I was inspired to look back to a tour of Glen Moray [pronounced ‘Murrey’] after seeing Iain Allen appear at the Lockdown Whisky Festival [1h.57m] on April 4th 2020. Everything Iain was saying about Glen Moray’s evolution rung true as it did nearly four years ago. Indeed, a lot of the exciting developments at Glen Moray were in full flow when we arrived backstage with Whisky Lounge in July 2016 – [that was some month]. We got close-up and personal with both sides of the distillery, old and new, with Glen Moray’s modern wing just about finished [see pic below].
GLEN MORAY AND ITS PLACE IN THE WORLD
After GlenMo [LVMH] sold Glen Moray to La Martiniquaise in 2008, Glen Moray had suffered an identity crisis. Either it was hidden behind undisclosed supermarket-own branding or it was considered an inferior whisky. When Glen Moray was owned by Glenmorangie, Glen Moray’s single malt was deliberately placed on the lower shelves in supermarkets in order to differentiate it from, say, Glenmorangie’s ‘Original’ 10yo and was priced accordingly. Glen Moray’s identity crisis had nothing to do with actual quality, only industry-led customer perception that was based on the price point.
Furthermore, it is at Glen Moray where Glenmorangie did the majority of its ‘finishing’ experiments. Though Glen Moray introduced some wood finished whiskies in 1999, it was Glenmorangie that took centre stage with their port pipe Quinta Ruban and Sauternes barrique-finished Nectar D’Or single malts, for example.
The story of Glen Moray is one of progress and changing misconceptions.
- Founded in 1897 [a year before the Pattison crash], the distillery operated sporadically. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Glen Moray hit its stride.
- In the 2000s, the majority of supermarket own-label single malt was Glen Moray.
- Since 2004, Glen Moray has quadrupled production. BMengineering [who installed new equipment at the distillery including those Frilli stills] says: ‘Over the years, the distillery has expanded twice, in 2012 and 2015′. ‘,….After the success of the 2012 expansion, Glen Moray decided to take their business to the next level and build a completely new section to the distillery‘.
- Like Tomatin [WLP], the Glen Moray distillery is the collision of old and new [buildings and equipment] that sit side by side. Unlike Tomatin, both the old and new are in full operation.
- Glen Moray is owned by La Martiniquaise who in 2010 opened their own grain distillery, Starlaw [SW].
You know the tours that tell you you can’t take photos [Diageo], or carry pens into the warehouse [Glenfiddich!], and tell you about how the spirit safe is strictly under [Customs & Excise] lock & key. Pfft!
We start, of course, with the mill.
The Porteus mill:
- One of the best examples of modern engineering?
- It’s success and therefore ultimate failure, the antithesis of everything that is wrong with capitalism and its [capitalisms’] total disregard for the planet over economic development?
- The best argument for nationalizing industry for the greater good? Discuss.
SPIRIT SAFE & OLD STILLS
Glen Moray’s existing stills are another example [a la Cragganmore, Balvenie: LINK] where spirit stills have been converted to wash stills.
NEW DISTILLERY [including Glenmorangie’s mash tun]
In 2015, Glen Moray installed [Italian] Frilli stills [like at InchDairnie]. Each still has a pair of condensers, each configured to run in series using a thermal vapour recompression system to recycle steam back into the stills. This all equals efficiency. The stills began distilling in March 2016, so Glen Moray will know the full effect of this system in,.. March 2026!
The cut point [assuming your ratios are right] is based on the rate of flow. Roughly, of 52,000 litres, 4000 litres [8%] makes the cut.
Time for some tasting!
Glen Moray New Make Spirit  +70% abv
- C: Raw and acetone-like turning bready then metallic before drying, really drying!
Glen Moray 12yo [>2016] Ob. 40%
- C: Although it’s no Balvenie 12 Double Wood [WLP], though there are similarities, this is no bad whisky. It’s a bit flat and cloggy but gives a little more at the finish.
Scores 79 points
Glen Moray 1989/2016 Un-Ob. Madiera finish cask sample [approx] 50%
- N: Straight from the cask I nose candied popcorn. This doesn’t fail to aliven the kid within.
- T: How this delivers so well at 50% I don’t know. ‘Oohs and aahs’ fill the room. Oily-sweet with a slow reveal, it’s refreshing not to have it all arrive at once – like some [oloroso] sherry bombs can do.
- F: Finishes as well as it delivers.
- C: Right up lots of our streets.
Score 87 points
Often referred to as ‘THAT sherry cask’, when we tried this in 2016 it was a 21yo having spent 16-17 years in first-fill bourbon with a 4-5 year oloroso finish and enough juice for an estimated 512 bottles. Now finally bottled as a 22yo with enough remaining juice to fill 460 bottles, it was released [at a very reasonable £125] in June 2017.
- N: All the candy notes of a childhood dream.
- T: Fruity > rancio < < varnish.
- F: …… Stretches right out. Ashy remnants.
- C: If this had been available to buy last July, most of our group would have bought at least one bottle. With my Twitter feed set, it is with thanks to Emma for informing me that this was now bottled & available [at the distillery only]. Highly recommended!
- I’ve subsequently reviewed this in full: WLP90
Glen Moray 1977/2013 35yo Ob. The Laich single cask [125 bts] 51.2% WB86.42
Laich [which means ‘low-lying piece of land’] is an old vintage from a refill hogshead, so all good on paper, but can it compete with ‘that’ sherry cask?
- N: Peppered, buttered oak. “Nice”, says Rajesh.
- T: So rich, varnish-rich. Appears peaty [must be the char] with a touch of sour lemon, but it’s the varnished barley that steals the headlines. Did this get an active 1st-fill bourbon cask finishing?
- F: I wrote, and I quote ‘little peat bricks’, so it seems there’s certainly plenty of char around, or was there a small phenol count in Glen Moray’s barley in the 1970s?. It’s a little cardboardy by the tail,…..
- C: ,…. but there are moments when this rejuvenated old timer is spot on.
Scores 86 points
Glen Moray 2005/2016 10yo Ob. Burgundy cask #5419 61.4% WB88.03
- N: Ha, this is a fun, candy-driven malt [to my palate at this moment in time].
- T: Bleu,… Nuu. Not my thing.
- F: ,….. not my thing at all.
- C: I think my palate has simply had enough [of the grape finishes] for one day. I’ve tasted a few crackers and nothing will spoil my day.
What I shall take from this is experience is, there’s way more to Glen Moray than their entry-level supermarket ‘Elgin Classic’. Since my visit, Glen Moray has gone from strength to strength, with Iain revealing some wonderful surprises every time I see him at festivals. The SMWS [previously owned by GlenMo] have released some crackers too, especially some of their older bottlings [WLP].
With thanks to Iain and Whisky Lounge as well as the Foz for video footage.