“You know what I respect? Distilleries that can produce a lot of very good whisky and make it widely available at a price working people can afford” – Taylor Cope, Twitter, 2022
When I first read that tweet from Taylor, instantly one distillery shot to the font of the queue in my often over-worked brain. I rolled my eyes, looked at my whisky shelf, had a self-confirming moment and – yes – I thought of the Glen Moray distillery in Elgin, Scotland.
When you think of Scotch whisky how often is it that Glen Moray is your first thought? Well, yes for those that know me they would have no qualm betting that it would be top of my list. I am an unashamed fan of this oh so oft overlooked Speyside centre of (whisky) witchcraft and wizardry.
Glen Moray Distillery has been drawing water from the River Lossie since its founding in 1897. It closed in 1910 before coming under ownership of the Glenmorangie Company in the 1920s (the namesake of which, along with Ardbeg, perhaps overshadowed Glen Moray). Then, in 2008, the French company La Martiniquaise bought the distillery. In the last decade sales have increased by approximately 150%, equating to roughly 1.5 million bottles sold annually.
Despite this, Glen Moray is often a distillery that people can name in a list of Speyside distilleries, but probably can’t tell you if they have tried any of the products. Why?
I think perhaps it is in something that I read in that tweet: “widely available at a price working people can afford.” Glen Moray have a range of whiskies, and these whiskies don’t shy away from flavour exploration or from reaching out to garner acclaim. They have pulled in many awards over the years, but one thing that the distillery does do is also not hold back on its production aimed at the lower reaches of the whisky retail trade.
Today I can walk into any UK supermarket and head to the spirits aisle, and with reasonable certainty I will find Glen Moray. Glen Moray’s primary expression is the Elgin Classic, a 40% ABV single malt matured entirely in ex-bourbon American oak casks. This single malt can be found on the shelve for as little as £18.50 (around $25 USD). It’s most likely just the one expression, but it’s not uncommon to find perhaps two or three different finishes. Sometimes I will find the peated version, or the Sherry cask finished version. The most common of these will be in the distillery’s Elgin Classic range, a collection of six different finished non age statement single malts (there are actually seven in the range, with a Depaz Rum cask finished version reserved as a “French market only” release; more on that later).
We can see from this Elgin Classic range that Glen Moray are no stranger to maturation exploration. In some of their other ranges we have seen finishing, partial maturation, and even whole maturation in casks as various as wine, rum, and cider. There are some truly fantastic drams in these “experiments,” but it is often difficult to find that person who knows the dram you’re talking about. I’ll often get the reply “I’ve not tried any Glen Moray” or “Yeah, seen it on the shelf… but I’m not sure.”
Having spoken to some, it is the availability and pricing of the Elgin Classic range that can actually put them off! Snobbery? Possibly, but Glen Moray seems to have created a fear of the distillery because the whisky is “too cheap” and “it’s on every supermarket shelf.” Because they can get it, people stay away from it! There is a group of whisky drinkers that shun what they can buy, because if it is cheap and in abundance, the reasoning goes, it must be poor.
OK, the Elgin Classic is pretty much an uncomplicated dram. It is at the bottom end of the age spectrum, the ABV is as low as it can be, but does that make it bad? No. Is it Great whisky? As much as I adore my Glen Moray, even I will not say it’s great, but: do I drink it? Yes. Do I enjoy it? Yes. The Elgin Classic range is OK whisky, in fact I’ll say it’s good whisky. I really do recommend it to people; to understand the full range of liquid from a distillery, I believe you have to know its story from birth.
So, if we go back to my inspiration to write this, what is it that Glen Moray does? They produce a lot of good whisky, at very affordable prices that working folk can buy, can enjoy, and can easily go back to for more. They even have scope to explore within an accessible range.
I made reference earlier to the French exclusive rum cask finish. As it’s not available in the UK, it lead to a wee bit of a bottle chase for me. Even the Global Ambassador at the distillery, Iain Allen, was looking out for it… then one day it appeared online! Even at £36 I grabbed a bottle. OK, that’s not expensive, but when I’ve just written all these words telling you the Elgin Classic range is decently priced, it is a wee bit above the average when compared to its siblings.
It’s an interesting expression. Initially released specifically for the French retail market, it appeared for a short time at the end of 2021 at a UK based online retailer. Although sliding in alongside the other six expression in the Elgin Classic range from Glen Moray, it sits well within the ideas that the distillery has regarding exploring different cask finishes and maturations.
It’s a no age statement whisky and is released at 40% ABV, as are the others within this range. There is no mention of chill filtering or colouring on the bottle or carton, so it’s probably safe to assume that there has been a little bit of adjustment to the presentation.
The unpeated liquid has been finished in rum casks from the Depaz Distillery on Martinique in the Caribbean, which coincidentally is under the same ownership as Glen Moray. Depaz rum is produced in steel stills from Blue Cane sugar, considered to be the most expensive of sugar canes. Blue cane gives the rum a flavour profile that includes, caramel, liquorice, dried fruits and orange.
Rum finished single malts often benefit from spending a bit of additional resting time; the vibrant, fruity, and spicy notes of the rum spirit are released from the oak and slip their way into the Speyside liquid. It’s a finish that we are seeing more of and – to my taste – they marry incredibly well.
Glen Moray Elgin Classic Depaz Rum Finish – Review
Colour: Medium bright gold.
On the nose: Having spent six months working in the Caribbean during my 20’s, I can say that this dram is smoother than I thought I was in my shades on the beach. It has a buttery malt hint, almost like butter melting on hot toast. In fact, it could be one of those fruity malt loafs. Although no high ABV here, there’s still a warmth. Wafts of dates and raisins come across, and it’s as though someone has opened orange marmalade on this breakfast table. There are some sweet spices, perhaps nutmeg and star anise or liquorice. I can sense the oak… wet oak. It’s a very light, fruity, and refreshing aroma.
In the mouth: My Initial impression was of a sweet caramel, almost sugar syrup like taste, with hazelnuts. It’s throwing me back to a youthful mouthful of nut brittle toffee, or a Mr Tom candy bar which I found in a local store just before Christmas. There is a fresh white or green grape taste as the sugar sweetness giveaway; I could reel off of the name of every sugary style candy I know, such as honeycomb, burnt sugar, vanilla toffee, and treacle, but I think you get the idea. For me, the sugar influence of the rum is really playing to my sweet tooth, but it’s not all one sided. Some orchard fruit influence (as you often find in Speyside) and there is a touch of lemon or citrus… maybe orange? That makes sense, and confirms the marmalade I got on the nose. A lasting sweetness of toffee on the finish; a sweet smile at the end.
At 40% ABV there was no real need for water, and even though I did it for the “scientific experiment,” the results were – as you would expect – negligible.
A really fantastic dram. It’s going to be a slow drinker as I’m not sure when I will find another bottle of this. My online source is now sold out; why was it only released in France? But, hey: its Glen Moray, they really do have some drams you can explore. I’ll just step to the side and work through the remainder of the Elgin classic range, including their, Port, Sherry, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon finishes. There’s also the simple yet decent peated and unpeated classics, which can all be picked up for under £40, and closer to being all under £30. So, 7 whiskies in this entry-level range, with the most expensive being the rum finish at £36. Yeah, good whisky, readily available and very affordable… so much to explore in Glen Moray, if you can lose the fear of the cheap and accessible.
Bottle photo courtesy of Master of Malt.