Well aren’t I lucky?! I got an email the other day telling me that I had been chosen to be a Glen Garioch ‘Drambassador’. “What is that?” I hear you cry. In answer to your question, it means that I have been given a unique opportunity, along with only 19 others, to sample some of their new, gorgeous, unreleased single malt whisky. Did I mention how lucky I was?! What I forgot to mention was that I don’t know anything about this liquid, apart from its ABV. Oh… and there’s one more thing. If my tasting notes match those of Rachel Barrie (Glen Garioch’s Master Blender) then I might be lucky enough to join her for a trip to the distillery. I couldn’t think of anything better.
If you follow me on twitter (@mattveira), then you may know how much I enjoy a drop of Glen Garioch. I was lucky enough to come across them in the last few years and I’ve enjoyed a number of their expressions since – especially the 12 year old, 1995 and 1986 vintages. So when a snazzy gift box arrived on my doorstep, I was intrigued to say that least. On opening the chest of goodies, I discovered not only a sample of the mystery dram, but some pairing items (jar of jam and a bar of dark chocolate studded with crystallised ginger) and a scroll containing a number of clues, set to help me on this treacherous task.
I spent some time investing some of these clues, mostly having little luck. It wasn’t until I started tasting the dram, that ideas started forming. Let’s start with the gorgeous little drams tasting notes:
Colour: Beautiful dark golden amber, with a slight red/pink haze
Nose: Glen Garioch profile obvious here with a slight spice and grassy note with some veiled sweetness. Fresh, fragrant and sweet. Manuka honey before the fruit hits – blackcurrant, plums, berries and toffee apples. Nicely sweet, with a slight sour note too. Grassy/heathery notes making more of an appearance with some vanilla ice cream. Some oakiness leaps out before the chocolate comes to play – reminiscent of fruit & nut. Later, there is a heavier oak and spice with flashes of fudge, raisins and menthol right at the end. This is nicely complex whilst retaining its balanced quality.
Palate: Rich, sweet and relatively thick, coating the mouth nicely. Fruits at the forefront with strong blackcurrant and sweet berries; a slight fruit cake quality here. Similar to the nose, the spice grows filling the mouth beautifully, balanced with some woodiness. The rich chocolate really starts weaving in and out of the oakiness beautifully with some powerful nuttiness. Moderately peppery, with a hint of ginger (helped by the crystallised ginger), and touch of bitter tannins. The initial creamy sweetness gives way to a slight sour acidity with tangy apples. Finally, an oily/silky mouthfeel with a smidgen of mint and citrus astringency leaving the mouth feeling pretty fresh/clean.
Finish: Long, spicy, velvety and warming. I find it quite smooth and creaming with very few rough edges. An oaky and nutty character continues throughout, even flashes of liquorice and orange. Moderately dry, but overwhelmingly lovely.
Comments: A wonderfully crafted whisky. Interesting, individual and intriguing. For me it hit the spot, providing the smooth character I enjoy, coupled with a beguiling interchangeable disposition. A chameleon of a whisky. If I were to guess an age, I would go for 14/15 years.
The clues we were given:
- The entire batch of this expression was distilled one summers day when Scotland took part in a global sporting event. The country where this event took place is closely linked to our tasting notes.
- Our whisky is a perfect marriage of two regions and you may find our whisky’s robust structure and complex flavours remind you of something else.
- The casks were previously stored in a cave 100km from the Atlantic Ocean.
- The oak shares its name with a breed of cattle.
One of my other loves, away from the whisky and music worlds, is sport. So i scoured my brain, noting down each ‘global sporting event’: Olympics, Rugby World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Football World Cup?! I realised quite quickly that the Rugby World Cup is usually held during the winter, so that was one down. Scotland don’t compete in The Olympics on their own either, leaving me with two remaining ideas. My initial thought was The Commonwealth Games, coinciding with Scotland hosting later this year. Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, Canada and New Zealand were all possibilities, with NZ (great wine producing nation) being my favourite. Annoyingly, I discovered that they held it in January. I decided to go down the final route and look at the Football World Cup. Scotland qualified for the ’90 WC in Italy and the ’98 WC in France (I didn’t think it could have been earlier than 1990!) Remembering that the ’98 French World Cup was held during June & July (I remember watching it), coupled the fact that there is no 1998 Vintage in the Glen Garioch range made me prick up my ears. I might be on to something.
A perfect marriage between two regions, initially made me think of two whisky regions. It wasn’t until I thought that the French connection could mean that the casks could be from another region? If this is the case, France not only has a plethora of wine regions but copious spirits too; Brandy, Armagnac, Cognac etc… sadly I’m no expert in any of these either. But this could explain some of the rich complexity and interesting notes to the whisky.
This was when my four years of degree research payed off – ie Wikipedia helped out. I narrowed it down to two choices:
- The Bordeaux region of France is precisely 100km to Soulac-sur-Mer right on the French coast
- The town of Cognac is around 100km to the famed La Rochelle on the French coast.
My C in French GCSE finally helped me like Mrs Smith said it would, and I remembered that “cave” in French mean “cellar”. Great!
Although I know my cattle really well *coughcough*, I’m sadly not at the age for Countryfile etc just yet! I discovered that Limousin is not only a region of France known for its oak AND breed of cattle, but Furthermore, this French Oak is particularly favoured by many including Rémy Martin (known for Cognac) for a number of years.
The chocolate, ginger and jam helped bring some of the tasting notes to mind. The chocolate matched the rich sweetness of this this whisky, but I didn’t think that France was well known for its chocolate or ginger people (oh dear). I was certain that the jam was blackcurrant, but every now and then would get a plum like note. I know that blackcurrants grow abundantly in Burgundy, especially Cassis; and discovered that Greengage (a cultivator of the European Plum), sometimes known as a sugar plum was bred in Moissac, France. We seem to be on a roll now….
For a few days I grappled with all this…. I was torn… maybe I still am! I wasn’t sure whether this whisky was aged/finished in Cognac casks due to the rich complexity involved; or Bordeaux red wine casks, due to certain tannins, blackcurrant notes and dark the red/pink colour. There are certain characteristics that remind me of a wine cask matured Bowmore I own somewhere in my cupboard. However, due to the richness and flavours reminiscent of certain brandies I’ve tasted, I won’t go with the red wine casks (watch me slap myself later!)
Conclusion: I believe that this mystery dram is a 48% 1998 Vintage, making it a strapping 15 year-old (maybe even 16, depending on the release date), aged in Cognac casks, with the use of Limousin oak. Furthermore, as I was torn between Bordeaux/Cognac, I will guess that they may have started life as Bordeaux casks before they were used to age the Coagnac. Moreover, meaning that these quality casks would have spent time in not only the Bordeaux region, but that of Gascony too; another marriage of two regions!
What a great experience this was. The whisky was sublime, challenging and exciting. The task…. pretty much the same. I may have less hair after this challenge, but it was definitely worth it. I also may be miles off with all of my guesses, but I don’t care. Glen Garioch have produced another cracker and I’m eager to discover the true identity and story behind what will turn out to be a very popular expression. Thank you to Glen Garioch for choosing me and organising this exiting task. I hope this isn’t the end of my Drambassador role. Good luck to all the other 19 #GGDrambassador’s – it’s been exciting to say the least!