After trying the 1987 single cask (AKA Sage Galore), we turn to the Glen Garioch 1979. Now every once in a while you have a dram that makes you understand something new about whisky in general or about a certain distillery. When it’s you favorite distillery that you have the that understanding, it’s even more exciting.
I have written about Glen Garioch’s dark 1980s, indeed, the whole Morrison Bowmore’s troubled decade. This decade left Bowmore with a pretty shoddy reputation, which has been admittedly rebuilt since the Suntory involvement. Suntory bought a stake in the company in 1989, and fully took it over in 1994. I have raised the conjecture that the soapy lavender prevalent in Glen Garioch from those years and Bowmore’s “french whore perfume” were products of the yeast used by MBD during those years, but I obviously have no way to prove that.
I have tasted quite a few 1978 expressions (and even reviewed a few here), and many expressions from 1990 onward, but the period between 1978 and 1986 is somewhat of a black hole, deepened only by the 1984 vintage which I have tasted both at 40% and at cask strength. All I can say about the 1984 is that I truly hope nobody ever tasted it as their first whisky ever, or they would swear off the drink forever. There’s the 1985 BYO that closed the gap between 1984 and 1986, which I reviewed here. Thus, tasting a 1979 vintage (and one matured in a first fill sherry butt) is exciting as it shortens the 1978-1984 gap by 20%.
What I have learned is that while 1978 was a high point for the distillery and a very sought after vintage, the herbal decade actually started in 1979. This cask has all the characteristics of a mid 1980s cask, so I would love to check a few things:
- Are there records of a yeast change in 1979 for MBD?
- I’d love to explore some 1978 and 1979 Bowmore to see if there’s the same change.
- Were they aware of this at the time?
- Is it possible that the loch getting so bad and the industry outlook so bleak that nobody really was paying much attention to the quality?
Glen Garioch 1979, 38 Year Old, Cask 3831, Distilled 25.6.1979, First Fill Sherry Butt, Bottled for Chief Whisky Society (CWS) on 25.10.2017, 114 Bottles (42.9% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Mahogany, very slow droplets running off a sturdy necklace.
Nose: Polish and dried fruit with notes of prunes, figs and apricots, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of fresh mint. Dry and somewhat chalky with a hint of smoke on the wind. The apricots shift toward canned apricots with the wood spices coming round softer. There’s cake on the nose, but it’s more an English cake than a Christmas cake and a cherry liquor filled chocolate. There’s also a coniferous note in there with vanilla and a touch of vinegar.
Palate: Herbal with lavender and mint over a compote of plums. There’s a herbaceous bitterness, with white pepper and cinnamon, and a hint of chocolate and cherries.
Linger: Sweet lavender and dry mint linger on the tongue. Dry and tangy, with a touch of sweetness that remains on the tongue. There is a bitter note that stays on.
This dram takes me back to what is probably the earliest instance of the herbal notes of the 1980s. No 1978 that I tasted (and there were a few of them) had it, and by 1990 it was gone. Fascinating piece of Glen Garioch history, and a beautiful choice for CWS!
Thank you very much, Derek Zhang!