The release of the Glen Garioch Renaissance Chapter 4 is a moment I’ve been waiting for ever since the onset of the Renaissance project back in 2014. The idea was to have a look at the whisky the distillery was producing since it came back to life in 1997, by showcasing the whisky’s progressive development beyond the 12 year old, in a basically similar combination of sherry and bourbon casks.
I was debating the format of this post. One option would have been to do a retasting of all four chapters. But after reviewing my notes while sniffing the whisky, I think they’re right on and you can find them here: Renaissance 15 Year Old Chapter 1, Renaissance 16 Year Old Chapter 2, Renaissance 17 Year Old Chapter 3.
Rather than going that way, I nosed and tasted the 4th Chapter, took my notes, which follow, and then set to look at the complete story. From chapter 1 through chapter 4, looking toward the epilogue.
Thus, unlike my normal reviews, which end with my conclusion on the whisky, I’ll use my comparison for an overview on the project and on each of the expressions, so hold on tight, here goes:
Glen Garioch 18 Year Old Renaissance Chapter 4 (50.2%)
Appearance: Deep gold, small and slow legs with a lot of residue.
Nose: Honey with a tinge of sherry and the beginning of a dusty chalkiness, accompanied by a faint sour note of balsamic vinegar. There’s a fruitiness with a hint of red apples and green bananas, with orange blossom oil (neroli). The spice is subtle and very dignified, with the signature ginger mixing with vanilla and a hint of milk chocolate. The sweet wood spices from the sherry casks develop in the glass, with some notes of toffee. Some time in the glass brings out some hints of macerated tropical fruit.
Interestingly, after the glass was emptied, some notes of burnt wax appeared with the sherry notes, echoing older sherry casks…
Palate: Thick with a fizzy sweetness, chalky dryness and spiciness, moving from a gentle white pepper to some freshly ground black pepper and a slight bitterness, but much less than was present in the Renaissance Chapter 1. There’s also some hard candy on the back of the tongue.
Linger: Spice down the gullet , with a dryness and spiciness in the mouth. There’s some residual honey on the tongue, with notes of cinnamon and some nutmeg.
Discussion of the Renaissance Project
This is a great conclusion for the series, where it seems like the new “house style has been dialed up”. Sitting with the Chapter 3 and being directly connected to the first chapter. The second chapter was a bit different, as the sherry in it was more prominent.
Following the distillery’s resurrection in 1997, the whisky was new and different, set to provide Suntory with a non peated whisky with a bit more robustness than Auchentoshan. It seems to have been somewhat left on the sidelines. But in 2014 when the Renaissance project started, it gave me hope that the distillery would be moved a bit more to the foreground. That hasn’t happened, but we have gotten a few interesting expressions.
I have a basic premise about the series, which has not been confirmed by anybody in the Beam Suntory organization, but I’ll bring it here anyway. In 2009 the distillery did a total makeover of the whisky it offers, going from an aged core range which included an 8-10-12-15-21 (alongside an oft forgotten NAS expression dubbed ‘Highland Tradition’) in very traditional standard bottles and tubes to a very thin core range in specifically designed instantly recognizable Glen Garioch bottles, in cardboard boxes with a tartan pattern.
The new core range included only the NAS ‘1797 Founder’s Reserve’ (what exactly does that mean, anyway?) and the lovely 12 year old, both at 48%. To augment that very sparse core range, the distillery went in two specific directions. The first was creating a range of Vintage expressions (1978, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 Wine Cask Matured and the sherry matured 1999). You’ll find my full reviews in the links by clicking on the specific vintage you’re interested in. The other direction was bottling dozens of ex bourbon single casks (I know of some 3 dozen of those single casks, but new ones I haven’t known of of keep creeping up) at cask strength.
2013 saw the addition of the Virgin Oak to the lineup, again at 48%, and while it’s considered by the distillery to be a special edition, the recent release of the second batch (officially referred to as Number 2) leads me to believe that it will be around permanently, and maybe should be considered a 50% increase in the official lineup?
Anyway, I think that the next releases were meant to test the water for an expansion of the lineup: in 2014 we had the Renaissance Chapter 1, followed in 2015 by the travel retail Sherry Cask Matured 15 Year old, followed in 2016 by the nominally 16 year old Renaissance Chapter 2 which was more sherried than the first chapter. Basically, what Glen Garioch did was have three expressions around the same age in the market at the same time, and were able to get feedback on which works best – the one closest to the 12 with 3 more years, the sherry cask or one that’s in between.
Which leaves us with the third and fourth Chapters. Assuming we’re using stocks from the same batches of casks (1998-1999 distillations), which may or may not be the case, we’re looking at two expression that are two years apart. To me, this indicates an experimentation to work out the exact cask composition. Here the differences are more subtle with the “real” 18 year old (the third Chapter) with more of a spice kick compared to the very dignified and more subdued 20 or 21 year old (despite being stated as 18) Chapter four, with those beautiful beginnings of the ‘old sherry’ effect.
Considering that the old range didn’t have an 18 year old, and on the assumption that Glen Garioch won’t be getting a 12-15-18-21 core range, I think we’re looking at a 15 year old and a 21 year old to join the core range lineup, together with the existing 12. Considering that the distillery has begun distilling peated whisky runs again in 2007, I wonder where that would fit into the range, but it would definitely be a welcome addition.
Whether this is in any way close to what Beam Suntory has planned for us or whether this is merely my own wishful thinking, I don’t know. Either way, this was a great series, which offered some interesting insight into the development of the whisky through its high school years.
I would like to thank the Fiona team (Fiona Sanderson who manages the visitor center and Fiona Marshall who led the tasting) for so generously sending me the sample set, and my dear friend and fellow Glen Garioch enthusiast Lorenzo Dutto for getting them to Israel.