While the best whisky is always the next one and the hunt for it certainly part of the fun, it is also nice to have some solid standards as regular go-to’s. It is good to know what to count on, if one is searching for a nice present, looking out for a good bottle to share and enjoy with others who are not that much into whisky (yet), or figuring out what to purchase from the shelves of a nearby store or bar whence on vacation.
Solid standard malt whiskies are part of the core range bottlings of their distilleries and are hence widely available. They are nothing special, fancy, or pricey – at least by the industry’s and seasoned whisky drinkers’ standards – but they tend to deliver, being as solid as they are. Which standard malts become one’s favourites is certainly a matter of personal taste and preferences, but solid standards seem to have something to offer for everyone. Arguably, they lay the foundation on which a distillery’s high or nascent reputation is built, while dull or lousy standards earmark a distillery’s beginning or ongoing decline. Furthermore, solid standards serve as good entry points into the world of single malts as they commonly display the basic profile of their distilleries. Ardbeg 10, Lagavulin 16, or Springbank 10 are some of the most prominent standards out there and cases to this point. Several other core range bottlings should be added to this list, and I will do so over time in what is to become kind of an occasional series.
But what makes a standard solid? What are some basic criteria to consider? And how can a single whisky acquaint one with its distillery? I will address the first two questions in a summary manner, offering some general observations. Then, I have a closer look at a single distillery and one of its core range bottlings to explore one whisky and its surrounding stories in more detail. As the first entry into my occasional solid standard series, I delve into the not-so-recently revamped GlenAllachie 12.
A solid standard
What are good or solid standards? If in doubt, ask your local dealer or bartender. Support your local retailers, get in touch with and learn from each other. South American rivers are certainly a great sight, but they do not offer the joy of actual conversations and interhuman exchanges. Guides and notes on the web can offer good advice but are not always readily available and the amount of information can become quite overwhelming if one searches for a standard malt. Yet, as a rough guideline, there are some basic features that most solid standards seem to share.
First, let us go by the numbers. With their price being frequently set somewhere around 45 euro or pound, solid standards are quite affordable by the industry’s standards and placed towards the lower end of the single malt price spectrum. They state their age on the label and are commonly at least ten years old so that they have passed a certain threshold and reached a more mature stage in their maturation. They come with an ABV of at least 43% and thus go beyond the required 40% minimum; and the three or more per cent matter, as they strengthen the intensity of the whisky’s flavours. Preferably, they have no colouring added and were not chill filtered to preserve their full body and flavours.
Second, let us go by more qualitative criteria. Renowned solid standards have gained a good reputation among whisky drinkers over the years with some of them counting as actual classics and some being marketed as such. But the proof of the pudding is not in its surrounding tales or marketing buzz but in its actual delivery. Solid standards are anything but unpleasant; dull or lousy ones are. The solid ones are easily quaffable, they do not thin out too quickly thanks to their above-average ABV, they are quite nuanced thanks to some good casks added into their mixture, and they offer some complexity to explore. Solid standards will not disappoint on their delivery which is why they were able to gain a good reputation in the first place. The renowned classics are hence a good option to go for, but this might have you missing out on some rising stars that are already solid but not that established yet like the GlenAllachie 12.
Billy Walker and GlenAllachie
Having awakened BenRiach and GlenDronach from their deep slumber by capitalizing a letter in their midst and by breathing some (wood) magic into their whiskies, Billy Walker has made quite a name for himself as a whisky entrepreneur and blender. Hence, whisky bloggers and drinkers were quite curious what he and his partners were up to when they purchased what was back then the Glenallachie distillery (with a lower case a) from Chivas Brothers in 2017. Besides capitalizing the a in the middle, the new consortium implemented some further changes as they sought to put GlenAllachie on the single malt map, Billy Walker’s reputation carrying the whisky which was – so far – rather unheard of. The GlenAllachie launched its new core range in 2018, and there have been quite a few single cask and special wood finish releases since then, the virgin oak series being the latest addition to the list. Overall, reviews of the core range have been quite positive in their assessments and tended to agree that there was quite an improvement in comparison to earlier releases. Meanwhile, the reception by the community has also been quite positive but not entirely over the moon either. Personally, I did not have Glenallachie on my map before the takeover. I had tried a few independent bottlings here and there in the past without really getting caught up with them. Accordingly, this was a rather blank canvas for me with a Speyside label attached to it, which is to say that I expected a whisky with an overall delicate, floral, sweet, and fruity profile.
