KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 12

12 12 2016

Nearly halfway through Whisky Advent, team; hang in there.  At this stage in the calendar, the whiskies inside the little cardboard doors, like all of us, get inexorably older.  Tonight’s 18 Year Glengoyne Single Malt is the oldest whisky to date, narrowly beating out Day 1’s boss Tomatin 17 Year.  It’s also another “Glen” whisky to add to calendar lore, joining (at least) Day 10’s Glenmorangie, Glenfarclas, personal favourite Glendronach and Glenglassaugh on the ever-growing list.  Glengoyne is located in the Highlands, a half hour out from Glasgow, has been around for almost 200 years, and prepares all its whiskies according to its six guiding principles:

  1. No Peat – All whiskies are unpeated, in part because there’s no peat in the soils around the distillery and in part because they don’t believe in “hiding” flavour or cask impurities behind peat (note to all Islay distillers:  these are their words, not mine).
  2. Slow Stills – Glengoyne repeatedly announces that they use the slowest distillation process in all of Scotland to coax complex flavours out of their whiskies.
  3. Sherry Casks – Sigh.  I will give the distillery credit for commitment, however, as they recently solved a potential supply problem by taking over their own barrel production at the forest stage.  They cut down the oaks, have them air-dried for THREE YEARS, send them to Jerez to be filled with sherry and then route them to Glasgow.
  4. Careful Maturation – All barrels are aged in temperature-controlled conditions and without overcrowding.
  5. No Added Colour – Part of the reason for air-drying the barrels for so long is that they’re ready and eager to suck up the sherry they’re then filled with, which after oxidative aging (in Oloroso’s case) can darken considerably, leaving the wood prepped for natural colour transfer to the whisky.  No caramel colour needed.
  6. Tradition – Because six principles sound better than five, I guess?  The sixth principle is that Glengoyle always follows its founding principles…but presumably they would still do this if this wasn’t its own standalone principle.  Not so sure I buy Principle 6.

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This 18 Year embodiment of the 6(ish) principles clocks in at $130 and a surprisingly low 43% abv – in the current whisky world, 46% seems to be the new 40%.  I spent a few minutes smelling this whisky trying to pull more out of a somewhat muted nose, which on paper comes across as impressive – toffee, candied pumpkin, fig, baked apple, leather, sandpaper – but which has the volume turned down to 4, making you have to work for it.  I was not prepared for the fiery alcoholic jolt that leads off the palate, especially at 43%, which makes the whisky start off sharp and sort of sour and mandates a generous dose of water to even it out.  Rhubarb, marmalade, matchsticks, burnt toast and pepper gradually emerge out of the booze, trailing into a lean, papery finish.  This tastes almost spiky or prickly, the opposite of what you’d expect of something that’s mellowed (in climate-managed spacious conditions, no less) for the better part of two decades.  With all apologies to Glengoyne, this was decidedly not my favourite; hopefully tomorrow’s halfway point will start steering us towards home on a slightly happier note.

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