It’s safe to say we all have that one acquaintance that attended the same high school as us. That person has their own small group of friends. They do well in class, keep to their group, and stay out of trouble. After graduating, you barely hear anything about that person. But, once in a while, you wonder where they are now.
This is how I see Glengoyne. It’s a single malt I’ve learned of even in my early days of getting into whisky. What I recall most is that it would cause debates regarding what region it belonged to. Some argue it’s a Highland single malt. Some said it’s a Lowland. If you’re curious about the answer: it’s a single malt distilled in the Highlands, but its aging warehouses are in the Lowlands. Aside from that, it’s rarely talked about in the circles I’m a part of.
Glengoyne not being discussed much puzzles me. Just look at Malt’s record of Glengoyne reviews: before this, the most previous one is from June of 2018. Reddit’s r/Scotch archives only has one recorded Glengoyne review for 2021. There were a few in 2020. That’s not a lot for a very active community.
I’m not going to get into the distillery’s history today. Mark has already written about it. In my opinion, it’s not a bad single malt. It’s also not great. The only bottles I’ve owned from them are the discontinued Glengoyne 17 year old, and this Hepburn’s Choice 10 year old. Some of their expressions I’ve tried are a few batches of the NAS cask strength and the 18 year old, none of which were that memorable.
I see the quality of their whisky as a step above the mass-produced Glens, but I don’t see them being at the same levels as the top tier single malt distilleries like Springbank, Edradour, and Loch Lomond. This is subjective, of course; I’m a fan of worm tub condensed or “dirtier” spirits.
Regardless of what I think about the distillery, we’re in a whisky boom. Smaller and lesser known distilleries, like the ones mentioned earlier, have increased in popularity. So, I’m left wondering why this single malt is left out of discussions.
Let’s take a look at the distillery’s specs: they have six wooden washbacks, which they use to ferment for up to 56 hours. There are also only three stills. There’s one 12,500L, which (I assume) is their wash still used for the first distillation. The other two are 4,000L stills, which (I assume, again) are spirit stills used for the second distillation.
To me, this means Glengoyne doesn’t have a huge output. For comparison: they have the same number of washbacks and stills as Springbank, but Springbank’s equipment is larger, so they can produce slightly more volume. However, we need to take into account that Springbank makes three different brands of single malt. They also have a longer fermentation time (at least 72 hours) compared to Glengoyne’s 56 max. In theory, Glengoyne should be able to bottle at least as much single malt as Springbank. However, Springbank is more raved about. My guess is Glengoyne and Springbank both don’t rely on heavy marketing due to their limited production, but Springbank has the edge over Glengoyne when it comes to a cult following and word of mouth.
Another factor that adds to my confusion is that Glengoyne primarily uses ex-sherry casks. Yes, it’s safe to say that the magic of old sherry casks is now gone, but this issue should also apply to other ex-sherry cask-heavy distilleries. Despite that poorly-kept secret, we live in a time when ex-sherry casks are a hot commodity. How come a single malt that’s not too dissimilar from the style of Macallan and Glendronach isn’t as popular?
What if it’s the price? I’m not using the Glengoyne 10 in this instance, since the other three brands don’t have a regular 10 year old offering. On the Whisky Exchange, the 12 year is priced at £41.95. It’s not that far off from the Glenlivet 12 (£37.95), Glenfiddich 12 (£35.95) and Glendronach 12 (£44.95). Both the Livet and Fiddich are bottled at 40%, while Glengoyne and Dronach are bottled at 43%. The extra 3% would merit additional costs due to taxes. I don’t think the price should be a factor, unless you’re talking about that part of the market that judges a bottle’s quality just by its price.
I’m guessing it’s partially because of the ABV at which they bottle their whisky. The Glengoyne 10 is bottled at 40%. The 12, 18, and 21 are bottled at 43%. They have a NAS Cask Strength and a Legacy series bottled at 48%. None of their regular offerings have the magic trifecta of bottled at 46%, NCF, and no added coloring to attract those who care more about what they drink. (To be fair to Glengoyne, they don’t add any coloring.)
