It’s estimated that there’s somewhere in the region of 20 million casks of whisky maturing on Scottish soil. I’m sure somewhere you’ll find an infographic showing how many times you could reach the moon if they were stacked head to head – regardless, it’s a staggering number. And of these 20 million casks, some 90% previously held bourbon. Ex-bourbon barrels have become the dominant cask type – but historically, this was far from the case. Way back when there was an abundance of sherry and wine casks (not quite the same as the ones you’ll see today). Similarly, there were times when US distillers were not mandated to solely utilise virgin American oak – and the symbiotic relationship which now provides much of Scotland’s cask inventory was not yet established. Ex-bourbon has seen a remarkable growth over the past 100 years. And, I’d posit that’s likely why it’s significance for Scotch distilling is often underappreciated.
There’s been a schism around experimentation in Scotch Malt whisky for much longer than I’ve been drinking it. In one camp, those who vehemently stand by Scotch single malt being the preserve of imperative traditional methods that safeguard the future quality and integrity of the spirit. In the other, those who believe that the way forward is one of flexibility and in some cases challenging the underlying rules around what whisky is and how it’s produced. The truth of the matter, like so many things, lies somewhere in the middle-ground – an industry protected by laws, but not fettered by them – of innovation for true advancement, rather than innovation simply for innovation’s sake.
Whisky enthusiasts often start their malt journeys exploring the shelves of their local supermarket for reasonably priced entry-level whiskies. Many soon graduate from this to seek out older, limited and generally more complicated (and therefore expensive) expressions. But, it’s wise to keep an eye on your local shelves – there’s still plenty of quality hidden amongst the own-brand blends to be had.
The Speyside distillery Glen Moray is located in Elgin and has been in operation since 1897. Drawing its waters from the nearby River Lossie, the distillery produces a wide variety of whiskies divided into four main ranges: Elgin Classic, Elgin Heritage, Elgin Reserve and Elgin Presitige. The affable Elgin-born Master Distiller Graham Coull has been with the distillery since 2005 having previously worked with William Grant. Coull has been at the forefront of the development of the new ranges (including the recently released Glen Moray Mastery) and is regularly seen out and about worldwide (and on social media) extoling the virtues of the distillery and its range of interesting expressions.
There’s been a lot of chatter online this week about rising prices. It is unfortunately the world we live in – demand soars, supplies dwindle, prices go up. But, at the same time, some producers are freely using the situation exploitatively, with percentage rises that would make your annual utility bill increase look positively reasonable. Rumours abound that several much loved (and commonly available) expressions are soon to see hefty (50%+) price increases serves as depressing realism that as much as us enthusiasts love the whisky world, it is, at the end of the day, still just a business. I do hope that some balance can be restored soon so that future generations of malt lovers can discover a market where a decent bottle of whisky doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Perhaps this is all rather too gloomy, especially so for a Friday. So let’s spend our time today with a distillery that in many ways bucks this trend – Glen Moray.
Last Friday I ended my week in Speyside with a visit to Glen Moray in Elgin. Whilst I sadly missed Distillery Manager Graham Coull and his wife Fay (who were travelling down to London that afternoon), I was wise in saving the distillery as the last stop on my trip with plenty of time in hand - there's an incredible amount to see and learn, some of which you'll rarely see at other sites.
The second of Glen Moray’s Elgin Curiosity Collection offers up a rum finished Speyside whisky – but as opposed to the much better-known molasses-based spirit – this expressions utilises rhum agricole which is produced from sugarcane juice. The style originated in the French Caribbean – particularly Martinque where there are presently 14 distilleries producing agricole under the AOC designation.
Towards the tail-end of 2017 I read a report from Majestic Wine highlighting that the sales of dry sherry had increased by over 25% in a 12 month period. Taken in isolation this factoid might sounds like an industry undergoing some form of modern renaissance - however when you consider that overall bottle sales had fallen to 10m in the UK in 2015 (down from 22m just a decade earlier) you start to realise that the days of supping Bristol Cream and Harvey’s before dinner are now a generation behind us. Nevertheless, despite some signs that drier, premium varieties (such a fino and manzanilla) are crawling back out of the doldrums, there are still some common misconceptions that link the fortunes of the sherry industry directly into those of whisky.
The latest Glen Moray Curiosity sees new Head of Whisky Creation Kirstie McCallum pick up where Graham Coull left off which an expression which from the outset doesn’t sound quite as experimental at the two previous editions. Whilst madeira is not a frequent cask fill there are plenty of examples of madeira matured whisky that have been produced over the last few years. However, look under the hood and you’ll see that this Glen Moray edition *is* a little different – madeira’s use for maturation is principally as a finishing cask. Here, in the third Glen Moray Curiosity we see its utilised for a rather rare full-term maturation.
Opening our account of the September 2022 SWMW outturn with a trip to Glen Moray. This younger example has been matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel before being bottled at 58.% ABV.
We’ve had a few SMWS bottlings from Glen Moray recently – this one is a bit different as its been matured for 10 years in a 1st fill wine barrique. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Over to Speyside for a 10 year old Glen Moray drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel that was laid down on 26th November 2007. Young & Spritely profile.
Full term maturation in a 1st fill ex-red wine barrique for this Glen Moray. View on SMWS
A 1st fill wine barrique has been utilised full-term for this 11 year old Glen Moray. View on SMWS
Sherry alert – this Glen Moray has spent its entire 11 years in a 2nd fill ex-oloroso butt.
Wine cask time in the form of 14 year old Glen Moray that’s been matured in a refill Chardonnary barrique. Spicy & Dry profile.
Over to Elgin for another Glen Moray – this time in a ‘custom barrel’ – hardly the most useful of descriptions. This spent 13 years in an ex-wine barrel (Chenin Blanc) before it’s 24 month ‘custom’ finish – the bottle check-in sheet (which I managed a sneaky glance at) suggested some form of toasted/charred cask as the finish.
Interesting stuff here. A Glen Moray matured for 15 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel and then re-racked into a 1st fill ex-IPA barrel for some extra maturation.
Sherry time in the form of this 21 year old Glen Moray that has spent its life in a refill ex-oloroso butt. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Over to Speyside for a 22 year old Glen Moray that’s been matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Juicy, Oak & Vanilla profile.
A Fata Morgana is an optical illusion caused by light being bent through layers of air with different temperatures. Often looking like castles or ships, some have suggested that the folklore tale of the Flying Dutchman might well have been a Fata Morgana. In terms of the whisky, it’s a 23 year old that’s been matured in a 1st fill toasted hogshead. View on SMWS
Starting things off in Elgin with a Glen Moray that was laid down in October 1995 and left to mature in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel for 23 years.
This month’s oldest offering comes in the form of a Glen Moray draw from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. 23 years is quite the long time for a 1st fill.
We commence this outturn over in Elgin with a Glen Moray which was laid down in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel in October of 1995 and matured for 24 years.
Quarter century Glen Moray that has slumbers for 23 years in 1st fill ex-bourbon and then been given an additional maturation in a 1st fill ex-sauternes barrique. Interesting choice.
A very well-aged Glen Moray that’s been matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead for 29 years before being finished in a 1st fill sauternes barrique. Old & Dignified profile.