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The Newest Kid On The Block – Glenglassaugh Old & New

Last year I reviewed Abhainn Dearg’s new whiskey and wasn’t quite taken with it. It seemed very young and needing a lot more time, though it did show some promise. I’ve revisited it and while it’s fine, it never has really been something I’d want much more of at its current age.

Shortly after Abhainn Dearg became the newest legal whisky, it was usurped by Glenglassaugh, whose new spirit under the new production reached three years. I’d been curious to try the new Glenglassaugh (and really, any Glenglassaugh, as it was one I’d never had the opportunity to try) for a long time and I finally got around to it this week.

The business model of young whisky subsidizing a new distillery is by now a tried and true one. It’s a little easier for the Americans to get away with; you can call it whiskey here if the distiller thought about his wooden patio chairs while signing an invoice for the grain that will go into his mash. Scotland’s strictness means you have three long years to weather before you can sell it as “whisky” (though Glenglassaugh sold various young spirits along the way). Hitting the market with a young whisky is increasingly common. Abhainn Dearg did it; Kilchoman continues to do it with great results – if you haven’t had any Kilchoman you should – and many more will continue to do so to allow their business to have income in the early years.

Some distilleries, most recently Bruichladdich, were fortunate to have old stocks to help ease the transition to their new whisky. Glenglassaugh, to an extent, also is able to take advantage of this. Glenglassaugh was a victim of the early to mid 1980s distillery closures, however, and has no stock to cover the period of 1986-2008, which means there’s a huge gap in their production. However, some older Glenglassaughs have been released as official bottlings.

One interesting question to be asked beyond “how is the new spirit” is, “do the new and old spirits show any similarity beyond name?” I hoped to find out in this dual tasting – the Glenglassaugh First Cask release (3 years old exactly) and a Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask bottling – 25 years at time of bottling, from a 1984 distillation.

The First Cask has an extensive cask pedigree despite its age – initially a refill butt, then two smaller casks after 2 years (first fill Pedro Ximenez sherry; first fill Palo Cortado sherry); then returned into the original cask after about 9 months of separate maturation, where they married for three months. That intense work for a three-year-old clearly means it’s engineered to have a strong taste immediately versus one that shows a need to rest in wood for many years to come.

The nose was unsurprisingly initially young with overt sweetness and newmake hints initially. However, it showed a great deal more complexity than an unaged whisky already. There was a trace of leather and even hints of wood already evident. Some ripe fruit in the background with peaches; it almost has a chenin blanc character to it. There’s a slightly and vaguely pickled characteristic late in the nose, but it’s pretty faint and non-specific.

The palate had a lot more character than expected. There was a leathery quality again as well as a chenin blanc character again; unsuprisingly for a young whisky there was a bit of heat. There was a gentle maltiness underneath everything and some wood. Again, some ripe peach notes led the fruitiness on the palate.

The finish was a bit drier than the nose and palate suggested; malty but not aggressive, with gentle wood and some hay, as well as apple skin on the end.

It’s an interesting three year old. It’s not for everyone – Scottish whiskies this young rarely are – but it feels older than its years. It’s got the undeniable zip of youth, but it doesn’t feel like a very young whisky. I kept flashing back to the ill-fated Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc – the dense flavors and strong texture kept taking me back to that one – at least before it fell apart. It’s an intensely flavorful whisky with a lot to pick apart.

I’ll be very interested to watch what the new owners do with Glenglassaugh in the coming years.

The question then – while this is an all-new Glenglassaugh, does it bear any resemblance to anything distilled under that name previously?

The Old Malt Cask bottle had an interesting nose. Light leather, slight earthiness, but with a little white pepper. Despite its age it still had fruit – peach, pineapples and apple. After a while in the glass it also opened up to have a more straightforward and recognizable (but not overbearing) sherry character.

The palate was immediately nice and chewy – there was a little leather, some spiciness – white pepper and black pepper as well. A little heat, but then some abundant fruitiness – apples, pears, a bit of orange and some light grape notes.

On the finish, it dried a bit and the sherry influence was more overt – slightly nutty, some oak, a little apple skin, and a touch of pair. Briefly, there was a light minty flash as well.

The Old Malt Cask bottle is a really enjoyable mix of fruit and spice with some moderate sherry influence. I thought it was honestly one of the more memorable OMC bottles I’ve had recently, which has been dominated by mid-quality Port Ellens.

I definitely saw a lineage – the leathery quality was strong in both, but it didn’t foul up the whiskies in any way. It was just a very noticeable texture. There was also a pronounced and vivid fruitiness to the older whisky that the younger one had. I have a feeling as the new Glenglassaughs age out we might see more of those notes emerge as the youthful sweetness develops into more distinct flavors.

This is one of those most enjoyable tastings: coming in with no expectations and leaving with a distillery to keep an eye on and a bottle to hunt down immediately. Keep your eye on Glenglassaugh – I definitely will be.

At a glance:

Glenlassaugh “The First Cask” 3y 59.1% ABV
Nose: 
Young on the nose with plenty of newmake hints – overt sweetness. And yet it’s more complex than a white dog. A little trace of leather and some wood already starting to show. A little bit of ripe fruit in the background; a touch of peach; almost a hint of a chenin blanc character to it. There’s also a slightly pickled quality late on the nose but it’s faint and non-specific.
Palate:  A good deal of character to this. The leathery notes are there; it has that slightly chenin blanc character. There’s some heat along with it, as you would expect from a young whiskey. A gentle maltiness underpins everything, as does a touch of wood. Fruity – again, a little ripe peach.
Finish:  A little drier than what came before; malty but not aggressive; gentle wood notes, a light bit of hay. A little apple skin on the tail end.
Comment:  Very interesting, quite bold and nuanced for a young whisky. It’s got some youthful zip to it, but it doesn’t feel too young or too old. I think this one could be quite good in a few years. It reminds me of the Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc release before it went crazy: a very intensely flavored whisky with a lot to pick apart.  I’ll be watching the next few years with great interest.
Rating: B-

Glenglassaugh 25y Douglas Laing OMC (1984). 50% ABV
Nose: 
An intriguing mix – lightly leathery; slightly earthy, but with a dusting of white pepper. Fruit is there – a little light green grape, some peach, a little pineapple and apples too. Opens up to have a slightly more open sherry character. 
Palate:   
Nice and chewy. A slight hint of leather; nice bit of spiciness to the cask – white pepper, maybe a touch of black pepper too. A little gentle heat. Abundantly fruity – apples, pears, a touch of orange, some light grapes again. 
Finish: 
Drying slightly with a good sherry-forward profile; a touch nutty, some oak influence, a little dried apple skin and a touch of pear. A touch of mint for a second on the finish.
Comment: 
A really solid mix of fruitiness, spice, and moderate sherry influence. Very good. 
Rating:
B+