Posted 10 September 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
If you’re looking for a good method for improving your knowledge of a particular whisky or a particular style of whisky, comparison tastings are your friend. Whilst sometimes it can be hard on the palate, lining up a tasting which focuses on a distillate or cask type will, over time, allow your olfactory system and your tasting memory the chance to start to identify the commonalities which bind whiskies together. Granted, a pile of single casks are all going to offer different nuances, but nevertheless there will always be something (assuming you’ve picked your line-up carefully) that you can take away from such a comparison tasting.
Comparing random whiskies is not an easy thing to do – indeed, I’d recommend that before you do so (at least putting pen to paper about it) that you ensure you’ve sampled enough to be content that your public assessments hold true. You’ll always hear a small sigh from me when I read a blog which starts with “this is my first ever X…now let’s review it…conclusion = it’s not as nice as distillery Y”.
I guess we all have to start somewhere, but for palate and memory training, comparisons are, to my mind, where it’s at – they could be similar aged whiskies, similar regions, similar casks or even sister casks. The world is your oyster. Indeed, the smaller the variance in the ‘ingredients’ the greater the variances in the glass in terms of you being able to commit differences to memory. Over time you will develop a template – a template you can apply when looking at those same whiskies in isolation. It’s not easy, nor quick. But it’s worth putting in the time. Least of all it gives a purpose to all those hoarded Glencairns.
So, in no surprise, today’s review is a comparison tasting. Two Glengoynes, both 17 years of age. Both likely (though not certainly in the case of the Boutique-y) distilled in 2002, and both with a degree of sherry maturation. One is a distillery OB limited edition available only on site as part of a hand-filling tour experience. The other, an independently bottled vatting.
Bottle Name: Glengoyne 2002 17 year old No.1 Warehouse
Glengoyne’s higher end tours offer visitors the opportunity to enter the distillery’s No.1 bonded warehouse and draw a dram using a copper dog directly from either an ex-bourbon cask (somewhat unusual given Glengoyne’s focus on sherry) or a more typical sherry puncheon. Following a relaxed sampling in the distillery manager’s house, you can bottle either (or both from an additional £50) in a 20cl bottle to take home with you. A particularly fun memory to take away from your time at the attractive distillery.
The current No.1 Warehouse puncheon (as of last week!) is cask #560 which is a 17 year old that’s been maturing in oloroso since 2002. The ABV (which no doubt needs to be re-measured periodically) is 58.5%. £50 for a 20cl seems quite high (and likely you’re paying pretty much the same price, possibly even relatively more when you factor out the tour cost). It equates to £6.25 per 25ml dram.
Nose: Fullsome ripe and fresh sherry – apple crumble, plums and dates alongside dried berries and glace cherries. Bright toasted cereals push through the top note fruits and bring with them sheened leather and cedarwood – aromatic and with gentle ginger spicing. Running throughout, a rich bed of butterscotch sauce and a scattering of pan toasted almond flakes. Reduction introduces a sense of leafiness with fir cones, alongside additional sweetness from Battenberg cake.
Taste: A big and robust arrival that reinforces the high ABV. Red apples coated in fairground toffee sit with a combination of freshly picked red berries, dried berries and stewed berries – reduced down to a jammy consistency, but still packed full of vibrant juiciness. Burnt butter and walnut nuttiness is joined by marzipan whilst orange liqueurs are livened by a sponge cake which has sat in the over just a little bit too long. Spicing is much more piquant now with nutmeg and cinnamon mixed with a spoon full of cocoa powder. The addition of water transforms the texture from high viscosity down to silkiness – at 58.5% there’s some room to manoeuvre here. Baked brioche and cream buns are sweetened by soft fudge, whilst an array of raspberry, cranberry and blackberry preserves are served on the side.
Finish: Quite long and favouring chocolate – melted and ground – with an accompaniment of gentle white pepper and drying oakiness.
This warehouse dram offers an insight into the modern archetypal Glengoyne maturation – apple at its core (pun intended) topped with fresh, fruity and penetratingly robust sherry. The puncheon cask size suits this character, offering plenty of influence from the precursor liquid, but keeping the oak levels well in check. Opulent, full-bodied and exceedingly delicious – whether you like this straight out of the cask, or reduced down to a more manageable ABV, it’s cracking either way.
Bottle Name: Glengoyne 17 year old Batch 1
ABV: 49.1% Distillery: Glengoyne Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Region: Highlands
Boutique-y’s first batch of Glengoyne 17 year old was bottled earlier this year. The label highlights two aspects (no doubt there’s more that I’ve missed) of the distillery’s location and history in its bottle label cartoon. Firstly, the preponderance of walkers visiting the distillery – which is located on the popular West Highland Way. Secondly, the distillery’s original name of ‘Burnfoot’ – stylised here by the walking contingent having to traipse across a road of hot coals.
The bottling is a batch of 1204 bottles (so more than a single cask – a vatting of likely three or possible more), delivered at 49.1% ABV and available via Master of Malt for £174.95 for a 50cl. £8.75 per 25ml dram – pricey for a whisky of this age in my view.
Nose: Bakery-forward with brioche buns, steamed pudding, gingerbread men and toast. The sherry influence offers unctuousness from honey, golden syrup and light treacle, whilst reduced fruits – figs and dates – provide a solid fruit-driven centre. In the background, floralness from sweet rose (Turkish Delight) alongside burnt toffee and a combination of lacquered and slightly charred wood. Dilution adds creaminess with crème brule and vanilla cream whilst brighter berry fruits (raspberry and redcurrant) push through.
Taste: The arrival is immediately velvety offering some well-judged texture with just the right amount of mouth feel. Chocolate Swiss rolls and gingercake sit with plums, blackcurrants and orange segments whilst toffee apples and chopped walnuts add sweet fruitiness and nuttiness in equal measure. The mid-palate moves towards the cask with waxed tables and polished oak, before green and fruit teas take over in the back palate. Water adds a tinned fruit dimension – a salad of apples, pears and banana peels all preserved in their own juices.
Finish: Long with dusty ginger and nutmeg sitting with fading walnuts and ground chocolate.
This Boutique-y 17 year old Glengoyne is entirely relaxed and well-behaved. So much so, I’m thinking that this is derived (at least in part) from a refill cask. The sherry is well-integrated and favours patisserie and bakery aromas and flavours – at least until reduced, when some of the natural underlying fruitiness comes to the fore. Entirely pleasant and worryingly quaffable.