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Glenglassaugh is an interesting distillery with a fascinating story. Originally established in 1875 by Col. James Moir, it found early success thanks to the distinctive character of its spirit.
Working in the whisky industry was not without its challenges in those days, highlighted by an article in The Edinburgh Evening News of Monday 30th September 1878, which reported that a worker at Glenglassaugh by the name of Aitken had been killed instantly when he entered a room filled with noxious gas, with two of his colleagues said to have enjoyed a very narrow escape. Even getting to and from work could be hazardous: less than a year after Aitken’s death, distillery manager John Sellar was killed in a terrible accident whilst walking home after a day’s work. Trudging along the side of the railway line he was struck on the shoulder by the 4:45 train from Aberdeen and knocked to the ground with such force that he died on the spot.
The unique spirit that initially served Glenglassaugh so well would unfortunately become something of a hindrance in the years that followed. The malt it seemed, didn’t play well with others, often throwing blends off-kilter when used too generously. As a result, the site spent much of its time in and out of production, depending on the demands of the day.
When Colonel Moir passed away, the business was taken over by his nephews, until they decided to sell in 1892. Though initially bought by Robertson & Baxter, it was immediately sold on to Highland Distillers who retained ownership for much of the next century. Unfortunately though, Glenglassaugh remained something of a fish-out-of-water, spending many years in mothballs until 1960 when the owners decided to redesign the whole plant with a view to creating a lighter spirit that would sit more harmoniously in their blends. It didn’t work though. They struggled for more than 20 years to alter the malt’s character but it remained as distinctive as ever and the owners were left with no other course of action but to close down. Production ground to a halt in 1986 and it appeared as though the world had seen the last of this unusually unique whisky.
You can’t keep a good distillery down though and in 2008, after 22 years of silence, Glenglassaugh was born again under the stewardship of a group of Russian-financed investors. Within five years it had changed hands again, this time taken over by the Benriach Distillery Group. Three years later, it was sold once more, when the parent company itself was acquired by US distilling giant Brown Forman.
As a stablemate of Benriach and Glendronach, it would be fair to say Glenglassaugh has been somewhat overshadowed by its siblings. The current range certainly seems rather incomplete, thanks in no small part to that massive production gap between 1986 and 2008. Their bottlings are either on the young side or very, very old. I’m pleased to say however, that Brown Forman have been releasing occasional small batch, limited edition expressions to complement the core range which comprises of three No Age Statements and 30, 40 and 51 year old bottlings.
Of the core range N.A.S. bottles, Torfa is perhaps the most interesting. Named after the old Norse word for peat (or turf), it is distilled from barley malted to 20ppm. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels, it is bottled at 50% abv and retails at approximately £45 a bottle.
Smell: Beautiful gentle smoke with vanilla, pepper and baking spices. Bread. Honey. Barley and lemon. Bit of orange too.
Taste: The smoke is detectable from the first moment but it’s subtle and doesn’t overpower the palate. There’s also toffee apple, orange and dark chocolate. There’s a wee touch of salted caramel too and black pepper. Water brings forth some woody spice to join the smoke at the finish.
Value for money: Would serve as an excellent introduction to peated single malt as it’s very gentle and lacks the medicinal TCP note of the Islay malts. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it in truth and even though the whisky is young, the quality in my opinion justifies the reasonable asking price of £45.
I confess I’ve often overlooked Glenglassaugh, in fact I suspect most whisky drinkers do the same. Whenever I spend time with it though I come away really pleased with what I’ve found. There’s potential for this distillery to be every bit as popular as Glendronach and Benriach and it will be really interesting to see how the range develops in future. I’d be particularly interested in tasting something in the 12 to 18 age bracket for example. For now though, I would encourage some experimentation with it. You might be surprised how good it actually is.
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For more on Glenglassaugh visit here.