Spirits of Calgary: GlenAllachie @ Buchanan’s Chop House

16 09 2018

By Tyler Derksen

It is not often that I get an opportunity to try whisky that hasn’t hit the local market yet, but when such an opportunity arises, you know I’m going to take it.  This past Wednesday I had the privilege of sampling a group of whiskies from scotch distiller GlenAllachie which will be hitting the Alberta market for the first time this month.  The tasting was hosted at Buchanan’s Chop House, a fitting venue given its substantial whisky collection, and was presented by Alasdair Stevenson of GlenAllachie Distillers Company.

The GlenAllachie Distillery

The “GlenAllachie” lettering was created by a stone-carver and connects the distillery and its brand to the ancient rock formations near which the distillery was built.

GlenAllachie, from the Gaelic for “Valley of the Rocks”, has a relatively short history, especially when compared to its other Scottish cousins.  Located in the heart of Speyside near Aberlour, it was built in 1967 by William Delmé-Evans (who also built Tullibardine, Jura and Macduff) with production commencing in 1968.  The distillery’s design is largely gravity-fed, which allows for the use of far less energy than a conventional distillery; while such an initiative may be more common now in 2018, it was certainly  far less so 40 years ago.  GlenAllachie’s production continued until 1985, at which point it, like so many other casualties of worldwide recession and excess production, was briefly mothballed.  Fortunately, that period of inactivity didn’t last and Campbell Distillers, later part of global beverage behemoth Pernod Ricard, took over and reopened the doors in 1989.  For much of its history, GlenAllachie’s production has contributed to various blends, including Chivas, Ballentines and other prominent blended whiskies.  It is only now, under new ownership, that the distillery is finally releasing a line of single-malt distillery bottlings.

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In 2017, three whisky industry veterans — Billy Walker, Graham Stevenson and Trisha Savage — purchased the distillery, making GlenAllachie independently Scottish owned, which is a far rarer designation than one would guess.  The involvement of entrepreneur Billy Walker is cause for excitement and optimism, as he comes to GlenAllachie after reinvigorating both BenRiach and GlenDronach, which are each amazing distilleries (as those that followed Pop & Pour’s coverage of Kensington Wine Market’s Whisky Advent Calendar the past few years will know).  In addition to the distillery itself, the new owners of GlenAllachie also purchased a considerable library of casks dating back to the 70s, which now permits GlenAllachie to release single malt bottlings with age statements right out of the gate while they find their own signature characteristics and flavour.

Of particular interest to me, Alasdair Stevenson advised that in April of this year, GlenAllachie began production of their first peated whisky!  It is targeted to have a phenol-count (that part of the whisky that gives it the peaty/smoky flavour) of 80ppm.  For comparison, Islay’s Lagavulin is usually around 38ppm and Ardbeg, known to be extremely heavily peated, has a ppm count in the 50s.  At 80ppm, GlenAllachie’s future whisky will no doubt have a mind-warpingly pronounced smoky flavour that I can’t wait to try (unfortunately, I’m going to have to).

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old

The afternoon started with GlenAllachie’s 12 Year Old bottling.  Bottled at 46% (as were the 18 Year Old and 25 Year Old that follow) and aged initially in first-fill bourbon casks followed by Oloroso Sherry, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, and Virgin American Oak barrels, the 12 Year Old is positioned to be GlenAllachie’s flagship bottling.

 

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I will admit that Speyside is not my usual go-to when hunting for a dram, but I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity and intensity of GlenAllachie.  The nose presented heather, honey, apple and stewed pear.  The palate was heavier than expected, with a slightly oily mouthfeel that supported the more intense flavours.  The 12 Year Old is quite dry, with notes of honey, raisin and oak.  The influence of the sherry casks was not as pronounced as I expected with, the virgin oak cask characteristics being refreshingly much more prominent.

GlenAllachie 18 Year Old

The nose on the next whisky up the ladder was more complex than its 12 Year Old brother, with attractive and homey aromas of vanilla, butterscotch and baking spices.  The sherry casks are much more apparent here and the palate is consequently nutty and features heavy accents of raisin, honey, spices and wisps of dark chocolate.  While perhaps more intense and layered than the 12 Year Old, I found myself preferring the younger whisky over the 18 Year, and I got the sense that this was not an uncommon reaction.  Perhaps I am suffering from a bit of sherry fatigue given the relative ubiquity of sherry-casked bottlings on the market, but regardless, the 18 Year Old still displays considerable quality and will certainly appeal to those that favour all that Oloroso Sherry casks bring to a whisky.

GlenAllachie 25 Year Old

It is here that we come to the undisputed star of the lineup.  When the glass of the 25 Year Old was placed in front of me I was immediately struck by its deep mesmerizing golden colour.  I had a hard time taking my eyes off of it.  As I look back at my notes, I actually used an excited expletive when comparing the whisky in my glass to liquid gold.

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Actual colour!  No Instagram filters needed.

Bringing the glass to my nose, I was struck instantly by its intense fruity smell.  Most apparent to me were smells of apple and tropical fruit, as well as a sweet jam or marmalade that begged to be tasted.  The palate realized on this sweet tropical fruit promise resulting in an undeniably pleasant, lengthy and satisfying sip.  After swallowing and slowly exhaling, the finish added to the experience, adding hits of fruitcake and a hint of sweet baking spice.  Although the shelf price of this bottle will likely exceed my budget, if I see the 25 Year Old offered by the ounce on a menu in any restaurant in the city, I will be sorely tempted to splurge at the end of a meal.

GlenAllachie 10 Year Old

It might seem unusual to finish a tasting with the youngest offering; however, unlike the previous three bottles, the 10 Year Old is bottled at cask-strength, in this case 57.1% ABV.  After the heavenly dram that was the 25 Year Old, there was every possibility that this least-aged of the group would be disappointing by comparison.  That was emphatically not the case.  I love it when a whisky defies my expectations and takes me someplace I do not expect, and that is precisely what happened here.  On the nose, I was taken aback by how floral and vibrant this whisky was. It also had a sweetness that was absent from the 12 Year Old, with scents of honey, shortbread/sugar cookie, caramel and vanilla, creating what was, to me, the best nose of the tasting.  The palate was smoother than its 57.1% alcohol would suggest, with silky honeyed and fresh baking flavours following the nose, along with a surprising twist of rose hip as a glorious accent.  If the 25 Year Old is going to be relegated to special occasions, I can see the 10 Year Old being a regular inhabitant of my scotch shelf.

Any Wednesday that sees me sitting in a restaurant drinking whisky instead of at the office writing memos is a good one.  Getting to sample a quality lineup of whisky not yet anywhere to be found in Calgary is even better.  This was my first taste of GlenAllachie, but I strongly doubt that it will be my last.

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