Spotlight on: Glenburgie, Part 2/2

Following on from Part 1, it’s about time we tried some whisky.

Given Pernod Ricard is the second largest spirits producer in the world, and their Ballantine’s brand is the second biggest selling blend, globally, you’d expect its key components to be fairly consistent across the decades. Just like Johnny Walker, why mess around with a tried and tested recipe? From a single malt enthusiast’s perspective, it makes sense that anything other than jobbing/quality-controlled spirit is going to come from the wood. Appropriately then, of tonight’s 5-dram Glenburgie line-up, 4 of the 5 are single cask expressions [from independent bottlers], from casks that feature anything from refill ex-bourbon, to sherry, and Palo Cortado.

I remember Jonny McMillan [BB&R] telling me that Glenburgie is all about the fruits. Whiskyfun indicates the ‘General Distillery Profile‘ as:

  • Sherry Oil Fruits Wine Cake Coffee Apples Caramel Honey Butter.

Let’s begin.

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1] Glenburgie 15yo [2000] Ob. 46% WB84.64[35] WM80[3]

Bottled in the year 2000, this will contain distillate from the 1980s. It seems Allied were ahead of their time, presenting this at a bottling strength of 46%.

  • N: Good power/weight, fruity for sure – and “a mix of bourbon and sherry casks”, I ask? “Certainly”, say Tristan – no doubt [sherry] transport casks from the 1980s [and before]. This wholly blended/consolidated malt speaks of mineral-y ashy trodden-in phenols and well-stewed fruits, [not dusty] waxy transistors – ‘old & rare styley’.
  • T: Definitely ‘old skool’ with some OBE. It’s a little soft/thin and peppery [also after 20+ years in glass], yet there’s lovely calm sweetness [with water – prickly neat] and a complimenting bitter “blackcurrant” note, says Tristan – a spirit character note. Also noteworthy: dusty, ashy, fruity, chocolatey,… slightly waxy weighty mouthfeel. Like a blend in its own right, it’s one that sustains flat on the palate.
  • F: Rolls on calmly with the softest of prickles and onto a dusty easter egg milk chocolatey confectionary orchard-fruity finish.
  • C: Not without quibbles, and perhaps this particular bottle is a little flabby, but I’m a sucker for this older style. A bottle last appeared at Whiskyauctioneer in December 2019 and went for just £55.

[Provisionally] Scores 85 points

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I ask whether Glenburgie’s character has radically changed now bourbon casks for maturation are predominant, in comparison to a bourbon & sherry cask mix back in the 1970s/80s [as seen in the previous Allied 15yo]. Given Glenburgie of old is/was known for its fruity [sherried] profile, how much of that ‘sherried’ fruitiness comes from the spirit? Tristan is surprised how remarkably similar the Allied 15yo is to the current 15yo [missed opportunity]. Let’s see how the next-up refill American oak single cask 20yo compares, if at all, to the last whisky, and if there’s anything of a common thread?

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2] Glenburgie 1998/2019 20yo G&M CC single cask #19/026 [245 bts] 55.3% WB87.83[46]

Refill American oak

  • N: With a sulphury touch [from the spirit] and a very decent number of years under its belt, this is certainly not dissimilar to the previous official 15yo in some respects, though without the consolidated/stewed ‘old & rare’/OBE nature. An orchard fruitiness and that blackcurrant note remain an underlying theme, as well as malty leather [amongst other things].
  • T: A weighty waxy almost sticky easy drinker [despite the high abv], becoming cleaner and huskier later on. Additionally, I find this one fruity > spirit-sulphury,.. and malty,.. with touches of ash > soot, a hint of camphor,.. Is the spirit naturally sulphury, I ask, given there’s been no sherry cask maturation here? Tristan’s going to get back to me.
  • F: Malty dunnage-y, soft-fresh, fruity to the last with a pear drop/pineapple cube sweetness and no overt vanilla whatsoever.
  • C: A decent malt all the way through, and the age/vibrancy balance is commendable. Alongside its soft sulphury floral-fruity profile, there’s a gentleness from the nose to the palate,.. mouthfeel too,….consistent form also – Blair Athol-like > Inchgower-esque fruity malty > salty with solid form, an emerging theme.

Scores 86 points

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3] Glenburgie 2010/2020 10yo Cadenhead’s for the Whisky Shop, London Palo Cortado Hogshead Finish [294 bts] 56.6% WB84.77[20]

  • N: In comparison to the previous two malts, the Palo Cortado cask influence brings a whole different array of fruits to proceedings. Though spirity [56.6% abv!], is the cask too dominant? Regardless, this remains salty and malty – a continuing theme – with a phenol hint [or char?] plasticine, “petrichor” [KH],…
  • T: Initially, the cask is way too much, the affect too sweet, the spirit swamped,… but things change for the better an hour or two later. Now rummy & sulphury [in line with G&Ms 20yo refill US single cask], that fruity grape sweetness has evolved to a more relaxed sugary red grape sweetness. Overall, this reminds me of some Dhavall Gandhi’s Lakes Distillery [WLP] work.
  • F: Powerful malt with a cool spirit freshness. More ‘common thread’ pear drops & pineapple cubes fight back against the cask. Again, we’ve waxiness at the tail with barley sugar and foam banana/dry spray-cream at the death – slight Euro/Mackmyra vibes, perhaps?
  • C: The palate initially trashed by the cask, the spirit fights back at the end and does so more generally after time.

Scores began at 81, finishing nearer 85 – though it still found it a little gimmicky at times.

