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Glengoyne distillery lies just north of Glasgow at the foot of Dumgoyne Hill. Though founded in 1833, it is likely that illicit distilling was taking place long before then. Certainly, the hills and forests of the area provided the ideal hiding place from the prying eyes of excisemen. When the Edmonstone family applied for a license to build their Burnfoot distillery, however, it brought an end to those activities. The site was later purchased by Lang Bros. who changed the name to Glen Guin and eventually Glengoyne. Today it is owned by Ian Macleod Distillers, who paid £7.2million for it in 2003.
Glengoyne produces a Highland malt, but only just. The distillery operates on the north side of the ‘Highland Line’ while its spirit matures in warehouses to the south. This separation of north and south was first outlined in the ‘Wash Act’ of 1784 by a government desperately seeking to clamp down on the illegal distilling that was so rife in the highlands. To tempt rebellious highlanders into going legitimate, tax breaks were offered to any who took out a distilling license in remote northern areas. To make this work, a clear statement of what constituted the Highlands would have to be defined.
With that in mind, an imaginary line was drawn from Greenock in the West to Dundee in the east. Anyone distilling north of the line was to be considered in the Highlands, and therefore eligible for reduced excise duty. The positioning of Glengoyne then was perfect. Situated on the boundary, the business was able to claim reduced tax whilst also benefiting from its relative proximity to Glasgow and all the trade opportunities the second city of the empire provided.
Today, Glengoyne prides itself on taking its time. It operates both a long fermentation and slow distillation in order to produce a lighter, sweeter spirit. There is no reek of pungent peat smoke here as barley is dried using warm air only. The character of the final spirit, therefore, is a combination of the flavours inherent in the barley and the added influence of the casks which mature it.
Glengoyne’s 15 Year Old expression is bottled at 43% ABV and retails around £45 – £50.
Smell: Malty with Honey, Lemon, Toffee and some subtle Sherry.
Taste: Vanilla, Honeycomb and Popcorn with a little Orange and a touch of Chocolate.
Thoughts: As always, I’d prefer to see a higher bottling strength. That’s my only issue with Glengoyne. Beyond that, I can appreciate the quality of the spirit. It’s really well made, it’s well matured and it oozes class. At younger ages this single malt carries the flavour of the malt that made it. Perhaps more than any other dram, in fact. As it matures, however, that note fades a little. The higher up the range you go, the more sherry cask influence you will encounter. The 15-year-old seems pretty balanced to me. The spirit character is still there but the casks have integrated well to create a mature, sophisticated single malt.