The GlenAllachie 12 – review
The GlenAllachie 12 was officially launched in July 2018. The whisky has been matured in a mixture of virgin oak, Pedro Ximenéz and oloroso sherry casks, so it should display some sherry cask influence. The GlenAllachie 12 comes without added colouring or chill-filtration and is bottled at 46%. Since its initial launch, the team at GlenAllachie has increased the amount of sherry matured liquid going into the mixture so that its profile has changed a bit over the batches. A full bottle will set you back about £41.25 via the Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt will demand £39.25, but samples are also widely available. I have finished my first bottle of this a while ago, and I liked it. For this review, I am tasting a sample kindly provided by a friend. He has purchased the bottle earlier this year so that my sample should contain more sherry matured liquid than the bottle I had on my shelf.
Colour: amber (light hue).
On the nose: floral honey sweetness with some vanilla, apples, and a fresh touch of citrus; the sherry casks add some raisins, café au lait, and milk chocolate into the mixture which is rounded off by a few cloves – quite pleasant on the nose and several notes to unpack without the whisky losing its profile.
In the mouth: sets off with a mouth-coating floral honey sweetness, vanilla and apples accompanied by some touches of café au lait and milk chocolate; the palate dilutes a bit over time, as the 46% are apparently not sufficient to carry the delicate aromas through to the end, but the palate does not water down entirely either; the finish is of medium length and warm, the floral honey and café au lait linger on, while the fresh citrus touch makes a reappearance towards the end.
A solid dram that has a nice profile and combines different flavours without losing its coherence. The floral honey sweetness and café au lait are the most prominent aspects throughout, but other notes make their appearance as well. If you are looking for a delicate, sweet, and floral malt with a sherry edge to it, this is a great option; and it is a nice introduction to Speyside malts. Given the decent price, this is a good bang for your buck; and it is a solid standard that ticks most of the boxes I suggested above.
The GlenAllachie 10 Cask Strength Batch 3 – review
Why not go for a comparison as I happen to have some GlenAllachie 10 Cask Strength Batch 3 left on my shelf? A bit younger than the 12 with roughly the same mixture of casks and a higher ABV, this one should make for an interesting comparison. The basic facts for the GlenAllachie 10 Batch 3 are: 10 years old, cask strength with 58,2% alcohol by volume, matured in bourbon, virgin oak, and sherry casks, no colouring, no chill-filtration, bottled in 2019 and priced at £54.83 from Master of Malt. Batch 4 is available from Master of Malt for £55.95.
Colour: amber (a bit darker than the 12).
On the nose: more intense, the floral notes are there but covered by a heavier sherry influence, the same floral honey sweetness with some vanilla, apples, and a few cloves, the café au lait and milk chocolate are more prominent in this one, and the fresh citrus touch is rather to the orangey side; again a pleasant nose with several notes to unpack.
In the mouth: floral dark honey sweetness coated by milk chocolate, prominent café au lait notes, some apples and raisins, a few cloves, oranges and cinnamon; given the higher ABV, this one is more intense throughout; the finish is warm, floral honey sweetness and milk chocolate with an orangey touch linger on.
This one is also delicate, floral, and sweet but has a more intense sherry edge to it. The higher ABV makes the GlenAllachie 10 stronger if not a bit harsh in its delivery and might be a bit overwhelming, but I like it. Perhaps, this one is not that much of a standard given its high ABV and varying batches. In comparison, both GlenAllachie display a delicate, floral, and sweet profile. The sherry casks have worked well in both presentations by adding a pleasant edge to the whisky.
Lead image kindly provided by the distillery, while the cask strength photographs comes via The Whisky Exchange. We’ve also included some wonderful commission links if you want to purchase a bottle – these just help keep Malt ticking along and won’t affect our scores.
This is a pretty superficial criticism but I cannot get past the terrible look of the packaging, specifically the font design used on the box and label. It looks like something that belongs on the cover of a children’s book.
yeah, the design and font have a comic book touch to them.
the font design reminds me of the flinstones which, somehow, makes sense again as this whisky comes from the valley of the rocks 😉
Adorei a resposta polida e concisa !
More of this please! Reading about rare and expensive malts I’ll never see is fun and all, but reviews like this do a real service to folks like me who don’t have hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars to spend on bottles. Thanks, Ben! Looking forward to more Solid Standards.
thanks! glad you liked it.
the next one is in the making and might even be completed this year 😉
Agreed! I do love reading about the stuff I’ll never see, let alone taste; it’s why I come to this site every day. Living in the US, however, means most of what I have access to are the “standards”. It’s articles like this that help ensure my standards are solid!
