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Friday, January 6, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenkinchie 12 year old

[I had started a non-whisky post this morning, but it turned into a bunch of whining about television.  I'll save that for another day.  Fridays aren't about whine, they're about whisky.]

For our first actual Single Malt report of the year (Windsor was a blend), I'll start down in the Lowlands.

Map from http://www.hartbrothers.co.uk/
The Highlands are higher up on the map and a mostly rocky, mountainous region.  Meanwhile, the Lowlands are lower on the map and generally a flatter smoother area.  Three Lowland distilleries remain active: Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan, and Bladnoch.  Older malts from the closed Rosebank, Littlemill, Ladyburn (great name!), and Interleven distilleries can be found, but for a significant price.

The bigger distilleries, Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie, are near Scotland's largest cites: Glasgow and Edinburgh, respectively.  Meanwhile, the smaller Bladnoch is the most southern of all of Scottish whisky producers.

More than 95% of Scotch maltings produced outside of the Lowlands are distilled twice.  Most of the Lowland malts are distilled three times, much like Irish whiskies.  This extra distillation, along with the almost total lack of peating, results in the smoothest, lightest, and most accessible of scotches.  This has led to their excessively gender-sensitive nickname, "The Lowland Ladies".

If Ladies they be, then I'm going to report on the 12-year-old Glenkinchie broad.

(Update: While several other distilleries are experimenting with triple distillation, Auchentoshan is the only Lowland distillery that is using that practice consistently.  Triple distillation is the original Lowland style, though there are other distillation techniques, like extra long fermentation times, that can lighten and smoothen a malt.)

The Glenkinchie distillery sits in a glen on land once owned by the de Quincey family.  It was built during the first half of the 19th century, but sustained distillation didn't begin until 1880.  While most of Scotland's distilleries closed during the Second World War, Glenkinchie stayed open, powering out malt for wartime drinkers.  It's been rumored that their malts are in the Johnnie Walker Red and Black Label recipes.  They're currently owned by the Diageo monstrosity, which means that 12 year is well exported and can be found in most decent Scotch shops.

The Glenkinchie malts once included a 10 year -- which the 12yr has replaced -- and a 20 year.  Currently their output includes only the 12yr and a Distillers Edition (about 14 years old with an Amontillado finish).  All of their malts are triple-distilled in the aforementioned classic Lowland fashion.

That old 20yr malt is on my Whisky Wish List.  It was bottled at cask strength (over 58% ABV) and spent ten years in a brandy cask.  I don't even have a point of reference for what that smells and tastes like.  Someday...

But, yes, presently let's get in on that Twelve year.



Distillery: Glenkinchie
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: Bourbon casks(?)
Region: Lowlands (Eastern)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

I have yet to purchase that lovely bottle shown above.  Instead, I bought a dram of it from Master of Malt.  I doubt if it's finished in anything but Bourbon barrels since Diageo makes no mention of anything specific, nor does it have any signs of sherry.

Curiously, Diageo recommends that this malt be kept in the freezer.  I say "Curiously" because any heavy chilling of this whisky could cause its feather-light flavor to float away.  I sampled it neat and with water, per my usual routine.

NEAT:
The color is mellow gold, a bit darker than an oaky chardonnay.  The nose is floral and lightly fruity:  Applesauce, Kosher white wine, cereal, white bread, apple juice.  The palate is soft, quiet, creamy, with some tapioca pudding(?), and a little oaked towards the end.  Very light in texture.  The finish lingers longer than one expects from such a light structure.  It drifts along perfumy and polite.

WITH WATER:
No clouding, so though they likely kept the caramel coloring to a minimum, they probably chill-filtered it.  Though the real way to prove that is to stick it in the freezer, as suggested by the distributor.  The apples are gone from the nose.  It remains fresh, bright, and clean.  Maybe a little bit of yeast.  The palate has gotten softer.  It's flowery with cream and sugar.  The finish has vanished aside from some dryness.

My final notes read "such a quiet polite whisky".  I'd venture to say that it's even lighter than the average Irish whiskey.  I would love to do a blind taste test sometime between this and Tullamore Dew.  That would be a fine night.

As for the grading/ranking, this one comes close to the Hazelburn 8yr which also got the 3x distillation treatment.  The Hazelburn is more complex, while this Glenkinchie has more flowers and apples.  This one is cheaper and much easier to find in the stores.

Pricing - $50-$55 isn't unreasonable, but still a little steep.
Rating - 81

7 comments:

  1. Correction, Glenkinchie is NOT triple distilled. Auchentoshen is the only Lowlands distillery that triple distills.

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  2. Correcto, I slipped the update in the fourth paragraph two months later when I'd discovered that.

    Glenkinchie is light as a feather via double-distillation. Rosebank tripled but they're closed. Hazelburn and a couple Bruichladdich products do the occasional tripling too.

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    1. Benriach did a triple distilled whisky too (called Horizons). It's one I really want to try.

      Bruichladdich actually did a quadruple distilled whisky that sounds like fun.

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  3. Sheesh, I thought I bought the 20 year old (10 in the brandy cask) a few months back (special ordered from K&L's LA store) but in reality I had purchased the second release (2011 edition) which spent 20 years in an ex-bourbon cask (which is just boring compared to the first edition). Sometimes one needs to read the labels closely. Anyway I'll still drink it but I too was hoping to try that long brandy cask finish.

    Incidentally Mortlach, Benrinnes, and Springbank are partially triple distilled. That is where the foreshots and feints are blended and distilled. This is then added to the twice-distilled hearts and put into the barrels.

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    1. Yeah, I saw that second release didn't have that cool finish. :( Though I'm not the biggest fan of fancy finishes, Glenkinchie's light malt feels like it needs a boost sometimes. And yeah, hopefully in 2013 I'll do Mortlach and Benrinnes reports and bring up their 2+ distillations.

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  4. After doing a check on Malt Madness, I've noted five active Lowland single malt distilleries at this time. Daftmill and Ailsa Bay have been distilling for a number of years now but neither are bottling at this time (despite being legally whisky now). Daftmill is more likely to be bottled as single malt while Ailsa Bay is entirely blend fodder.

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    1. I've also heard Daftmill's sitting on their malt until it's ready to go too, rather than bottling the spirit or releasing a 3 year old. Plus the owner is running it on his farm. http://www.daftmill.com/

      And yeah, I'd heard Alisa Bay was just going to be for William Grant's blends too. Still wouldn't mind seeing it as a single malt!

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