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Is a distillery profile is emerging?:

  • Spirit: Fruity, straight-ahead, consistent/unruffled form, [slightly sulphury?]
  • Fruits: Stewed orchard fruitiness in the form of pear drops/pineapple cubes, blackcurrant,..
  • Malty & salty: Blair Athol & Inchgower-like [name your distillery], a touch waxy

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4] Glenburgie 2007/2017 10yo SMWS 71.48 ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ [204 bts] 60.7% WB84.42[14]

Refill ex-bourbon

  • N: If it weren’t for the abv, I’m sure we’d be starting the flight with this. Classic vibrant/straight-ahead [refill ex-bourbon] SMWS-style fare, and the first whisky tonight with a glaring contemporary vanilla note. SMWS describes this as ‘,… rather mellow for its age – and yellow on the nose – honeydew melon, yellow apple, mango, marigolds, nasturtiums and mead‘.
  • T: Exactly as expected. Add water [a must] for a welcoming light malty-sweet fruity > dunnage-y] mouthfeel and elongated delivery at the front of the tongue.
  • F: Resinous > spicy top-note hum, coppery > salty~brine [~anchovies].
  • C: With nothing particularly exceptional to talk about, perhaps this one is just as reflective of [+/-10yo solid/dependable/drinkable] SMWS as it is of Glenburgie.

Score 82 points

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One more then. We had this pongy malt relegated to fifth place, just in case it wreaked havoc on the palate.

5] Glenburgie 1997/2018 21yo DL Old Particular Sherry Butt #12572 [607 bts] 51.5% WB85.75[10]

  • N: From a sherry butt, no shit! This might be too rubbery/pongy for me, but the sulphurous elements may also dissipate with time [crossed fingers]. So far, it’s all cask.
  • T: With a surprising softness [51.5%, wtf?], this isn’t as destructive on the palate as the nose suggests, though BC rightly declares “the nose and palate are detached”. Not unpleasant at all, this is a soft-sharp syrupy-sherried cask jobby, though malty it remains with an extra point for a buttery oily mouthfeel. Talisker Amoroso [WLP] vibes, anyone?
  • F: We finish with flashes of dunder to dunnage and ash, “Swan Vesta’s” [WH, brilliant],.. Rizla’s, dry powdery sherry?!
  • C: This casky “old peculiar” [KH] doesn’t appear to reflect Glenburgie as the others do. Overall though, as a single cask offering in its own right, it’s actually rather tasty.

Scores 83 points

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VOTES [Clockwise from left to right, we voted for our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place]

TAKE-AWAYS

From a single malt whisky enthusiast’s perspective, Glenburgie isn’t particularly interesting in its own right. The distillery is simply a workhorse for blend, much like Allt-a-Bhainne, Auchroisk, Aultmore, Balmenach, Blair Athol, Braeval, Cragganmore, Dailuaine, Dalmunach, Dufftown, Glen Keith, Linkwood,… and the list goes on. The new Dalmunach distillery, for example, far from being a new distillery for the single malt whisky map, has been built to supply spirit~whisky for the Indian market.

Glenburgie’s narrative is one of consistency, quality control, and maintaining [and increasing] sales globally of blended Scotch – and it’s a tightly controlled and complex model. After all, the second largest producer of spirits worldwide – 80 million bottles of Ballantine’s sold in 2018 – isn’t going to take any risks/chances, especially in the interest of a few flavour chasers [or is it?: WS]. Tristan tells us Chivas hold weekly controlled consistency tastings to ensure the profile of its spirit/whisky and therefore their Scotch blends across the range, remain the same. Every Tuesday morning, a consistency taster will take a sample batch from every applicable [Chivas] distillery, and compare them against controlled sensory samples – all served in cobalt glasses on a Lazy Susan. There’s no room for change, but perhaps the story of blends isn’t one of quantity over quality, but quality-control of quantity.

We learn/are reminded that different countries enjoy different blended expressions, that certain styles that suit different cultures/geographical locations, that stock varies not only at different airports within the same country, but in different terminals – Heathrow terminal #5 receives & serves different travellers & markets compared to terminals 1 & 2. In the Asian & US markets [for example], competitive drinkers/buyers – bettering the last dram/oldest bottle=kudos – are pushing ’boutiquey’ whisky demand. Discernment is out the window.

Beyond Glenburgie, we also discuss the temporary loss of Glenlivet 12yo in favour of the Founders Reserve. It wasn’t that Glenlivet didn’t have enough stock for the 12yo. Apparently, the move was taken to protect the future supply of the 18 & 25yo. We hear that sales of the relaunched 12yo aren’t yet in line with sales previous to the withdrawal. I wonder why? Perhaps single malt enthusiasts felt betrayed, saw their beloved 12’s NAS replacement as a cynical move? Perhaps customers went elsewhere and have yet to return? Perhaps many customers are happy enough with the Founder’s Reserve? As it turns out, the Founder’s Reserve has been a good seller for Pernod, more so than the re-introduced 12yo.

Is it the best of times, worse of times?, I ask, clumsily. Answer: it’s positives all round. Last word goes to Whiskysponge:

There is always more whisky. There is always another bottle. And there are more companies increasingly looking to prioritise drinkers, a move on the part of retailers and bottlers that I suspect could go some way to redress balance to some degree. There is a pretty bright, messy, exciting whisky decade ahead of us that should be cause for keen anticipation‘. 

Thanks to Tristan, Will, and SWAG for a fascinating/enlightening evening.

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END

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