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The term 'hidden gem' is tossed around far too easily when discussing distilleries these days. However, it could have been invented for Glenugie (pronounced: glen-YOO-gee). More than any other distillery, Glenugie balances almost invisibility levels of obscurity with a secret cult understanding of how brilliant its distillate could be. One of only a handful of truly coastal Highland distilleries, it remains today a prized gem in the glass of many whisky lovers.
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit
Owners: Whitbread & Co Ltd
1956-1983: A Quiet Highlander
After a very quirky history, which was marked by several periods of closure and changes of ownership, Glenugie was purchased by the company that became Long John Distillers in 1956. They were quick off the mark to make changes. Glenugie was quickly modernised with a second pair of stills, shell condensers, steam heating and, in 1963, the floor maltings were decommissioned due to the demands of the double production levels. Despite these changes the make at Glenugie remained remarkably full and old style.
The earliest bottlings available are those by Cadenheads distilled in 1959 and bottled at 18 and 19 years of age. The 18yo is exceptionally old style, unsexy highland whiskies, full on oily, farmy, coastal characteristics meet big fruit and minerals with quite an intriguing austerity. From then on there is a smattering of bottlings from various bottlers, the best of which has to be the Italian Import ones for Sestante under the 'Bird Labelsâ€™, these are full sherried Glenugies with huge complexity and full on coastal immensity.
Sadly the distillery was closed in 1983 along with many other great distilleries. The latter distillations were not quite as bright as earlier ones but there are still great bottlings to be found from Douglas Laing and Signatory. If you get a chance to sample some of the older distillations of Glenugie then you should take the time to do it because it really is a unique drinking experience.