Saturday, October 31, 2015

Glen Elgin, 16 year

stats: single malt Scotch, Speyside, 58.5%, $110

While I was exploring the whisky bars of Montreal earlier this year and making tasting notes for what would eventually become a three part series of posts on those establishments, I ended up including several whiskies that aren’t available in the U.S. One of those, Glen Elgin 12 year, was a single malt that I knew very little about until I did some research on it after the fact. I was pretty excited when I realized that this bottling was primarily distributed in Europe and that it wasn’t exported to the States at all. I also discovered that it is the only regularly available official bottling from Glen Elgin.

Then, as I was working on the relevant post, something caught my eye when I looked over a picture of the whisky list from Else’s. Not only did they too have the 12 year Glen Elgin (I had tasted it at Le Boudoir), they also had a 16 year listed. The price for a drink wasn’t too bad at $17 and I had a feeling this might be somewhat of a rare bird. It wasn’t listed on the SAQ website anymore, which means the bar was unlikely to get another bottle, so it went to the top of my list of whiskies to try next time I was in the city.

That “next time” happened a few days ago when I travelled up to Montreal for a Kilchoman tasting (details on that coming soon). I had done enough digging to learn that this was a fairly limited, cask strength bottling from several years ago which had been aged in European oak Sherry casks. I’m pretty confident in saying that the 12 year bottling (at 43%) is aged primarily, if not exclusively, in Bourbon barrels, so I expected this expression would be quite different. Needless to say, Else’s was my first stop after checking into the hotel.

The nose shows ripe fruit, stewed berries and subtle butterscotch. The aromas are actually somewhat restrained in spite of the high proof.
It is, however, much bigger on the palate. There’s big Sherry fruit and some sweetness right up front with a touch of vanilla. It expands and evolves as it progresses with some grain notes joining the fray as the heat and bold flavors vie for dominance.
Intense spice notes, vanilla bean and butterscotch amongst them, come to the fore as it moves into the finish which is incredibly long.

The 12 year by comparison (yes, I did follow up with one) is brighter, more floral and shows more stone fruit, less berry fruit and less spice. Once again, this is great example of extra age and sherry cask maturation taking a single malt whose house style I’m somewhat indifferent toward and really transforming it into something special. The higher proof of a cask strength bottling never hurts either.

In my review of Glen Elgin 12 year I mentioned that it had been available for about 15 years. That wasn’t completely accurate. There was a 12 year bottling from the distillery, also at 43%, available in the 1970’s. It continued on into the 1980’s, though with a revised label design. The 12 year seems to have gone away in the 1990’s, but there was a non-age stated bottling at 43% for the Japanese market during at least part of that decade. The official 12 year, still at 43%, came back as part of the Flora & Fauna range around 2001. Then it moved to the Hidden Malts range for a few years before finally becoming part of the Classic Malts in 2005.

There have been a number of independent bottlings of Glen Elgin over the years, but those are fairly rare. Equally hard to come by (and unavailable in the U.S.) are the few limited releases that the distillery has put out in addition to their mainstay 12 year. As far as I can tell, the following are the only other official bottlings to date.

There were three bottlings that were only given to staff and friends of the distillery, but some of those have ended up on the secondary market so they are worth mentioning. Each was likely a single cask bottling, so probably 200 to 400 bottles of each was produced. In 1988 there was the Manager’s Dram 15 year old at 60.2%, in 1990 there was a 14 year old Christmas bottling at 43%, and in 1993 there was a Manager’s Dram 16 year old at 60%.

In 2000 they released a special Centenary bottling to mark the occasion of the distillery’s first 100 years of operation (Glen Elgin was founded in 1898, but production didn’t commence until May of 1900). This was a 19 year old at 60% and only 750 bottles were produced.

In 2003 they bottled a limited edition 32 year old. It was marked as being distilled in 1971 and was at the relatively low cask strength of 42.3%. Just 1500 bottles were produced.

The 16 year old that is the subject of this post was bottled in 2008, at 58.5%. It is much more plentiful than the other limited releases, with 9954 bottle produced, but still pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. I was lucky to find this seven years after its release.

The only other official bottling I could confirm was from the Manager’s Choice series, which showcased a single cask from each of Diageo’s 27 functioning malt distilleries at the time. The one representing Glen Elgin was bottled at 61.1% in 2009. It carried no age statement, but was distilled in 1998. The rejuvenated European oak cask produced 535 bottles.

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