Historical bottlings often present enthusiasts with a dizzying air of excitement and romance – the opportunity to sample and enjoy rarity, antiquity and a piece of whisky’s history. But, whisky is packed full of romantic notions (many of them created and propagated by the distilleries themselves), and only a few of them are actually grounded in modern reality. Things were not always better then, and the grass isn’t always greener when it comes to older bottlings. Enthusiasts possess an innate desire to compare the new to the old and invariably conclude that the modern equivalent is a substandard substitute. But in many cases, this is nothing more than a rosy retrospection.
All too often I’m seeing the past manifest itself in a binary belief that things were always better before (it even seems to be driving certain political motivations currently) – a view that in some instances may well be true, but if taken as a rule will only lead to perpetual disappointment.
You don’t have to dig too deeply to hear stories around the production regimes of the 60s and 70s – they invariably include anecdotes around employee drunkenness, poor attention to safety and in some cases a worrying disregard for cleanliness. Now, whilst these tales add to the rich fabric of whisky’s history, and many of them are amusing, at the same time they seem quite counter to the supposition that some make around whisky’s golden period of production. Unless of course the suggestion is that a combination of lax practices and sheer happenstance is the key to achieving the most noteworthy output. Highly doubtful.
Similarly, it’s human nature to remember the past more fondly than the future. With the best will in the world, consumers tasting new bottlings released in the 60s and 70s at that time, are themselves going to be somewhere between 60 and 70 years old today – I wonder how well they’d remember the specific nuances of those experiences to be able to compare them to modern day incarnations with a near 50 year gap between them?!
Exploring older bottlings is something I’d encourage all of you to do – but not because they’re inherently better. We’ve conducted a few ‘now and then’ tastings for The Dramble over the last few years, and today’s dive into Glengoyne 10 year old ably demonstrates the difference several decades can make.
Today we’re looking at two bottlings from the same distillery with the same age, but with nearly 30 years between them. One from the current Ian Macleod core range, the other from the early 80s when Edrington owned Glengoyne. And the difference is stark.
Bottle Name: Glengoyne 10 year old 2017
ABV: 40% Distillery: Glengoyne Region: Highlands
The modern version of Glengoyne 10 year old has its origins back in 2006 - a few years after current owner Ian Macleod purchased the distillery and the Lang’s brand from Edrington. Though unspecified on the front the bottle, the Glengoyne website indicates that the expression is created from European and American oak sherry casks – certainly that comes through in the profile, but I’d be surprised if a fair amount of ex-bourbon was not in the mix here also. It’s bottled at 40% ABV and could be acquired at Master of Malt for £31.90.
Nose: Orchard fresh with plenty of nuttiness. Tart green apples are served with a side of toffee sauce, whilst breakfast cereals are topped with skimmed milk. Maltiness is pronounced with barley water whilst the underlying spirit and sherry influence presents cashew nuttiness. In the background, zesty lemons and lozenges – crisp and adding to the overall sense of freshness.
Taste: A gentle if slightly underpowered arrival – but then with a pleasantly textured residue mouthfeel which is nicely coating. Green apples, toffee apples and cider apple juice are joined by pear juice for yet more orchard inspired fresh fruitiness. Coffee grounds, coffee beans, pink wafer biscuits and chocolate hundreds and thousands sit with powdered ginger. Whilst in the back-palate, honey and slight steeliness move steadily wood-wards with dry charred cask ends.
Finish: Rather short, quite malty and with plenty of grassiness.
Glengoyne 10 year old is a likably approachable daily drinker. Whilst the profile is soft and undemanding, this still manages to offer both a good drinking experience, and some gradations which other whiskies in this lower price bracket fail to convey. Unchallenging, but ultimately rather friendly.
Bottle Name: Glengoyne 10 year old Pure Malt 1980’s
ABV: 40% Distillery: Glengoyne Region: Highlands
This venerable version of Glengoyne’s 10 year old hails from the early 1980’s and is described as a Pure Malt. I estimate its bottling date as between 1982 and 1985 – roughly around the time when the distillery (under Edrington’s management) were commemorating their whisky being first bottled at 10 years of age. Prior to this, the only other age-statement bottling I can find from the distillery is the Glengoyne Malt Black Label 8 year old from 1973 – produced when Lang Bros and Robert & Baxter Group had yet to merge and morph into the modern day Edrington.
The 10 year old Pure Malt, like its modern day incarnation is bottled at 40% ABV. No information is available as to the cask composition of the expression – though there’s no reason not to expect sherry influence here – the style has been heavily utilised by Edrington for decades, and latterly, owners Ian Macleod have maintained this tradition across all modern bottlings of Glengoyne.
Nose: Rather tight and restricted out of the bottle – resting is simply essential here (and frankly to be expected given the provenance). 10 minutes later and it’s a different ballpark. Highly polished honey – sweet, but sharp and cuttingly metallic. Soft sherry influence with cola cubes, steeped raisins, sponge cake, bread and butter pudding and hot cross buns. Set against these pleasant aromas is a prevalent and strident spirit that’s quite acrid under the surface and has an odd boozy chalkiness.
Taste: There’s certainly some OBE here with artificial pineapple flavoured dunnage floors – but, similarly to the nose, resting allows this (not unpleasant to my taste) flavour to dissipate. The spirit has good body and texture for 40% - almost remarkably so with oils and viscosity a plenty. However the flavour combinations are quite peculiar – Malty cereals and stale honey with copper pipes, steel polish and wire wool – fruitiness explodes in the mid-palate – apples, dried apricots and mangos, but turns immediately sour and mouth-dryingly tannic. In the background, an almost vinegary woodiness is joined by white pepper, wet dunnage floors and peeling wallpaper.
Finish: Very short, but with a better sweet vs. sour balance and gentle herbalness of chopped mint, cut grass and anise.
This 80’s bottling of Glengoyne 10 year old is an odd duck. It’s certainly seen better days as there’s been a modicum of oxygen ingress causing some residue OBE – however, given the fill-level (and the OBE’s relatively quick dissipation), I don’t believe it’s tainted the bottle overly. Regardless, I can only present and describe what’s in front of me!
The overall profile for this Pure Malt is one of confusion – strange combinations of sweet sugars, soured fruits and machine-grade metals. In all honesty, it’s quite exciting to explore, but sadly not actually all that pleasant to enjoy. There’s little balance here, and whilst some of the polished aged-notes tick boxes (and give the impression of more maturity than 10 years of age), they’re never integrated into the whole experience. Lots of interesting things, all fighting for attention and but never greater than the sum of its disparate parts. Of historical interest only.