Even the most superficial of look-backs into the history of whisky will reveal a remarkable, constantly alterable spirit diversity - and this should serve as a reminder that there is no end point for whisky style and no ultimate manifestation of whisky evolution. Whisky changes. Whisky *needs* to change.
I’ve long been one who argues that the average quality of whisky is much higher than it was 30 years ago. Granted so too is the price – but you’ll have to come back another day for a (d)ramble into that increasingly relevant topic. Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to find viewpoints which oppose mine. These usually take the form of either simply asserting that whisky X is not as good as it used to be (often based on no evidence other than what another commentator has espoused somewhere on the Internet) or by actually undertaking a side-by-side tasting with bottles separated by decades.
Method A is nothing more than sheep mentality. Please don’t. Method B – whilst at least much more proactive, is however still likely flawed – firstly because whisky is not entirely inert in the bottle over such extended periods of time, and more importantly - because personal taste and preference is not equitable to the opaque concept of ‘better’. Nevertheless, I daresay that any such comparison would most certainly result in whiskies which taste different. Even outside of bottle effects - inputs, production methods and mindsets have not remained the same over the past 30 years. Whisky changes.
Identical bottles created years apart should be considered within the context of time they were conceived. Single malt from the 60s – a relative rarity when compared to the vast seas of blending stock produced in this period. Single malt in the early 80s – well, depending on where it hailed from, there’s a chance that this would have been hastily dumped into what wood (refill, 3rd fill, nth fill?!) that happened to be available at the time. And this time period was certainly not remembered in its totality as a golden age for whisky. Whisky *needed* to change.
Folks increasingly look back on bottlings from these time periods as being paragons of the whisky industry, representing styles long since consigned to the dustbin of history. Only problem here is that there’s a reason many distilleries closed during the early to mid-80s – and it’s because their average quality was far from exemplar. The older whiskies that endue are the ones which deserve to be remembered fondly. But that is far from the same thing as the entire production of the industry at single period of time. Granted, many distilleries go through purple patches (mid 90s Clynelish and Ben Nevis are absolutely ‘things’), but outside of these utopian moments broad brush comparisons are often clouded by wistfulness.
None of this is to say that whiskies do not, nor have not changed over shorter period of times. They do. Or that bottlings are, as a matter of course, always better than they used to be. Many are not. However, change is a wide-ranging concept and whilst it’s exceptionally easy to simply knock on the door of one variable – “casks are just not as good as they used to be” – such an assertion is grossly simplistic.
Whisky changes because of perceived improvements in both understanding and technology – but it also changes because of opportunities and pressures within the marketplace. Some of these variable could be viewed as positive and some of them could be viewed as negative. But nevertheless, there’s a melange of parameters and tolerances at play. All pushing and pulling at the same time. The result? Some newer whiskies are viewed as improvements over their previous incarnations – and some are seen as retrograde.
But there’s one variable here which we’ve not touched on – and it’s perhaps the biggest of the lot - you.
It’s easier to pin the tail on the production donkey than it is to recognise that your palate is not a total constant throughout your life. Tastes change. What you enjoyed then, you might not enjoy quite so much now. And so when considering whether a whisky has changed more or less to your liking, it’s imperative to recognise how your whims have also changed over the same timescale. I absolutely remember whiskies that a decade ago I adored, and yet now don’t float my boat anywhere near as much. Have these whiskies changed? Quite possibly. Have my tastes and experience changed over the same timeframe? Most definitely.
And that’s a good thing. If all whiskies both stayed the same and my taste for them also stayed the same, the world would be a very boring place. Nothing stays the same forever – you included.
Today’s review subject epitomises change. Glen Garioch’s spirit style has been far from constant over the past four decades – and indeed with the recent reintroduction of floor maltings and directly fired stills – it will undoubtedly change once again. Decadent Drink’s Summer 2022 Equinox and Solstice release reflects something of a transient style within Glen Garioch’s wider journey – it is pure, chiselled and leafy – poles apart from the pre 1995 peated days and still tangential to the velvety/creaminess that one might have expected within distillates produced during the early/mid days of Beam Suntory’s ownership of the site.
The Decadent Drinks Equinox and Solstice Summer 2022 edition is composed of two 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels of Glen Garioch distilled in 2011. It has been bottled at 48.5% ABV (the same for all bottlings within the series). The release is still available to purchase from the Decadent Drinks website for £85.
Nose: Crisp and with some grape spirit shades – garden-fresh, fruity and floral. Greengade and Mirabelle plums together white grapes, cooking apple and lemon verbena. Alongside – pressed flowers, pancake batter and golden barley. The addition of water offers up a rather more alluvial experience – putty and clay with unripe banana and asides of cookie dough.
Taste: The arrival expresses natural weight with sunflower oil. Again we’re rather chiselled and grappa-like. Pear drop ethyl ester together with cut grass, hot house vines and angelica. The development offers up Rich Tea and blondie biscuits before a tangy minerality comes to the fore – along the lines of acidity and gravel. Dilution produces a very pleasant syrupy consistency with barley sugars, overt white grape juice and edges of chocolate, hay and char.
Finish: Medium in length. Citric and somewhat vegetal – lemon sponge cake drizzled with wood sap.
There’s no modern foolery within this release – indeed the whole thing feels incredibly old-style with its sights clearly focussed on the distillate profile – which packs plenty of fruit quality and oily texture. The casks here have supported rather than lead, and as such, the freshness and crispness of the Glen Garioch spirit – as it was back in 2010 - shines through brightly making for a solid summer sipper in terms of character. As a spirit style, this one is but a moment in time – once the new ‘traditionally’ produced spirit comes of age at Glen Garioch, this sharper, leafier make will, like so many others before it, be consigned to history. And whether it becomes fondly looked back on - well again, that's down to you.
Review sample provided by Decadent Drinks