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The early 20th century was a tough time for the distillers of Scotland. The industry was enduring a massive downturn even before the First World War and Prohibition came along, add the Great Depression and a second War and you have an impossible situation for even the healthiest of businesses. All over the country distilleries ceased to operate and the Speyside region that once rode the crest of the wave at the forefront of the Victorian whisky boom saw its hitherto relentless expansion abruptly halted.
For 60 long years the region remained stagnant until Canadian distilling giant Seagram’s, then owners of Chivas Brothers, began work on Glen Keith in 1957. Situated inside a former oat mill, across the River Isla from Strathisla, the new plant was up and running by 1960, inadvertently firing the starter pistol for a new wave of expansion across the industry. Grain distilleries opened at Invergordon and Girvan. Glenfarclas and Dalmore expanded. Glenturret and Caperdonich were rebuilt and a new crop of malt distilleries came onto the scene, including Deanston and Tormore.
Seagram’s designed Glen Keith to produce a triple distilled single malt that would supply their blends but by the 1970’s that idea had been abandoned. New stills were installed to increase capacity and the process altered to a more traditional double distillation regime. The stills themselves are tall and narrow and operate with a low fill level, ensuring maximum copper contact during the distillation process, helping to create a particularly light and fruity spirit.
Glen Keith stands on the riverbank beside a deep pool known as leum a’ bhradain – Scots’ Gaelic for “the leap of the salmon”, a natural event that takes place every Autumn. Though it contrasts dramatically in age from its neighbour Strathisla (one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland), the buildings that house it are of such traditional design as to effectively mask its comparative youth.
Despite signalling a new era of confidence in the whisky industry it hasn’t been all plain sailing for Glen Keith. By the 90’s Chivas Brothers had been sold to Pernod Ricard who deemed the distillery surplus to their requirements and put it in mothballs. For 13 years it lay in silence before extensive reconstruction work began in 2012. The distillery reopened the following year and once again began producing liquid for use in blends like Chivas Regal, Passport and 100 Pipers.
Then, in 2017 came the announcement that a new permanent single malt bottling was on the way. The Distillery Edition was matured in 100% American Oak and bottled at 40% without a specified age statement. Recommended retail price puts it around £30 a bottle – but I was able to pick it up for £20 in my local supermarket…
Smell: Toffee apples. Pear. Caramel. Orange. Plenty of honey. Malt. Digestive biscuits. Pencil shavings. Oak.
Taste: Caramel and toffee. Vanilla. Apple, pear and orange – lots of citrus. Cinnamon. Dark chocolate and oak.
Value for Money: The Glen Keith Distillery Edition is bottled at 40% without an age statement so straight away my expectations were lowered. I can’t help it. This is essentially the cheapest way for a distiller to get a single malt onto the market and in such cases, I tend to wonder just how highly they placed flavour on the agenda. Of course, the great thing about keeping ones expectations so low is there’s always the chance of a pleasant surprise and I must admit, this dram is better than I expected. In fact, it’s better than some similar bottles from distilleries of far greater reputation.
When age statements first began disappearing from supermarket shelves there was a definite feeling they were being replaced by inferior alternatives. Over the last year or two however, I feel like my occasional dips into the bargain bin have come up with better results, possibly due in part to the success Aldi & co have enjoyed with their budget-friendly range. The Glen Keith Distillery Edition certainly isn’t an all-time classic but it’s a very drinkable, very enjoyable wee dram that really has me wondering exactly what else this distillery is capable of. Would love to see the development of a larger range with this as the entry point. In the meantime however, please do consider Glen Keith if you happen to be shopping on a limited budget.
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For more on Glen Keith, visit Wikipedia here.