In this second installment of the vertical vintage series, we’ll taste three expressions from the first half of the 1990s. All three are bourbon cask matured:
- Vintage 1995, 1st fill bourbon barrels, bottled 2012 at 55.3%.
- Vintage 1994, North American oak, bottled 2011 at 53.9%.
- Vintage 1991, North American oak, bottled 2010 at 54.7%.
While the 1997 that we reviewed in the previous installment (reviewed here) is from the whisky distilled right after the distillery’s revival, the Vintage 1995 is from whisky distilled in what seemed to be the distillery’s last leg. Indeed, Suntory acquired Morrison Bowmore Distillers in 1994, and by October 1995 the distillery was closed, with probably very little intention of re-opening it. If you need any proof of that, note that the smaller wash still was taken to Auchentoshan during that time, and now stands at the entrance to the distillery. Those were hard times for distilleries in the Eastern Highlands, as GlenDronach also got mothballed the following year.
These three ante clausurae expressions were all distilled from peated whisky, but they differ in some basic production issues. The 1994 and 1995 were produced from sourced malt, as the floor maltings were discontinued in 1993. Also in 1993, the heating method of the stills switched from direct gas firing to steam coils. Thus the 1994 and 1995 share the same production methods and differ in the casks they were in – the 1995 in first fill bourbon casks and the 1994 in unspecified “North American Oak”, likely to be refill bourbon casks if the color means anything (which is an unknown, as the labels the bottles I own purchased in continental Europe say that food coloring was used, so I’m not sure color means anything). In contrast, the 1991, also in “North American Oak” was distilled from barley malted (at lease partially) at Glen Garioch, and in a direct fired still. In the tastings, we’ll be looking for any appreciable differences this might cause.
I originally planned for this post to include also the Vintage 1990. However, given that it’s a mixture of sherry and bourbon casks, I think looking at the 1991, 1994 and 1995 together, without any sherry casks, would be more enlightening, and have structured my tasting flights accordingly.
Glen Garioch Vintage 1995, Batch 10, First Fill Bourbon Cask Matured, Bottled 2012 (55.3% ABV, NCF)
Appearance: Deep gold, slow thin legs, with big droplets forming before the leg starts running down.
Nose: Honey, smoke and oak with a distant hint pine, and a bit of dustiness. Rich and creamy on the nose, vanilla mixes in with a deep layer of sweetness. Some time in the glass will bring out malt and a hint of a baked apple and a hint of tropical fruit.
Palate: Peaty, sweet and spicy. Yellow grapefruit clean of the rind with a hint of lemon, which works wo well with the smokiness. The spice runs in different shades of pepper, mostly white pepper, with the black pepper coming out more in the linger.
Linger: Bitter smoke rests on the tongue, with black pepper, cinnamon and green cardamon. Dry and woodsy, there’s quite a bit of oak in here, leaving the mouth dry to the point of wanting a drink of water.
The first fills are very active casks, and this is very evident in the whisky. The wood is pretty dominant, and this is an expression any fan of peated whiskies would adore.
Glen Garioch Vintage 1994, Batch 32, American Oak, Bottled 2011 (53.9% ABV, NCF)
Appearance: Gold, with a very viscous quality to it.
Nose: Not overly peaty on the nose, and it smells far younger than its actual age (probably half its age). Honestly, tasting it after the rather intense 1995 is not the right order of things. There’s some very mild spiciness, hint of dried ginger, a bit of honeysuckle, a bit of perfume and some peat. Some time in the glass brings out caramel pudding and some mineral notes.
Palate: Fresh, with a hint of young spirit. It has a spiciness that doesn’t burn the tongue even with almost 54% ABV, with a mild peatiness, that stays more in the linger than in the palate. There’s a wash of honey, spice and citrus rind with a dry feel.
Linger: Sweet and citrusy, the finish isn’t all that long. The peat, together with the mild spirit and light bitterness combine to leave the mouth rather chalky, with a light bitterness.
This is a very mild dram. It feels rather young (despite being 16-17 years old), and I suspect the American oak casks, as opposed to the 1995’s first fill bourbon (also American oak) used were not overly active. The nose is pleasant, the palate mild and drinkable and the linger somewhat chalky, this is the least distinguished expression so far.
I’d like to give my thanks to a Belgian whisky friend, Arnout, for this sample.
Glen Garioch Vintage 1991, Batch 38, American Oak, Bottled 2010 (54.7% ABV, NCF)
Appearance: Gold, small and very slow legs, with a lot of residual droplets on glass.
Nose: Sooty and perfumey, this one could almost be forked off as a Campbeltown malt, with the dirty peat quality it imparts. After some time in the glass, the Glen Garioch character shines through with candied ginger, honey and peat, with a note of licorice.
Palate: Rich and oily, with an almost medicinal hint. It’s sweet and spicy, but it has a “car garage” flavor. Vanilla, honey and some grapefruit rind, with a wash of smoke. That “dirtiness” is fully there, and it’s a yummy kind of funk!
Linger: Bittersweet and peaty, with spice. Under that is a distinct layer of sweetness, staying in a long and satisfying linger.
This expression is 19 years old. It is a different spirit compared to the 1994 and 1995, as it’s much “dirtier” with soot and has an almost farmy quality. This is a dram that will knock your socks off, and is a total stunner!
I have tasted the 1994 and 1995 on more than one occasion in the past, and remember them well. I have to admit that the 1991 was somewhat of a shock. The combination of the distillery floor maltings and the direct fired stills created a whisky which is absolutely stunning. These are things you’ll only notice when you compare these drams side by side, matured in similar casks, which is what I tried to achieve in this flight. I have been advocating a return of floor malting for Glen Garioch for the past couple of years, and feel that a redoubling of these efforts is called for.