May 052019

I’ll come out and say it: I’m a fan of the use of virgin oak in Scotch whisky and think that there isn’t enough of it used. I’m sure this will be controversial, but it’s my opinion, and I’ve stated it before.

Of course, with a few exceptions, full maturation in virgin oak is something that is saved to very few expressions, especially if you’re talking about whisky that’s fully matured in virgin oak. For those, we have the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, Auchentoshan Virgin Oak and the Benromach Organic.

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Batch 1

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When it comes to finishes and partial composition, things get easier. The Bruichladdich Octomore X.4 have varying compositions of virgin oak matured whisky, Deanston has a nice Virgin Oak NAS, Glenglassaugh has a peated whisky in a virgin oak finish and you’ll recall that the Ardbeg Kelpie had some whisky matured in virgin Adygea Oak, and you can read more about it in my post on the Committee Release. You might also recall that the Amrut Spectrum has partial virgin oak matured whisky. Going a little further back, I’ll mention the long gone Vintage 1993 Glenmorangie Ealanta, matured in virgin oak casks for 19 years.

You’ll find my tasting notes on the first edition here.


Photo Credit: Glen Garioch Distillery

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak No. 2 (48% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Light copper, it’s lighter in color than the 2011 virgin oak single cask reviewed yesterday, which would suggest that coloring wasn’t used (and shouldn’t be in the first place in ANY Glen Garioch expression). Thin and slow legs come off a pretty sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee and vanilla, with a note of baking bread and some nutmeg. The nose is mild and fresh, but in no way young. Some time in the glass brings out some Granny Smith apples and more of the mash tun notes, with that toffee.

Palate: Honey and malt, with gentle black pepper. There’s a barky bitterness tinged with the honey sweetness with a hint of floral notes coming up the nose as you hold it in your mouth.

Linger: First you have the layer of the black pepper on the dry tongue, with a tingle on the inner cheeks. Then the sweetness comes out, and while the pepper is still there, as the linger slowly fades, it leaves more of the sweetness in there.


This expression seems milder than the first batch, but this might just be my memory of it. I really like it, and this could easily become my daily dram bottle. I think Ron did a great job with this one!


May 042019

This 2011 Glen Garioch is a harbinger for the sequel to the very successful Virgin Oak. Indeed, a few months before the release of Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak, the distillery released a very limited single cask of the whisky that will make up that expression, at cask strength.

Glen Garioch

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I’ll have more to say about Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak in the upcoming review, but this is a very lovely single cask.

Virgin oak works very quickly on new make, and seven years are plenty of time for some real flavor to develop in the cask.

Photo Credit: Dave Farquharson

Glen Garioch 2011, Cask 1409, Distilled May 23, 2011, Virgin Oak Cask Distillery Exclusive (60.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, very slow and thin legs coming very slowly off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee, caramel and coconut, with sweet honey and fresh wood shavings. Faint popcorn and a creamy butteriness. It has some traits in common with bourbon on the nose. Water takes it further toward bourbon or grain. Water also brings out the malt, or specifically the mash, as well as a hint of fresh ginger and brine.

Palate: Dry and spicy, pretty intense. There’s a lot of oak – almost sawdust – and harsh pepper. It definitely could use some water. The addition of water highlights the pepper, but brings out some mint and some yellow plums and some chalkiness.

Linger: Warm and spicy on a dry palate, with a buttery sweetness remaining in the mouth. The gullet has spice lingering. With water, the linger is spicier and sweeter. It’s actually a more intense finish with the water.


It’s only seven years old, but the virgin oak really allows it to mature nicely. This is complex and deep, albeit a little ‘in your face’, and is fun. I’ll be reviewing the second edition of the general release of the Virgin Oak in the next few days, as well as a few other distillery exclusive casks.

Oct 272018

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.

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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:

  1. Are there records of a yeast change in 1979 for MBD?
  2. I’d love to explore some 1978 and 1979 Bowmore to see if there’s the same change.
  3. Were they aware of this at the time?
  4. 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?


Photo Credit: Derek Zhang

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!

Oct 222018

A Glen Garioch 1987 single cask isn’t something you see often. In fact, It’s not common to see recent official bottlings of Glen Garioch for private clubs, despite being very prevalent between 2009 and 2014. There were quite a few casks bottled under that regime, my research has a list of 30, but I know there are more out there. These bottlings have ranged in age between 12 and 40 years of age, and have mostly come from ex bourbon casks, although there have been some sherry cask in there, like the stellar Cask 4297 from 1973.

Of those 30 casks, I have either tasted or acquired 16, so there’s quite a ways to go on that journey, which is becoming harder and more challenging every year.

