Taste Review #58 – Glen Garioch Founders Reserve.
Believe it or not, my title this week does actually rhyme. It does help if you are from the North East Of Scotland to know how to pronounce Garioch or at least you could have heard it from others in your whisky journey. But for those unfamiliar with Doric, the pronunciation is ‘Geery’. It rhymes with dreary, but then I have already told you that. And Doric lives up to many of the often underhand tricks that English can also play on its non-native speakers, and that is that sometimes it is pronounced ‘Garry-och’, but usually only when it is being used as a surname.
Glen Garioch distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland, having been established during 1797 in the Aberdeenshire village of Oldmeldrum, a small market village some 18 miles north of Aberdeen. Currently it is the most eastern distillery in Scotland, a title that it obtained in 1983 when Glenugie beside the port of Peterhead closed. It was my local distillery when I lived in the land of ‘Fit Like’ (Doric for how are you?), and passing through Oldmeldrum, it was easy to spot the two ventilators on the top of the kilns, yet I never visited. Not until early March this year when I was staying in Aberdeen and I decided to treat my parents to an afternoon out. Despite Aberdeen and shire’s reputation for dreary grey buldings, weather and equally grey and dour people, this was a glorious early spring day with a treat of some blue skies.
Glen Garioch was established in 1797, although it is reckoned that they were legally distilling before that, albeit there is no existing proof. Two brothers, John and Alexander Manson started the distillery just to the south of the Aberdeen – Banff road. They were in a perfect position for one of their main ingredients – Barley. The North East of Scotland produces massive amounts of barley, and according to our guide, 40% of Scottish barley used in whisky production comes from the Garioch valley, which is entirely possible, as during summer the fields are full of barley, and the soil is good quality with lower levels of nitrogen, which distillers like.
Glen Garioch passed through a few hands before becoming part of DCL in 1937. This continued until the late 1960’s. DCL (a forerunner of Diageo) in the mid to late 1960’s needed a distillery to produce heavily peated malt, as there was a problem with droughts on Islay and Caol Ila was getting refurbished. They had a choice between the original Clynelish distillery (now known as Brora) or Glen Garioch, but unfortunately the Oldmeldrum distillery had problems with its water supply and Brora was chosen to supply the heavily peated malts. DCL sold Glen Garioch to Stanley Morrison (who also owned Bowmore) in 1970, and his first task was to find another water supply. The manager at the time, Joe Hughes contracted Alec Grant (the father of the current manager) who found a spring on nearby Coutens Farm. It’s known as the silent spring, as it could not be seen or heard flowing, but enabled the distillery to increase its production tenfold.
The next crisis to hit Glen Garioch, along with many other distilleries in the 1970’s was the fuel crises in the 1970’s. The cost of operating the distillery was high, but Stanley Morrison installed heat recovery equipment, which allowed heat from the distilling process to be recycled, and was used to heat the kilns as well as feeding heat to an acre of green houses and a further acre of poly-tunnels for growing tomatoes and kiwi fruits. This came to an end in 1993. Sadly in 1994, the distillery also brought an end to malting its own barley, preferring to buy in ready malted barley.
In 1994 the distillery was bought by Beam, and by 1995, Glen Garioch fell silent. 1995 was the last time the distillery regularly produced a peated malt. However, it isn’t all bad news, and by 1997 after some renovation, the distillery opened again, producing an unpeated malt.
Glen Garioch is an old, small distillery. It only produces 500,000 litres annually from one wash still and two spirit stills, albeit the No.1 spirit still is currently out of service due to the copper now being too thin. Apparently the wash still has the longest Lyne arm in Scotland. You can still see the tradition coupled with the modern; the Porteous Mill, the old Kilns plus stainless steel washbacks and mash tun squeezed into old buildings. But does the tradition convert into making a decent whisky? Well, it’s time to find out
No Age Stated
Light Golden Honey.
Malty, biscuity, sweet. Very light smoke to it. Fruit, Apple, touch of floral – I get a whiff of Turkish Delight of it. Vanilla is in there too.
Slightly oily mouthfeel. Sweet vanilla, creamy buttermilk and green apples. Hint of citrus sharpness with wood spices.
Short but quite a spirit glow on the way down. At 48% I’d advise adding water, which I had to do afterwards. Dry, but not astringent. Oak spices, a hint of smoke, probably from the Bourbon barrel. Citrus is in there as well, and only became apparent at the end as the spirit left my mouth fairly dry, but it was like lime and a hint of chocolate.
If there is one thing I can say about my tour at Glen Garioch, our guide Chris gave an excellent tour and one that was full of information and passion about the distillery. However, (and this was not his fault) the tour was to fall short with the whisky supplied for tasting. The basic entry Founders Reserve is actually not a bad whisky, but after having such a good tour and quite a pleasant nose and palate, the finish totally let it down for me. It’s a shame as I had been smelling it a good portion of the way home in the car due to a leaky sample bottle, and my mouth was watering. The unfortunate reality was that my mouth became like the Sahara Desert afterwards, and I needed to take the water I had set aside for adding to the dram. Because I was doing my typical Aberdonian thing and was too tight to spring for a 5CL sample, I made do this time with the 1.5CL sample given by the distillery.
Although the finish was a bit too dry for me, it wasn’t not in a lip and tongue puckering way. The warmth in the spirit I think just overpowered the nice aromas and palate, which to me was just a little bit disappointing. However, Glen Garioch Founders Reserve is not alone in this – many whiskies I seem to sniff turn out to have either a palate or finish that didn’t match the aroma. My favourite whisky of the past 12 months was exactly like that. Again, it may have been better had I hadn’t been tight and sprung for at least a 5cl miniature.
So, with that last point in mind, don’t pay too much attention to what I say on this review, as I just don’t have enough liquid to build a relationship with this whisky and understand all the various components. However, it did become more pleasant with a drop or two of water. I would say that the vintage expressions or those with age statements would be a lot better. It is my opinion that they have bottled this at 48% to hide the fact there is some young whisky in it, but it shows in a very slight rough edge. But that’s just my opinion. There is the good point that at 48% you know that it is not chill filtered, but unfortunately this has got colouring added..
I was tempted to buy a bottle of the 15 year old they had for sale there, as it was £85, and I thought that was just a bit too rich for me. It’s not unreasonable to charge that much for that age of whisky, but you know you can get it cheaper elsewhere. I’ve come to realise that unless it is a special limited release, you’ll always get whisky cheaper elsewhere compared to the distillery shop. Tourists don’t always have the same purchasing opportunities compared to the locals.
Do I recommend this whisky? No, I personally will not be buying a bottle of it, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t. At 48%, this gives you an excellent opportunity to play about with water to see the effects drop by drop, but I’d say best maybe try doing this with the 12 year old. It is also bottled at 48% and costs around £45. The Founders Reserve costs around £35, which for a 48% whisky is indeed good value, and while I think this whisky will appeal to some, it didn’t appeal to me. With the aroma I can sense there is something good happening with this distillery, though not this expression. Perhaps I need to pop in past while next in the area to maybe buy a couple of miniatures to retry at the later date.
Yours in Spirits
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