I know packaging should be considered, but I’m the type of person who is bad at judging aesthetics. As a result, I barely bother analyzing a brand’s packaging.
What else is there to consider? Maybe Glengoyne is just not popular in Asia, which is a market I’m more familiar with? Even though I can partially see into the EU scene, maybe I’m just not looking at the right crowd? Perhaps there are communities who love Glengyone and refuse to talk about it to avoid attracting more consumers?
Regardless of how I think Glengoyne is doing, it looks they’re doing pretty well. After all, their parent company, Ian Macleod, was able to afford to revive the Rosebank Distillery a few years ago. However, Glengyone isn’t doing all the work as Ian Macleod also has other brands such as Tamdhu, Smokehead, and King Robert II.
After all that wondering, it’s time for me to assess the distillery bottling of Glengoyne 10 year via a sample bottle I bought. And because ex-bourbon casks are the best type of casks to taste a distillery’s DNA, I’m comparing it to a 10 year old single cask refill hogshead Glengoyne bottled by Hunter Laing under the Hepburn’s Choice brand.
Glengoyne Aged 10 Years – Review
Color: Pale ale.
On the nose: Very pleasant. I get very clear medium-intensity aromas of honey, dried apricot, peaches, apples, pears, butterscotch, almonds, toffee, peppers, and cloves. At the end is a very light touch of orange.
In the mouth: Also very pleasant. The different tastes are also very clear. I get brief and light tastes of pears, apples, peaches, almonds, honey, toffee, vanilla and butterscotch. At the end are very brief and light tastes of cacao, star fruit, yellow kiwi fruit, lemon peel and oranges.
I like this. There’s no burn, unlike the 40% mass-produced single malt brands. While not complex, the flavors are also well integrated and there’s a nice, surprising texture I can’t detect in most big brands.
Glengoyne boasts about their slow distillation. Having an idea of how fast or slow distillation can affect a spirit, I say they aren’t lying. To me, slow distillation means the spirit won’t be so hot, and won’t have certain off flavors. The resulting whisky in this case is very pleasant.
This also gets points for being partially aged ex-sherry casks but not giving a hint of sulfur.
(at the TWE price; 5/10 at local prices)
Hepburn’s Choice Glengoyne 10 Years Old – Review
Distilled 2008. Bottled 2019. Refill hogshead. 46% ABV. USD $55 locally.
Color: White tea.
On the nose: Clean and fruity. Just like the OB 10, this has no burn. I get light but long aromas of toffee, honey, cereals, almonds, coconut sugar syrup and vanilla. At the end are lighter and short-lasting aromas of dried apricots, star fruit, and dehydrated lemon peel.
In the mouth: Clean and fruity again. There are light and short tastes of lemon peel, green apples, honey, toffee, and butterscotch. At the end are even lighter and shorter tastes of green kiwi fruits, star fruits, and more lemons. It also gets slightly peppery. But it’s expected due to the ABVs.
The nose on this is great. With the higher ABV, its pleasant aromas last much longer. Sadly, it falls off in the mouth, where everything is lighter and doesn’t last as long.
If you were to ask me which is better, I prefer Hepburn’s Choice by just a bit. As mentioned above, the higher ABV gives it more character. It’s easier to just breathe in the lovely aromas. Sadly, neiter of the two are complex. I wouldn’t fault the distillery since, I think, this is the limitation of these short fermentation and shell and tube condensed whisky.
I like Glengoyne’s distillery DNA. It’s very fruity and clean. The good integration of flavors between casks and distillate. This indicates that not only is their distillation good, their cask management is good as well. Glengoyne should be used more often as an intro Scotch to beginners, since it’s almost as affordable as the mass-produced single malt brands but even better.
As to my answer regarding the lack of talk about Glengoyne: I think they’re just not as marketing heavy due to how limited their production is.
Glengoyne 10 image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.