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The Singleton Glendullan 40 year old

We’re stepping into the lofty realm of travel retail today with the oldest Glendullan at the time of its release in 2018, as part of Diageo’s Forgotten Drop series. It has since been trumped by a 41-year-old Glendullan from the same series that was finished in a Kentucky Rye cask. Effectively, the Diageo Global Travel Retail Unit just finished some sister casks to give a twist on the previous incarnation.

Let’s pause and take in this situation for a moment at least. A whisky that has resided for 4 decades in wood, maturing and developing for the perfect opportunity to be experienced, is then plonked into a rye cask to bring in some much-needed flavour. That’s Johnnie Walker blended supermarket holiday bottle territory, or at the very least providing the differential at retail to create another high priced edition to sell. That’s way beyond the skulduggery we’ve seen deployed by the Scottish Malt Whisky Society in recent times.

This elite covert Diageo unit went even further for a 42-year-old Glen Ord, deciding to finish the whisky for 4 months in 2 hand-selected American Oak hogshead casks before being ‘conditioned’ – whatever that means – in a cask that previously held Amontillado sherry. I’ve got this vision of a knackered Ford Capri pulling over to the side of the road, until a kind individual comes along with jump leads to give it the energy to get over the finish line before collapsing in a heap.

The whole practice underlines that the whisky isn’t the principal driving force of this Forgotten Drop series. You can wrap up the liquid in lavish packaging, as we have with this Glendullan, and stroke the consciousness of elitism with the luxurious flourishes that attempt to justify the $2300 price tag that is exclusively aimed at the Asian travel market. This particular release is exclusive to Changi and Taiwan and like so many of the other releases in this series, is an edition of 600 bottles. This Glendullan lands at an impressive 58.6% strength, which suggests after 4 decades it was filled off the stills and as I’ve debated previously in my Cadenhead’s Glenrothes-Glenlivet article, such a practice is extremely beneficial for long term maturation.

At least we have a Glendullan that hasn’t required a finish or a conditioner of some kind to make it more palatable, which suggests that we are on strong foundations. Sadly, we won’t know if this liquid comes from original Glendullan (closed in 1985), or the modern Glendullan 2, which opened in 1972 and eventually superseded its original host.

We know from experience that Glendullan can put the dull into whisky. Made well enough, but it is more of an inventory filler than a leading, light or captivating original host. Much like its near distillery neighbour, Dufftown, it is a bulk producer for blends in spite of Diageo’s attempts to whip up some single malt excitement under the Singleton range. Yes, we’re stepping through some extremely dull whisky territory in Dufftown itself, but I’ll save you the pedestrian nature of Glenfiddich, or the aborted Frankenstein experiment that is Mortlach. At this rate, Parkmore distillery will have the best reputation in the town and hardly anyone has experienced a drop!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to try this elderly Glendullan and add it to my bank of whisky experiences. And to also bring some insight into the elite releases that you see when passing through an airport. The price is ridiculous even with the fanfare and packaging. For that reason, I’ve already docked a mark from the overall score.

The Singleton Glendullan 40 year old – review

Colour: light gold.

On the nose: wet pine wood planks, light honey, sappy and not hugely expansive. A mellow vanilla, corn feel, withered lemon and poppy seeds. Fleeting wine gums and a sense it’s mostly the cask. Honeysuckle, apple peelings, chamomile oil, custard and new varnish. Adding water reveals glue, pineapple, frankincense and syrup.

In the mouth: an emphasis on honey and vanilla with plenty of bite. White pepper, apples, woody of yes, lemon oil, a touch of smoke followed by peppermint and chalky in places. Water turns the whisky into a sherbet vanilla lemon bomb that lasts forever.

Conclusions

This is very gentle at first and the Glendullan comes on leaps and bounds when left in the glass to open up, as this encourages the fruits to come out. However, for the age and price, you’re left questioning is this it? Am I missing a trick here? There’s nothing to dislike unless you paid $2300 for a bottle and if I did, I’d be fuming, as well as a fool.

After trying this I can see why the Diageo team proceeded to finish other releases. I doubt when you’re into the 4th decade that there is much to distinguish Glendullan A from Glendullan B in terms of releases. Therefore, a dubious finish must be applied however disgraceful as the company demands its revenue and pint of blood.

Clearly, we’re talking about a small-scale vatting of a handful of casks here. Why not take all of these Glendullan’s with the exception of any miraculous single casks that blow away the testers and deliver a larger outturn for a lower price? Oh, but wait, that’s not good business, is it?

Why not even treat foreign markets however well endowed financially with a little more respect? After all, the 2014 Special Releases from Diageo included a 38-year-old Singleton of Glendullan for a mere £899 and this is still available from the Whisky Exchange despite 3756 bottles being produced. This Forgotten Drop, if released in the UK, would be instantly forgotten at such a price much like its younger edition. Herein lies the problem, or opportunity as Diageo would say. If we cannot get away with such a trick here, then let’s deploy it elsewhere.

Score: 6/10

My thanks to Francis for the sample and the lead image is from Diageo.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Andrew says:

    Interesting read Jason.

    I really do wonder at the foreign markets. I wonder if the cost being high *adds* to it’s allure or if the very dull flavour profile comes over as ‘sophisticated’. It makes me think of the dullness of JW Blue Label (the Keyser Soze of Whisky Profiles) but that’s still highly sought afterand regarded.

    Perhaps John could shine a light on the huge cultural difference in what is considered ‘good’ in Asia, whisky wise?

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Andrew,

      It’s safe to say high cost adding to the allure applies to any ethnicity or geography, as long as that high cost is attached to a reputable brand that is.

      It would be wrong for me to lump in all of Asia in one answer. While I have seen first hand that Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are 1st tier whisky markets they are also different. I bet all of these countries still have their fair share of JW Blue Label drinkers but not as many as the growing markets like Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

      For example, Taiwan drinks a lot of whisky but its mostly single malt. Their American whiskey selection are mostly just ok and mostly drank via cocktail.
      I’d say Japan and Singapore are the more… balanced in whisky consumption as they get everything there.

      So, it’s hard to give a direct answer with regards to what Asia thinks is good. But Asia’s fondness for ex-sherry casks is a certainty. If you’ve never been to Asia, a lot of us like to drink our beer on ice. Asia’s famous beers like Tsingtao, San Miguel and Singha are already very light to start with. So whatever is light, like a blended scotch, will initially seem good for the stereotype Asian palate.

      1. Avatar
        Andrew says:

        Thanks for the reply John.

        I was painting with a very broad brush when I said Asia, I’m aware.

        My partner works for one of the big Duty Free vendors and I’ve heard some very insteresting stories about how cosmetics become sought after in markets like China – it’s a very different route to popularity and certainly doesn’t seem to be based on quality at all.

        I did travel through Malyasia and Hong Kong last year and noticed that social media seemed to have amuch larger impact that I notice here in the UK. Appearing to be look good and have the right products seemed pervasive.

        1. John
          John says:

          Mainland China are mostly new rich. They’re still trying to figure out what to do with their new found money so they’re just paying for whatever now. There’s a certain behavior in Asian culture where one has to show off by being extravagant.

          I agree with social impact in Asia but it’s the same in the US. Marketing lets common sense take a back seat most often.

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