For most of us, the age of the single-malt whisky we have the opportunity to drink tops out at somewhere around 18 or 21 years old. Any older than that and prices climb to the stratosphere, and, in all honesty, I find that the influence of the wood often leads to diminishing returns: Age for age’s sake doesn’t necessarily result in a better dram...often just an oakier one.
But late last year, I had my perceptions changed completely when I had the rare opportunity to explore what happens to a truly great single malt--Glenglassaugh--when its extended aging is managed with an almost monastic attention to detail.
Glenglassaugh has been distilling highland whisky since its inception in 1875--though, as is so common a story in Europe and the British Isles, it didn’t produce its elixir continuously: World wars and economic vagaries resulted in shut-downs and re-start-ups of the distilling equipment. Changes in purpose (for a time, the distillery produced whisky specifically for blending) threatened the very heritage and potential of the place. For years, it seemed as if Glenglassaugh would be forgotten.
Then, in 2007, it was purchased by a collection of whisky lovers whose intention was to begin crafting great single malts here once more. Since then, they have not only been distilling their own excellent new whiskies, but also bottling whiskies with almost unbelievable age designations.
As for these, I was skeptical at first: Decades-old single malts, while alluring in the abstract, have often disappointed me. From the very first sip, however, it became deliciously clear that these were among the finest single malt Scotch whiskies I’ve tasted.
My notes are below, beginning with the Revival bottling, which, according to the Glenglassaugh web site, is “the first Single Malt Scotch Whisky from the re-furbished Glenglassaugh Distillery.” It provided a benchmark of sorts, a more familiar style than the ancient ones that followed, to understand what Glenglassaugh was capable of.
Subtle aromas, like hay in the summertime, mingle with light butterscotch and lead to a spicy, powerful palate with hints of mineral and honey.
Glenglassaugh 26 Years Old
This is the only bottling that we tasted that’s not a single cask, but a vatting instead. It’s smooth and intense, with a beautiful velvet texture. Honey, hay, and bright pear and apple make this almost autumnal in nature. With water, a fennel note emerges, lifting it all up from the glass.
Glenglassaugh 37 Years Old
Smells almost like dessert, with creme brulee, warm brown sugar, toffee and tuille. The rich flavors of the palate show incredible complexity, with apricot, browned coconut, and toast, and a finish that reminds me of the aroma of crackling wood in a fireplace. What an amazing whisky.
Glenglassaugh 43 Years Old
Very subtle nose, almost surprisingly so given the expression of the previous bottlings. The four decades in barrel express themselves most clearly with exotic spice flavors joined by yellow and white peach and the creme filling in a napoleon. Despite all the delicious fruit here, I keep on going back to the spice, which swirls on the tongue through the minute-plus finish. Nothing short of astounding.