...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glen Spey 21 year old 1988 (Diageo Special Release)

The Whisky World Tour comes to a place called Scot Land (I believe?) for its next-to-last stop.

So, if we're in the home of Scotch and this is an actual single malt (as per the post's title), then why is this reporter going with something most folks haven't heard of?  Is he just flashing some hipster cred?  Is he showing off?

No he I am not.  I promise.  :-)

Last week, I wrote an extensive gripe about the Diageo machine, eventually building up to why I'll be boycotting them after 2013.  One of things the things I harped on was the odd way they treated/referred to their single malt business.  Their mouthpiece said that they do not make single malts for folks to enjoy.  That isn't true.  They just don't commit to single malts fully.

They have 28 active distilleries, only twelve of which get regular releases.  Those are the "Classic Malts". Some of the remaining sixteen distilleries get "special releases" (please pardon all the quotation marks, these are Diageo's terms).  The "Special Releases" are rare, limited, older-aged bottlings.  They're often priced high and bought up quickly by aficionados......you know, the very same folks Diageo claims they're not making whisky for------

Okay, Diageo pooping was last week.  This is this week.

And this is:

Distillery: Glen Spey
Owner: Diageo
Age: minimum 21 years (1988 - 2010)
Maturation: ex-sherry American oak
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 50.4%
Limited Release: 5844 bottles

A bit about the distillery:

James Stuart built the facility as a corn mill originally, then had it converted to a distillery in the early 1880s.  After Stuart bought the Macallan distillery in 1886, he sold Glen Spey to Gilbey's, a London wine and spirits merchant.  It was the first sale, ever, of a Scotch whisky distillery to an English company.

Gilbey's became Independent Distillers and Vintners (IDV) in 1962, when it merged its business with Justerini & Brooks -- makers of the J&B blend.  Eight years later, IDV was acquired by the company that would later become......Diageo.

A bit about the whisky:

Since that IDV merger 50 years ago, Glen Spey has been one of the main elements in J&B.  Charles MacLean's great Whiskypedia says that the new make spirit is light, spicy, and nutty.  A style purposely designed for blends.

Not counting one ultra-rare single cask, this "Special Release" is the only single malt official bottling of Glen Spey over the past seven years.  It's not caramel-colored and it's not chill-filtered, two items that work its favor.

The Tastin':

I got my hands on a taste of this through Master of Malt's 30mL samples.  I don't remember why I bought it.  Doubtful as an impulse purchase since it was the most expense dram in that particular order. And I'm always planning out my orders in detail a month ahead of time.

Let's just say that it was fortuitous, auspicious, and delicious.

To that point, it was so lovely that I didn't even plop any water into it.  Instead, I sat with it for about an hour as I watched a movie.


Color -- Deep gold with a hint of red
Nose -- A spritely fruitiness, tropical fruit maybe?, toasty oak, coconut, light rye whiskey, cake batter, pencil shavings, Play-Doh, almond extract
Palate -- Bubblegum, apple juice, very floral, dessert wine (more port than sherry actually), custard, gets sweeter with time
Finish -- Medium length, candied, fresh cherries, a fruit tart!

First thought:  This is grand.
Second thought:  Diageo, what else are you hiding from us?!  You clearly have delightful product in your warehouses.  Set it free!

This is wonderful whisky.  But it has to fit into your sort of style.  There's no peat, there's no heat, and it's not very sweet.  It's not a whisky that's gone soft and mild with age.  It has held onto its complexity, showing new elements with each return.

Now, pricing is all relative.  This whisky is in an age category that's out of my $$$ range (dammit!).  But in its age category, it is priced very well considering the limited release.  It's only $20-$25 more than Glenfiddich 21yr, a whisky that is available everywhere, every year, in generous quantity.  I wouldn't be surprised if less than 200 cases of Glen Spey 21yr came to the US two years ago.

If you have the means to purchase something in this price range and you like rye whiskey or you enjoy complex fruity-but-not-sweet malts, I'd recommend this.  And then, please share!  :-P

Availability - Some US liquor specialists
Pricing - Very Good at $170-$190
Rating - 92

On Thursday we'll make our final Whisky World Tour stop with something that's neither here nor there, but many places at once...


  1. Considering I broke down and paid $250 for the Rosebank 21, the Glen Spey at the same age actually looks reasonable for the price...

    Did Diageo end the Flora and Fauna series? That was often the only way you could get an official bottling from one of their obscure distilleries. Though it's not of any help to us here since the F&F series never made it's way over here (but they are available on the Whisky Exchange).

    1. There seem to be some Mortlach Flora & Faunas out there, but I think they ended most of the F&Fs. The last Glen Spey F&F I can find was bottled in 2008.

      The Glen Spey 21yr was heavenly, or maybe my memory is getting positively fuzzy. And you're right, comparatively the price ain't bad. I've stared at it many times in shop windows and browser windows...

  2. I am drinking it now - my second bottle. That marks $340 plus 8.25% tax that I've plunked down for this. Another of the customers of the shop where I bought it took home - get this - 18 bottles. He stuff some of them in his Lamborghini. No kidding.

    Anyway, I would gladly share...but I suspect that it will be gone shortly. :)

    1. Thanks for your comment! I didn't realize there were 18 bottles of this stuff left at a single store. I guess Lamborghini Guy at least had some good taste. As do you. You likely got it for the best rate going right now. I bought a bottle from The Whisky Exchange last year when they were having their "US Shipping Sale". Saving it for my (future) child's first birthday. So I must wait 18 months.

  3. After looking at the list of Glen distilleries, I'm adding Glen Spey to my unofficial list of most obscure open distilleries (it's also the most obscure Glen). Looking at Serge's tastings, Glen Spey has a very limited number of indie releases too. J&B must need a lot of Glen Spey for blending purposes.

    1. Yeah, I think it's all going into J&B. And you're right, there are not a lot of indie bottlings around. There's a young G&M Connoisseur's Choice and Provenance in the US, but that's about it. Europe looks to have a half dozen or so and a Flora and Fauna. With Diageo holding the reins on their malt, I doubt there will be too many indies of it in the future. A bummer (again) because it seems like decent whisky.