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Friday, October 12, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glengoyne 17 year old

The least peated Scotch single malt whisky?  Technically, all of the malt that gets dried via coal / hot air should have a 0 ppm count.  But the Glengoyne Distillery goes out of their way to highlight the fact that they never peat their whisky.  It's their way of saying, Our malt doesn't hide behind peat and smoke.

And as much of a peathead as I am, I have to say, Glengoyne makes a good whisky.

As I have whined about previously, it's been hot as hell in Southern California.  We had over seven consecutive weeks of 90 degree temperatures, several times cresting 100.  That's not good Ardbeg-drinking weather.  Seriously.  A lot of bourbon highballs and/or beer going on in this home.

I went out looking for a lighter malt for the summer.  I was happy to discover Old Pulteney 12, and Mr. Powers is always there when needed (rain or shine).  I'd been window shopping Glengoyne for over a year, then about two months ago the 17-year made an appearance at an OC Scotch Club event.  I enjoyed it.  I thought about it some more, then was able to get my hands on a little sample (Thank you, Bob!).

Some notes on Glengoyne:

The distillery sits on the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands.  The distillery building itself sits on the Highland side.  The warehouse sits on the Lowland side.  The whisky's light character could often be likened to a Lowland, but there's still some heft and burl lurking just underneath to remind one of the whiskys north of the border.

The distillery opened in 1833 as "Burnfoot".  The Lang Brothers purchased it in 1876 and changed the name to Glenguin, then to Glengoyne in 1905.  The Brothers' company held onto the distillery until the 1960s.  In 2003, Ian MacLeod Distillers purchased it from The Edrington Group and refurbished the entire whisky lineup.

It remains a small distillery; its capacity is approximately 1/10 that of Glenfiddich.  If I'm doing my math right (using figures from the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012), they're keeping 20-25% of their malt for their single malt range.  Since they're owned by a well-regarded blend producer, it's likely that's where the majority of the malt remainder goes.  I did some online snooping of their historical whiskys and it looks like they rarely sell casks off to independent bottlers.

Their regular range had recently consisted of a 10yr, 12yr (non-US), 12yr cask strength (non-US), 17yr, and 21yr.  But even more recently, they've made some changes.  Aside from unveiling new packaging, they've taken the age statement off the cask strengther.  They've added a 15yr, and have swapped this 17yr for an 18.

Before this switcheroo, here's how the US range had been matured:
10 year - 80% ex-bourbon American oak, 20% ex-sherry European oak
17 year - 65% ex-bourbon American oak, 35% ex-sherry European oak
21 year - was 50% ex-sherry, then in 2007 was changed to 100% ex-sherry European oak

Okay, I've exhausted my tired brain of The Facts.  Let's get to The Truth.

Distillery: Glengoyne
Ownership: Ian MacLeod Distillers
Age: minimum 17 years
Maturation: at least 35% first and refill ex-sherry European oak, the rest is ex-bourbon American oak
Region: Highlands (South)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is a medium gold, or perhaps a brass with red tones eased in.  The nose.  Ah, the nose.  At first raisins, prunes, and mild vanilla.  Then buttered bread, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Then cherry kirsch, pancakes and syrup, and bread pudding.  There's also a subtle french onion soup note of saltiness and beef broth that actually works as the bass guitar of this band.  The texture is very syrupy.  The palate starts out with ice cream profiteroles (the puff pastry, vanilla bean ice cream, and hot fudge all together).  Then some Werther's candies.  Maple syrup, caramel syrup, and then some light notes of stone fruits.  The finish is all old-school candyshop sweets: caramels, toffee, butterscotch, and rock candy.  The vanilla, maple syrup, and stone fruit notes remain as well.

Yeah, I didn't add water to this one.  I enjoyed it as it was too much.  In fact, I was afraid any water would break it, as the whole structure is so light.  It really is a good warmer weather whisky, probably best in Spring.

I'm giving this a high rating, mostly due the dynamite nose.  It needs some time, maybe up to 30 minutes, in the glass.  But it's worth the wait.  The finish is very good as well, showing off the miracles of malt + oak.  Since Glengoyne appears to be phasing this whisky out, I'll probably seek out a bottle before it's all gone.

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - $70-$80  (note: three LA-area stores carry this for fifty dollars. Yes 50, for a 17yr. I'm not revealing which stores, but they're not hard to find.)
Rating - 88


  1. There's a bottle of the 12 YO CS listed here in OR. Now I'm tempted to see if I can get my hands on it. And the 17 YO is only $65, which is almost enough to make me think about buying it here rather than ordering it from CA.

    1. Interesting, I've never been able to find anyone selling the 12yr CS in the states. Since the malt is such a softie at 43%, I wonder what happens to it at cask strength.

  2. I got a $50 bottles from one of the stores you speak of (shhhhh!) I didn't mean to, but it was in the discount bin by the door, couldn't help it. Good deal, and found it the same as you did: straight-ahead, somewhat light, old school sherried whisky. For $70-80 or less I would say spring for Glenfarclas 105 instead if you want finesse, or A'bunadh if you want power.

    1. I'm glad other folks are trying Glengoyne 17. My store of choice always has a ton of bottles, so I was puzzled why no one was taking a shot at it at that price.

      I love me some Glenfarclas 105. Wish it was cheaper here, the price on it is great in the UK.

  3. Yowza. I had a lackluster Glengoyne back in the late 80s or early 90s (I think it was a 10 year old expression) and now tend to walk past the brand. I'll have to give it another look. That sounds absolutely delicious.

    1. Hey Josh! Some of the Malt Maniacs have commented on how crummy the Edrington-era Glengoyne malt had been, too. Sounds as if Ian MacLeod really invested their resources in their first distillery.

      I don't know if the shops in NY or NJ have it at the $50 range, but I hope they do! That $20 difference seems to work wonders psychologically on me.

  4. Glengoyne is notable for being right on the border dividing the Highlands and Lowlands. Apparently distillation takes place on the Highlands side and maturation on the Lowlands side. Now I'd love to see Glengoyne identified as a Lowlands distillery since that region could always use another distillery.

    1. Yep, that's what I've read too. It's one of the first distilleries I'll visit whenever the Scotland trip winds up happening. Besides having a darn good malt, the land around the distillery is said to be gorgeous.