Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-geery) was founded in 1797 by Thomas Simpson, making it one of Scotland's oldest whisky distilleries that is still in operation. Glenturret is the oldest having been opened in 1775. The original name was Glengarioch (the Garioch is a fertile strip of local farmland that is well known for producing top quality barley) before changing to Glen Garioch in the 1930s. It is located in Oldmeldrum, a small town in the Highlands, which is close to Aberdeen. The distillery is Scotland's most easterly and has an annual production capacity of approximately one million litres.
Glen Garioch is currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory. They took control in 1994 and one year later, they decided to temporarily close the distillery (this is called mothballing - the process where a distillery is closed but all the equipment remains intact and ready to go again, when required). Until then, Glen Garioch had produced a lightly peated style of whisky but when it reopened in 1997, Suntory decided to stop this practice and go for a non peaty style.
The range of Glen Garioch single malt is small and was revamped and repackaged in 2009. The Founder's Reserve and a 12 years old form the main part of the range and these are joined by a number of younger and older vintage expressions, of which this 1991 Vintage is one. These 'vintages' are released in small batches - this 1991 is Batch no.38 is the latest bottling, which comes at an alcoholic strength of 54.7% ABV and has been maturing in American ex-bourbon cask for 19 years. It should cost around £65-70 from specialist whisky retailers.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a bright golden yellow and the nose is intriguing and fresh, with plenty of aromas vying for your attention. Initially there are sweet notes of vanilla, toffee and particularly honey. These are quickly joined by robust cereal grain aromas, reminiscent of oatcake biscuits, some fresh green apple and dried grasses, especially hay. The combination is very pleasant and is complimented by a hint of soft, gentle peat smoke, which has a lovely floral heathery note. On the palate, this is equally as intriguing as the nose and follows a similar path. The sweet notes (think of vanilla and honey especially) hit the taste buds first, but are quickly joined by bittersweet cereals and plenty of dry, oaky wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). There is a yeasty, almost biscuit-like flavour that is in the background. Again, these characteristics are complimented well by soft, heathery peat smoke and a tangy, fresh citrus note that is reminiscent of orange oil. The mix of notes - the robust cereals, the sweetness, the delicate smoke and the tangy citrus - adds a good depth and complexity to the palate. The finish is quite dry and long, with plenty of oak, cereal and wood spice holding on to the inside of your mouth.
What's the verdict?
This Glen Garioch is a lovely and complex whisky. It benefits from prolonged time in the glass, as it opens up more and more. Initially, it appears robust, grainy and a little brash but time reveals a more subtle set of characteristics, which benefit the whisky greatly and add wonderful depth. The bittersweet nature of it may not be to everyone's taste but it is worth persisting with if you initially don't think that you like it. This should be tried and given time, you will find a splendid whisky from an under rated distillery.