Glen Garioch’s Virgin Oak is an expression fully matured in new American oak casks. Virgin oak for Scotch whisky is a phenomenon that’s pretty scarce, even scarcer than red wine casks, of which I definitely think there isn’t quite enough of in the industry. Yes, I like weird stuff…shoot me…
Just how scarce? There are currently only six expressions either matured or even just finished in virgin oak on the market as current releases. Three of those – today’s Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, Auchentoshan Virgin Oak (same parent company, so probably the same casks) and Tomatin’s Cu Bocan Virgin Oak were fully matured in new casks. Three more are either partially matured in new oak or just finished in it: Danstons’s (very drinkable) Virgin Oak (finish), Bruichladdich’s Octomore 7.4 (25% full maturation in virgin oak, the rest finished in them after being matured in bourbon casks), and the English Whisky Company has a single cask out (cask 365). Add to that a few more partials, like the Glenmorangie Tarlogan and the Tomatin Legacy, and you’ve covered everything currently available on the market. How about the past? Again, you’ll find sporadic releases here and there, but nothing you can even call “a movement” and I’ll just mention a few: Glenmorangie’s AMAZING Astar and excellent Ealanta, Bowmore’s Feis Ile 2015 (same Morrison Bowmore casks, one would assume), GlenDronach 14 (finish) and some BenRiachs (the 13 year old finish and some single casks, mostly finished too).
Honestly, this isn’t all that surprising, as getting hold of new American oak casks takes some work as the Scotch whisky industry uses casks which have already been used once by the American bourbon industry (and Tennessee whisky, which adheres to the same rules), so casks are bought from distilleries, whereas new casks would need to be sourced from US cooperages, one step removed from the Scottish makers. Obviously, being part of a global company which owns bourbon distilleries, makes things easy (although when this expression was laid down, Beam and Suntory weren’t merged yet). Brand new casks are also more expensive than used ones, and provide a harsher (or should I say more intense?) maturation, as everything the wood has to impart is intensified. Think first fill bourbon casks on steroids.
According to the information provided on the box, this expression was matured in specially created casks made from the “inner heartwood” of oak trees. The casks were then heavily charred, and the spirit laid down to mature for an unspecified time.
Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, Artisanal Small Batch Release (48% ABV, NCF)
Appearance: Amber, viscous legs running slowly, with quite a bit of residual drops.
Nose: Newly sawed wood, cereal and a vanilly sweetness. Mixed spices (white pepper and nutmeg), white bread toast, a note of honeysuckle and some vanilla custard. Some dark chocolate appears. As it develops, you’ll get the faintest hit of furniture polish, with something very woodsy and green.
Palate: Sweet at first, with a golden delicious apple and a hint of cranberry, then peppery spice and a gorgeous wash of bitterness (though not the citrusy/grapefruity type), mixed in again with a wave of spice.
Linger: Spicy with some bitter notes, very drying on the tongue (and a different dryness than you get with sherry or wine finishes). Notes of marshmallow, honey and toffee. This finish is very distinct and it gets sweeter as the spice fades in this very long finish.
It’s got the Glen Garioch DNA (the maltiness, fruitiness and spice), but it has a woodsy twist to it. It’s really good for those times you want something different, off the beaten path. You can still find it in shops in Europe, but I think it’s time for another small batch to come out. For as the box says, “Glen Garioch has a small but loyal band of followers” and we’re ever waiting for the next release…