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Glen Garioch (pronounced: glen GEAR-ee) is part modern, respectable highland distillery and part peaty legend. All spirit at Glen Garioch was heavily peated until around 1975 and the split in character of bottlings from before and after this date can be so striking that they may as well be from two different distilleries. The best examples can be world class, indeed some of the best Glen Gariochs are considered among the greatest whiskies ever bottled. There havent been and expressions distilled since the mid seventies that have managed to attain similar heights but nevertheless Glen Garioch remains a fine, full flavoured highland malt.
Glen Garioch Distillery
Water Source: Percock Hill and Coutens Farm
Capacity: 1 Million Litres
1955-1975: The Peaty Years
Glen Garioch was a heavily peated malt distilled using direct firing and worm tubs for many years longer than fellow distilleries. This is evidenced in the style of the bottlings that date from before 1975. The oldest bottling is the official 1958 46yo, a stunningly beautiful dram that shows how peat can develop into all kinds of delicate phenolic complexities when allowed to attain great age. This is closely followed by the 37yo Bicentenary bottled in 1997, another gorgeous example of long aged peated distillate. However the best Glen Gariochs are those that date from the mid sixties to early seventies. Official bottlings of it at 8, 12, 21 and 25 years of age are usually all fantastic, showing rich phenols, menthol, farmyard characters, immense oiliness, thick, simmering peat and stunningly lush underlying fruitiness alongside all manner of wonderful sub complexities.
Thankfully there are many examples of Glen Garioch from this time, examples in sherry and bourbon at a variety of ages can be found. There are too many to go through them all here but some of the most notorious are as follows. The official sherry casks bottled in the nineties that were all distilled in either 1968 or 1969 are virtually black in colour and offer up an astonishingly rich cocktail of sherry and peat. Several expressions from the dynamite year that was 1971 are epic including an aged example for Oddbins bottled in the mid nineties. Also a 1972 13yo for Samaroli along with a 1971/1997, a fino matured 1975 13yo and, the greatest of them all, a 1971 black sherry 9yo, again for Samaroli. These all show the kind of deft mix of peat, medicine, fruit and oak that only the greatest distillates seem to attain. If you ever get that chance to try some of these old Glen Gariochs then do yourself a favour and go for it, they are in a class by themselves.
1975-Present Day: Transition To Fruit
Although the peat tailed off sharply after 1975 the continued old style production ensured the distillate remained oily, fruit laden, waxy and herbaceous. It wasnt until the stills were converted to gas firing it 1982 that things really started to settle down and Glen Garioch became something of a more modern style highland malt. There are still many fine bottlings of it though and the house style remains fulsome, malty, fruity and complex. It retains its ability to work well in both bourbon and sherry with several dark sherry examples being quite fantastic showing big notes of meat, coal, earth, dark preserved fruits and nuts. Some of the recent official bottlings seem a little lacking given the distilleries provenance but there are many fine independent examples to be found and Glen Garioch is usually quite a reliable malt to boot, with good levels of consistency across the board. There are very few bad examples of it to be found.
In an ideal world the stills would change back to direct firing and they would begin producing peated malt again but this is obviously not going to happen. Whats for certain in that Glen Garioch remains a delicious and consistent whisky, one that should please most drinkers who look for flavour, texture and complexity in their drams.