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This cask, as well as the 1979 which will be reviewed shortly, were chosen by and bottled for the Chief Whisky Society (CWS), which has bottled a stunning lineup of bottles from various distilleries. The CWS is China’s (maybe even the world’s) largest whisky community, with over 50,000 members.

This Glen Garioch 1987 was bottled at 30 years of age, out of a refill sherry butt.


Photo Credit: Derek Zhang

Glen Garioch 1987, 30 Year Old, Cask 603, Distilled 20.2.1987, Refill Sherry Butt, Bottled for Chief Whisky Society (CWS) on 24.10.2017, 132 Bottles (47.1% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Mahogany, very slow droplets running off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: The first thing that hits the nose is a fruity note of red apple peels, fresh rosemary, stewed apple and cinnamon, going herbal, but towards sage, not the lavender I thought I’d find. There is some red fruit in the background. With a bit of time, the nose goes dry, like a red wine dryness, and chalky, with some of the sage still coming through. Behind it all is a hint of peat with a touch of a far away BBQ with meat on it.

Palate: Thick and viscous, with citrus rind, white pepper and clove. There’s some sage and rosemary on the palate, as well as some kumquat, but without the sourness. There’s also a light sweetness on the tongue, like the sweetness you have left after eating a date.

Linger: Pepper, grapefruit peel bitterness, cooked clove and a little bit of sweet orange. There’s a hint of a buttery smoked sage (like the sauce), with soft pepper around the gullet. The finish is long and dry, with the herbal sage.


Wow! When you think of the mid 1980s Glen Garioch, you’re expecting a lot of herbal notes, and lavender. Not with this one. You get the herbality, but as a refined sage. This cask can redefine how we think of mid 1980s Glen Gariochs.
Well selected cask!

Thank you, Derek Zhang, for your generosity in sharing this beauty!

Sep 112018

The mid 1980’s were a bit of a rough patch for the Morrison Bowmore distilleries. Bowmore was rife with that distinctive perfume unlovingly referred to as FWP (french whore perfume). This was a deep herbal scent, like aromatic oils of various herbs combined. Glen Garioch expressions from those years have not escaped it, as the two 1984 expressions I tried (both at cask strength and at 40%), as well as the 1986 Vintage and the 1987, have that same herbal perfuminess. So does this Glen Garioch BYO.

Glen Garioch BYO

Photo Credit: Mark Armin Giesler

Photo Credit: Lorenzo Dutto

I have a feeling this has to do with the yeast used by MBD, as the barley wouldn’t have been the same, given that both distilleries floor malted a large part of their malt at the distillery, and the grain sourcing is different (Bowmore gets the grain from Port Ellen, and Glen Garioch was using a closer supplier). Nor would the water be the same, obviously. Until 1990 Glen Garioch still had wooden washbacks, so some bacteria might be the culprit, but the yeast remains the immediate suspect.

I have reviewed the Glen Garioch Vintage 1986 and it displays many of the same characteristics, especially around this lavender on the palate and finish. Another common feature is that while these expressions are peated, that’s almost not a factor after 25 or 30 years, in either expression.


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Glen Garioch Bottle Your Own 1985 Cask 1586, Sherry Butt Distilled on 11.4.1985 (43.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Dark mahogany, slow and thin legs coming off a necklace. The picture on the right is a pretty accurate depiction of the color.

Nose: Warm wood spices – clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, with a sprinkle of allspice. Prune compote and a heavy, treacle sweetness. Dry and almost chalky, with floral notes. There’s also a sweet thick wine, almost like a dry PX sherry. With some time, dried cherries mix with some fresh fruit, with a hint of bay rum. Time in the glass deepens the wood spices. A drop of water brings out balsamic vinegar and a hint of coconut shavings almost on the verge of a piña colada.

Palate: Sweet and dry, with lavender (and sage?) that’s rather overpowering. Under it I get some dried fruit (prunes and perhaps cherries or cranberries?), treacle and the cinnamon and allspice. The dryness is very chalky and herbal.

Linger: Sour herbal lavender, chalky dryness and hints of the wood spice, especially the cinnamon. The oak is here in force, and some of the spice gently envelops the gullet. The finish is very long.


The base spirit is very close to the 1986 Vintage (much more so than the 1984, and I think that has to do with chill filtration and time in the bottle). Thus, the comparison between the sherry matured BYO and the 1986 Vintage was fascinating. The lavender comes through in exactly the same place, with the added tartness and dryness of the sherry, as well as with the fruity level on top. It’s far better than the 1986, which I didn’t like very much, and I can’t really say that this is my favorite Glen Garioch ever. On the other hand, this is definitely a dram you want to try more than once, and if you can contrast it with the Vintage 1986.