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Glen Moray started life as the Elgin West Brewery before being converted to a distillery in 1897. Established by Robert Thorne & Sons it was abandoned in 1910 when a fire destroyed its sister distillery at Aberlour. That situation required 100% of the company’s focus to be directed at the rebuiling of its primary concern, leaving little room on the agenda for Glen Moray.
The distillery lay dormant until it was purchased by MacDonald and Muir in the 1920’s, bringing it under the same umbrella as Glenmorangie and later, Ardbeg. The Elgin distillery was never quite viewed in the same light as its glamorous siblings however and soon found itself resigned to the bargain-basement category.
A new lease of life was injected in 2008 when Glen Moray was taken over by French distiller La Martiniquaise. The spirit now features prominently in their Label Five and Glen Turner brands and even though the malt remains one of the more affordable to be found in UK supermarkets, the quality seems to have improved and its reputation is growing as a result.
*Full disclosure: I was sent these samples so that I might take part in a virtual tasting hosted by Glen Moray and The Piper Whisky Bar. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit, and the value for money it represents.
10 year old “Fired Oak”
Created by former distillery manager Graham Coull, the Fired Oak was aged for 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in heavily charred American (virgin) oak casks. Bottled at 40% it retails around £38 though it can regularly be found heavily discounted in supermarkets.
Smell: Allspice and fragrant oak. Sawdust. Vanilla and toffee. Chocolate. Ginger biscuits and lemon creams. Buttered scones. Apple and ever so slightly grassy.
Taste: Nice spicy arrival with ginger and nutmeg. Then caramel, vanilla and oak. Touch of citrus orange too. With water some perfumed raspberry comes through.
Thoughts: A nice wee dram this. Not sure how impressed I’d be having paid £38 for it, but I’ve seen it around £25 in my local supermarket and at that price there is no question it would make a fine purchase.
For a 40% bottling, the Fired Oak carries an impressive depth of flavour, though as always, I can’t help wondering how much better it could have been at 46%. It remains a very drinkable drop however and worthy of a purchase, certainly at those discounted rates.
Madeira Cask Project
Part of the Elgin Curiosity series, this single malt was filled into Madeira-seasoned hogsheads back in 2006. After 13 years it has been bottled at 46.3% and retails around £60.
Smell: Burnt sugar and fresh-out-of-the-oven bread. Baking spices. Hazelnut and caramel. Cooked apples. Orange zest. Lovely note of malted barley.
Taste: Pleasantly nutty with caramel. Brown sugar. Toast and marmalade. Apple and pear. Peach. Vanilla. Spicy oak.
Thoughts: £60 is a bit of a climb from the distillery’s entry level bottlings, but we have reached the hallowed territory of the un-chill-filtered single malt here and there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the dram. It’s weightier and the flavour more robust and long lasting. Madeira seems to be the in-thing at the moment, I think this is the third or fourth I’ve tried in the last couple of months alone but it seems to pair rather well here with Glen Moray’s light, Speyside character.
A thoroughly enjoyable, well balanced whisky that shows Glen Moray to be capable of a lot more than just budget-friendly, bang-for-your-buck drams. Extremely more-ish.
21 year old “Portwood Finish”
Of Glen Moray’s Elgin Classic range, the Port Cask Finish has been my favourite by far so I was really interested to try this older sibling. Matured in bourbon barrels before being finished in Port Casks for a combined total of 21 years, it’s bottled at 46.3% and retails for £124.
Smell: Fragrant port leaps from the glass. Brambles. Raspberry. Blackcurrant. Cinnamon. Gingerbread. Digestive biscuits. Caramel and milk chocolate.
Taste: Ginger and cinnamon. Currants. Those raspberry and bramble notes again. Highland toffee. Oak and dark chocolate.
Thoughts: It’s a struggle to declare a £124 bottle of whisky a bargain but the price isn’t too unreasonable given its age and the quality of the liquid is of a level high enough to carry the cost.
I loved the Elgin Classic Port Finish and this feels like the same whisky all grown up. It’s incredibly vibrant on the nose yet shows its maturity on the palate. In fact the balance between the oak and port is really quite excellent. Delicious.
Distillery Edition Peated PX
Just about every distillery with a visitor centre offers some kind of exclusive bottle for tourists to take away with them and Glen Moray is apparently no different. I love bottles like this. Not only are they of the place you visit but their often limited number means they’re also of the time you visited – just a few months either way and the distillery exclusive would likely have been a completely different expression. They are unique drams, access to which you share with the select few who chose to make the trip around the same time you did. There’s something rather beautiful about that. Of course whisky tourism, like so much of modern life, is currently on hold thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, so this was a rare chance to taste such a bottle from the comfort of my own home and such experiences are to be treasured during the mental struggles of lockdown.
Smell: Were I to nose this without knowing what was in the glass, I would never, in a hundred years have guessed the right distillery. Acrid, punchy smoke swirls from the glass, bringing ash and charcoal with it. When a break in the cloud finally appears there’s malty vanilla and caramel before maple syrup and prune notes begin to hint at the Pedro Ximenez influence. Another whiff and raisins and sultanas come to the fore. Very enticing nose, it has to be said.
Taste: On the nose the sherry seemed to hang back, letting the smoke run out of steam before making its presence felt. Here it stomps to the fore immediately, with raisins, currants and treacle. The smoke is there too of course but much less intense than the nose. There’s also orange, some winter spices and a little touch of dry oak.
Thoughts: At close to £100 this certainly isn’t a cheap bottle of malt but as a unique memento of a distillery visit it’s rather priceless. At full cask strength it’s also an intense whisky experience that will prove a winner with anyone who enjoys a bit of smoke with their sherry. I confess I rather fell in love.
About as subtle as a sledge hammer but without the peat smoke, the spirit could easily have been swamped by such a powerful cask but that smoke is thick enough to punch its way through. I don’t think balance is the right word, but neither smoke nor sherry dominate proceedings. A bit like two heavyweights knocking lumps out of each other for 12 rounds, they seem to vie for superiority from the first sniff to the last swallow. Big, boisterous and beautiful.
For more on Glen Moray, visit here.