Taste Review #97 – Glen Keith old vs new
For those of you not acquainted with the North East of Scotland, summer is a great time for agricultural shows. The three biggest ones are the Black Isle Show, Turriff Show, and the Keith Show. They are pretty much like a Highland Games, although without the traditional competitions but can include country dancing, field sports, various acrobats or stunt driving, with the added ‘thrill’ of livestock and farm machinery thrown in. This is of course if you appreciate a decent ewe waiting to be tupped or decent Massey Ferguson machinery. And then there is the marquee, the staple of all Highland events where people go to get sloshed and it often ends in drunken violence at some point. It is also said you cannot fail to get a date at the Keith show. I suppose that if a lassie rejects you, there’s always the wooly livestock. Ooops! Perhaps I’ve said too much about my Aberdeenshire upbringing!
It’s been a quite a while since I attended such an event, and it’s likely different now. But apparently leopards aren’t likely to change their spots, so it is with a little bit of trepidation that I approach this old vs new review of some Keith whisky produce. The newer of the two drams, the Glen Keith Distillers Edition, I have reviewed before and to be honest I didn’t really care for it. I’m lucky that my wife did not see that review as the bottle was a present from her. Having said that she knows little about whisky, but I’m secretly proud of her thriftiness as she’s a non-Aberdonian. There’s little point of expecting a more expensive whisky gift from her due to her lack of knowledge and a total refusal to pick up on hints. I keep dropping subtle verbal nudges about another Brora may be nice but nothing so far…
However, with this whisky I have persevered and am now halfway down the bottle, though I have been giving some of my friends samples as an example of what a budget whisky tastes like. Since my initial review, I’ve been using it in hot toddies, along with other less than premium drams (Jura Journey, Naked Grouse and Haig Club) and they performed adequately, so perhaps it is time to give this dram another chance. You can read what I wrote before by clicking on this link Taste Review #42 – Glen Keith Distillers Edition.
Since that review, I haven’t actually tasted that whisky again since without adulterating it in some way, so perhaps now is time for a bit of redemption. This was a dram that I didn’t bother gassing, so it has had a bit of oxidation and hopefully this has kicked it into touch a bit. Its already had one kicking from me in the past. In my auction adventures, it’s earlier equivalent – a miniature of Glen Keith turned up, with a strange way of denoting its age on it – it says that it was distilled before 1983. Now usually there would be a vintage that states what year it was distilled, but this definition is open to interpretation.
Glen Keith isn’t an old distillery, becoming operational in 1960, just after Tormore. It is built on the site of a former meal mill. It was used as an experimental distillery and ran both double and triple distillations. It made the short lived Glen Isla single malt, which is a Glen in Angus, far away from Keith but is likely to have taken it’s name from the River Isla that flows past the distillery. This was a slightly peated malt. It is rumoured that the Craigduff peated single malt was also made here, although Strathisla has also been in the frame for this. Both Glen Isla and Craigduff are rare whiskies, and were included in the Lost Distilleries Blend I tasted (See Lost Distilleries Blend Review #55). The first single malt released from Glen Keith was in 1994, and it is the older sample that we taste today.
Glen Keith was mothballed in 1999, but refurbished and opened again by 2013. The Distillers edition was the first single malt released in October 2017 after reopening, so could have some pretty young whisky in it. I remember looking back at my other review that the dram was quite sharp, so lets see if a little bit of fresh air has calmed it down a bit and whether or not it meets the standard set by the first official release from the distillery.
Glen Keith 1983 (10 y.o)
Region – Speyside Age -10 y.o (1983) Strength – 43% Colour -Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – not stated Colouring – Not stated – presume yes. Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Initially a slight old bottle funk, but dissipated after allowing dram to breathe. Grassy / slightly floral, orchard fruit – apple, canned pears, apricot. Barley sugars, creamy vanilla. Palate – The arrival is unexpectedly sweet. Vanilla, apple, then developing a bitter taste from the wood spice, lemon, ginger, peppery. Finish – Medium. Peppery wood tannins, light malt, Calvados as the spirit fades away. Adding 2ml of water gives everything a bit of a smooth out, slightly increased the wood spice and gave a waxy, candle-like note to the aroma.
Glen Keith Distillers Edition
Region – Speyside Age -NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – not stated. Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Caramel, Apple, Vanilla, Condensed Milk, honey Palate – Light, with a slight oily feel, a light spirit / wood buzz, lemonade, apples, cinnamon / peppery wood spice Finish -Short, honey, creamy vanilla, peppery wood spice, slight spirit burn. Adding 2ml of water kills pretty much everything, bar the burst of spice on departure.
It seems that time in the bottle has mellowed the Glen Keith Distillers Edition. The sharpness and harsh burns that I got on my last review are no longer present and the fruit flavours are more prominent. But while it is more drinkable, than before, I have to say that it is fairly boring and disappointing. But then we have to remember that this is probably made up of whisky no more than 4 years old, possibly with some of the older stock mixed in. It’s price point was £30, but had I paid £30 for it, I would have still felt cheated. Not knowing my wife was going to gift me a bottle, I thankfully picked this one up for only £20 at my local Co-op, but put into store for a later date. As fair as I can be, I think now the spirit has had time to breathe, it has improved what I am tasting and £20 would be probably as much as it’s worth.
That means to me that this isn’t anything special at all and it will not be replaced when the bottle dies. I don’t mean to be unfair when I say that I wouldn’t give this to guests, but would rather use this as cooking whisky. I’ll be happy to sip away at it until the bottle is finished, therefore there is an improvement on what has gone before in my last review. I can say this dram does fit its position in Passport Blended whisky, another less than favoured review in the past.
But was it any better than the 10 year old? Well, the ten year old had a notable advantage, all 3% of them as extra points on the abv scale. And boy, did it show. The spirit was more engaging, there was more taste and furthermore, the dram actually had a proper finish. I felt that this dram showed off its palate and finish much more effectively. I’ll restrain from saying the nose as well due to the older bottle effect. But the mouthfeel was heavier, the flavours more distinct and water did not eradicate any of them. Of course, it could be argued that there has been evaporation taking effect of my distillers edition bottle plus it is only 40%, but then again, the 10 year old bottle is potentially 27 years old and didn’t have the perfect fill level either.
And just to put the unfair comparison accusation to bed, that in this series of reviews, I am trying to review comparable age statements or the entry level release from the distillery, which both of these drams are. It is sad to note that in this case, the alcohol level in this dram has been reduced from 43% to 40%, no longer has an age statement and has age that is most likely half that of the other sample, so on this note coupled with the bolder flavours I have to say that I think the older dram is the better one, as had I been given this dram as a gift, I’d maybe consider replacing it.
How both of these whiskies compare to an older, independent bottling remains to be seen – I’ve a 1968 G&M bottling sample to look at sometime in the future that was gifted by a work colleague, so will be reviewing that separately in the future.
Yours In Spirits,
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All Photos – Authors Own