrepair, only to suddenly appreciate that it was about to lose a blue-chip name to the history books. Then hey, presto! The necromancer does its magic dance around Port Ellen and across the road from Clynelish. Things are suddenly resurrected from the grave, and you’ve got a good news hero story.
Like whisky, it seems, things take time. Glenlossie isn’t an isolated case of a distillery being overlooked, and it won’t be the last. Neither is the inaction of a major owner so detached from what’s happening on the ground. Funny thing being, when it suits, Diageo can allegedly put together a task force to change SWA legislation because ultimately it suits them more. I know that sounds rather Cambridge Analytica, to a certain degree, but that’s how business is nowadays. We have to ditch the traditional image of a loving team, creating a tasty product for our benefit. It might be true of a small family-owned and run distillery happily going about its merry business, but this is the exception today.
Diageo may cite sales are up and good times are continuing, et cetera, but ask yourself: how many Diageo releases do you purchase on a regular basis? The Lagavulin 16 is far from the iconic dram it once was. The Clynelish 14, much like the Talisker 10, is subject to batch variations and has faded in recent times. Those classic malts are looking less sparkling and high definition than ever before. Yet we still, through habit, pick up a release, hoping for a change in form or a glimmer of satisfaction, but it never comes.
The special releases are increasingly irrelevant with each year that passes. The majority are destined to sit idle on retailer inventories due to excessive pricing. Let’s consider what Diageo has mustered together for 2019. It feels like a patchwork assortment, with a 14-year-old Cardhu prompting little interest, or what about a Cragganmore 12? Every time I visit the Dalwhinnie distillery, they have a plentiful supply of their previous special releases, so I’m pleased to be able to look forward to seeing another on the shelf. A Glen Ord? There’s a reason why no one really likes the Ord, as it’s been kicked around by Diageo for sometime now. There used to be a period when it was capable of producing a decent whisky. The distillery has been revamped and expanded more times than a patient on the Botched television series, thereby losing its relevance and character.
Regulars will be pleased by the presence of yet another Lagavulin as Diageo tries to wring every last drop of profit out of this floundering iconic distillery. Then there’s a Mortlach 26 that you could argue is simply stock redeployed after the disastrous attempt to premiumise the distillery. A Talisker 15 offers us a chance of an age statement, with the 18 seemingly no more. Oh, and there’s a Pittyvaich, one of the most feared distilleries, which for a while even made it onto the weapons of mass destruction listing. All of this will be wrapped up in an exclusive London event where people will chase and beg for an invite—or at least they did for previous incarnations. This year? As much as such behaviour is truly abhorrent, would you sell yourself for that line-up? Expect the same positive phrases and the same industry types to welcome the 2019 releases, only to repeat the process on an annual basis, until no one really cares anymore; I am, however, already at that point.
Now, apologies if you think this is Diageo bashing. It is after all 5 am and I’ve had 3 hours sleep thanks to my new-born. Such an approach would be an easy route to take, and there is an attraction, I’ll certainly admit. I’m more interested in why Diageo thinks this is good enough. The whisky demographic is growing more educated and experienced. They want more from their whisky, and the official core ranges aren’t doing enough. In Diageo’s case, many have the legacy of bad practices that should have been consigned to the surplus copies of Jim’s bible that are held in decommissioned merchant ships anchored off the cost of Girvan. You know the ones; artificial colouring, bottled at 40% or 43% strength, chill filtration and a distinct lack of information.
Many more are reaching out to the independent bottlers, which come with their own risks, yet offer a more natural presentation and the opportunity to appreciate a distillery. Blends still remain the backbone of the proposition, but even now it’s generally accepted that blended scotches are not the wonderful array of flavours they once were. We’ve reached a point where the whisky has been dumbed down to an inept status. Diageo cannot see the whisky for the pound or dollar signs, and eventually, something will give.
In the meantime, we can expect a glorious new Johnnie Walker experience in central Edinburgh to fleece the tourists who make a pilgrimage to Scotland. I’m still hoping for that visitor attraction on floor 3, where you can role play as a brand ambassador and talk cobblers till your heart’s content. It sums up an industry that has become obsessed and smothered in its own rhetoric, brands and self-importance. The bottom line is that you’re here to make whisky that we’ll enjoy and purchase again. Sadly, many distilleries are not given that opportunity, or those that are fail to grasp the challenge.
Recently on Instagram, we ran a story asking for readers to tell us what they thought of Laphroaig. Such things are fun endeavours but do have a purpose beyond mere interaction and content. They give us an opportunity to see different viewpoints. One replier suggested that John Campbell, distillery manager of Laphroaig, should hang his head in shame. Having tried the current Laphroaig expressions, I can appreciate such venom. A distillery manager nowadays is akin to a bank manager. They have little influence or control over what is pushed out onto retail. That is driven by marketing, the blenders and ultimately, those further up the chain, who often have very little to do with whisky. I’d be interested to know the backgrounds of those working for Edrington, let’s say, who decide these things. I bet these individuals have more experience working for luxury brands than anything that has to do with whisky, and yet they now control and influence the creative process.
All said and done we, have a whisky to review. This takes us back to Glenlossie, a distillery that can somehow, against all odds within the system, produce a memorable whisky. Such a feat on the basis of 75 hours’ fermentation. Imagine what it would be capable of if Diageo turned over the controls to the workforce and distillery manager? This particular release is part of the Blackadder Raw Cask series, and I recommend reading the interview we did earlier this year with Blackadder.
This Glenlossie was distilled in 18th November 1992, before being bottled at 20 years of age at 59% strength on the 1st August 2013. The hogshead provided 282 bottles in the most natural state we associate with this range. My thanks to @fromwhereidram for the sample, photographs and opportunity to write this piece at such an ungodly hour of the morning.
Blackadder Raw Cask Glenlossie 1992 – review
Color: apple peel.
On the nose: sparkling with life including meadow fruits, wine gums, sherbet and lemon rind. Apple struddel, bread dough, icing sugar, pear drops, hazelnuts and apricot. Towards the end Chinese 5-spice comes through. Adding water reveals yeast, a mineral quality, gooseberries and sugar cubes.
In the mouth: an oily texture with fruits galore! Green initially, a fresh tapenade and then the juiciness comes through with apples and pears. Mangoes, pine nuts, grapefruit, lychee, dried reeds and a touch of smoke on the finish and gingerbread. Water ups the oils and juicy stakes with more apples, grapes, grapefruit and green pepper.
Frankly, a lovely whisky on so many levels. Especially as it’s been presented in its natural state with all those oils and characteristics intact. Underlining why more are drifting towards cask strength and natural presentation because if the whisky is good, then it doesn’t need messing around with. A further indication of the prominence of Glenlossie to many enthusiasts; when it is on form then it sings and is something to be celebrated.
In saying all this, I should highlight that this is a dram to be taken slowly. One for the more experienced palate where you can appreciate what’s contained within. The rawness of the experience is liberating when I’m faced with so many watered down, or plainly inadequate whiskies nowadays. Proof yet again that the single cask format is the heart and soul of whisky.