Great mixture of reviews here on Malt!
thanks, appreciate it!
would be interesting to compare standards across the pond. while most distilleries bottle the same stuff for the global market, global distribution is not the same (as for the overpriced tele-tubby-allan) or the ABV differs, as in the case of laphroaig 10 which comes with 43 ABV in the US instead of the European 40 (and from what I’ve heard, the laphroaig 10 at 43 is still quite decent; at 40 it’s rather not ;-))
Living in Quebec, may I second JBright and Tony on the usefulness of standard editions reviews…
Speaking of which: your review of Tobermory 12 led me to the discovery of my favourite single malt so far (I secured 2 more bottles before even finishing the first!) so I owe you much on this!
Needless to say, I’ll be looking forward to your next publication.
Malt = Great site, great reviewers, always fun and instructive.
many thanks, appreciate it!
glad you liked the Tobermory and that my review was part of its discovery 🙂
cheers to you!
Good review and I completely agree about the solid standards concept. Some of those bottlings can put their more expensive siblings to shame. Think Talisker 10, Bunnahabhain 12, Kilkerran 12, Springbank 10, Hazelburn 10, Longrow Peated, Ardbeg 10, (insert choice). All good stuff without breaking the bank and hence why we buy more of them than the expensive stuff and always have a few on our shelf. Plus we can drink them without the sadness that comes with finishing expensive bottlings. They’re easily replaceable.
I’ve steered clear of GlenAllechie because reviews are a bit luke warm. I plunged for a bottle of the 15 a while back and it remained on the shelf longer than normal. Over the top PX but not enough body at 46% to give it complexity to balance it. Just my opinion and I doubt I’ll replace it. The 12 doesn’t sound too exciting either and there’s plenty of those solid reliable’s at much the same price. I suppose it’s okay if you like a bit of sherry and px but then it comes up against its old brother and sister at Glendronach and Benriach but they aren’t as good as they used to be since Billy sold them. He seems determined to make something of GlenAllechie though as there seems to be an endless supply of expressions of late. Cheers. WT
many thanks, appreciate it!
as you mention, solid standards are good stuff. at times, they even put the pricing policies of their distilleries to shame. having recently tasted the last ardbeg 19 together with the ardbeg 10 and the wee 5, I really wonder why one should pay 5 times more for almost twice the age, or more or less the same for half its age. and i am not even mentioning the ridiculously overpriced twenty-somethings here…
glenallachie is a different style from benriach and glendronach – more delicate and floral, less punchy… if and how you like it is, of course, up to you 😉
I agree in thinking that glendronach and benriach have declined in quality. yet, glendronach is skyrocketing in prices this year (see their batch 18 which has just been released) which has quite a few people looking for alternatives. so billy’s flood of cask-XY-bottlings might come just at the right time.
Toro, I agree with your criticism of the 15. I find the Glenallachie 12 to be a better expression, but it still isn’t in the same league as the other “standard” malts you listed. I’ve never looked to Speyside for greatness at the entry level anyway. Most of them are pretty singular. The 10 Cask Strength Batch 2 is also quite nice.
thanks for your comment, always good to discuss and even better to agree 🙂
I also think you guys should focus more energy on bottlings that are available worldwide. I really enjoy your frank reviews, despite your consistent high scores for young craft presentations (7/10 for Scarabus, really?) That said, many of the malts reviewed on this page are unicorns for most of us here in North America. Something to consider. Cheers.
it’s all in the mix I guess 😉
cheers to you as well!
I almost stopped myself getting any Glenallachie, partly due to the poor scores on here. Glad I didn’t listen on the end as the Scores are harsh in my opinion. The 12 is easily as good as Glendronach 12 and excellent value for money
Great review, Ben.
I recall having the the Allachie 10 CS Batch 1 with the rest of the regular range some time last year. I found myself enjoying the younger versions more than the older ones. The long fermentation really stood out in the 10s as I got more banana flavors. I found the oak and spirit influence to be more balanced. I think the sherry influence ruined the older offerings.
thanks, John, appreciate it.
I think that the spirit is quite delicate and needs a higher ABV than others to withstand or balance out heavy casks. I assume that this is what makes the CS10 a notch better in my book, but I also recently had a quite young one (5yo) from a really heavy (and punchy) sherry casks at cask strength, and the spirit didn’t stand a chance to shine (but the cask did :-)).
Btw, I really enjoy reading your stuff on r(h)um, so please keep them coming!
Cheers to you!
Cheers, Ben. Looking forward to more of your articles too.