‘People don’t read any more. It’s a sad state of affairs. Reading’s the only thing that allows you to use your imagination. When you watch films it’s someone else’s vision, isn’t it?’¹
It was an eerily quiet morning in central Edinburgh. The once-bustling streets were almost devoid of life with only the occasional sight of movement. The prevailing atmosphere was dank and akin to being in a grand Hollywood disaster movie. Something wasn’t quite right. Few individuals were venturing outside and walking the city streets due to COVID-19 and into the welcoming arms of retailers. Yet, here I was, in Royal Mile Whiskies, talking shop with the legendary Jolly Toper, or Mark the store manager and scanning the bottles on display for potential targets.
Hand sanitiser was on display, funnily enough alongside the latest Waterford releases; I could see those blue bottles working in miniature form with some cleaning fluid within. Perhaps a subtle staff hint as to the youthful nature of the whisky? Anyways, I digress. This is the new retail environment we’re going to have to become accustomed to going forward for some time. It wasn’t that people were banging down the door to come inside, but Royal Mile Whiskies are adapting as my recent chat which Arthur showed.
I had noticed a bottle of Glenglassaugh that looked more like a private bottling and a little unloved; a bit like the distillery itself. Upon further inspection, this release was from the Bramble Bar and was their first bottling (they’ve since done a joint bottling with Royal Mile Whiskies), but the team took on some of this unsold stock to help out. After all, if the bar isn’t open, these things are just going to gather dust, although I should highlight Bramble does have an online facility, aka Mothership Scotland, where you can purchase other releases, cocktails and much more besides.
Mark was in full flow with his usual chat. If you’ve been in his company, then you’ll know when he builds up momentum, it’s a sight to behold. Somewhere a detour had been taken onto rock n’ roll analogies to categorise and describe a couple of contenders that I had highlighted. The Royal Mile Exclusive Arran, which is a vatting of sherry butts was dirty, but not that dirty. More of a clean-cut band like Bon Jovi, Rush or Skid Row etc. – look those up, kids. Despite this comparison, I remain interested in the whisky for a future purchase, but not those bands!
We moved onto the Glenglassaugh single cask. This is apparently ‘really dirty like Guns n Roses, Motorhead and the Stooges – you can feel the grime!’ Again, look those up as well. But the description hit home, not because the Stooges are the greatest of all-time or the need for dirt. Funnily enough, the Stooges have a cracking song called Dirt, but that’s a coincidence…
‘Ooh, I been dirt. And I don’t care. Ooh, I been dirt. And I don’t care. ‘Cause I’m burning inside. I’m just a yearning inside. And I’m the fire o’ life.²
After that analogy, a mental note had been firmly placed onto my busy Malt radar. This release was only available via the shop as at the time it had sold out online. However, I’m pleased to confirm that it is back online with Royal Mile Whiskies for £74.95, who I presume have helped out Bramble a little more by taking on some additional stock. Great to see during these COVID-19 times, and hopefully we’ll be back at all the whisky bars soon.
It’s funny that I’ve not been hugely taken with official bottlings of Glenglassaugh in the modern era. The distillery was more of a bulk producer and didn’t command a huge single malt presence or following. Those older bottlings have shown glimmers of hope, whereas more modern incarnations have experienced the Walker-Taint of sherry and a befuddling experience. Things, however, are improving and we’re seeing more single private casks showcasing some variety and joy. Even a recent official collaboration between the distillery and Tyndrum Whisky in the form of a 2011 Glenglassaugh peated rum cask, was very enjoyable.
Speaking of collaborations, we’re seeing more bands doing the whisk(e)y thing. Motorhead of course had their own with Mackmyra, although if you’ve watched the Lemmy documentary, you’ll know that a JD and coke was his preferred drink on a vast input scale. More recently, GWAR has teamed up with Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. to unleash a rye whiskey. I suppose it’s a little fun and maybe there is something to these band whiskies, but for today, we’re trying a whisky that inspires a connection rather than coming dressed up and badged for the marketplace.
On paper, considering the prospect of this whisky, you can clearly see where the dirtiness stems from. We have a 1st fill sherry cask and peated Glenglassaugh. This was distilled on 19th December 2011 before being bottled on 13th June 2018 at a pleasing 53.5% strength. The cask produced 376 bottles, suggesting it wasn’t a butt, or if it was perhaps a leaky one or half-filled. Maybe just a dirty cask? Let’s find out…
Bramble Whisky Company Glenglassaugh 2011 – review
Colour: a well worn, dirty copper.
On the nose: oh there’s sherry but not as abundant and forceful as you might have anticipated. Vegetative autumnal notes, that shiny black leather and unwashed ginger root. Blood orange, blanched almonds, warmed cinnamon rolls and mahogany. Red liquorice with some coffee beans, wet wood and an old carpet. Adding water reveals orange zest and walnuts.
In the mouth: a surprisingly balance between the peat and sherry. Nevertheless, this is turned up to 11 on the volume and not for the faint-hearted. No sherry viscosity either, but we do have cranberries, grated mild chocolate and a decent level of rubber. Orange zest, black peppercorns and a pleasing rustiness. The addition of water brings out the wood and ups the viscosity. The volume drops a few notches and becomes more approachable with cask charr and smoky bacon, almost like the Glenglassaugh’s we’ve seen in recent times.
Jeez, this is raw power alright, but there’s a balance and interplay between the sherry and peat. Too often I’m left reeling from those so-called sherry monsters that are more sherry than whisky. I just find them monotone in nature and that one note is a little tiresome. You’ll know the whiskies, matured in a 1st fill hogshead or finished in one for an alarmingly short period.
Thankfully, this Glenglassaugh has the peated spirit to stand up to such an onslaught. The end result is more the Iggy Pop remix of Raw Power than the original David Bowie version. There’s more than one note and some variety, I’d still go for the aforementioned rum cask Tyndrum release if it was still around. That’s life right now, where even an unfashionable commodity in Glenglassaugh is being sought out by enthusiasts eager for new discoveries.
¹ Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead, interview in The Independent, 15 October 2005,
² The Stooges, Dirt, taken from the Fun House album, released in 1970.