Glen Garioch is one of the oldest still active distilleries in Scotland, but it has gone through a number of rough patches over the centuries when it was closed or mothballed. This happened most recently between 1995 and 1997, when the floor maltings were eliminated and the distillery switched to using unpeated commercial malt.
This whisky was distilled in 1997, filled into first- and second-fill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2012 at 56.7% without coloring or chill filtration.
Glen Garioch Vintage 1997
Nose: the high proof is very clear from the initial strong alcohol heat, which eventually clears to reveal fresh malt, some vague fruit notes (melon? berries?), pleasant vanilla, pencil shavings, light dusty oak, soy sauce, and a slightly industrial savory note that reminds me a bit of Ben Nevis. After adding a few drops of water the industrial/savory notes become creamier and integrate with the vanilla, the malt becomes toasted grain, the oak turns into cinnamon and cedar, and some green/pine notes poke out around the edges.
Taste: lots of alcohol heat up front, sweet, very creamy malt throughout, light oak near the back. After dilution the alcohol heat diminishes significantly and some vague fruitiness comes out around the middle, but the overall structure remains the same.
Finish: clean malt, industrial lubricants, savory, mild oak, vague fruitiness (berries, raisins). After dilution the character of the finish largely fades and becomes hot, vague, and bitter.
At full strength this is a slightly odd whisky. While I can see why it's been described as 'modern' Glen Garioch, it's also pretty clearly spirit-driven with very minimal amounts of oak influence. The industrial/savory notes are probably the most appealing part, giving more character to what would otherwise be a fairly bog standard Highland whisky.
Though I found the initial heat somewhat off-putting, it settled down nicely in a way that makes me think a whole bottle would be rather drinkable. My biggest disappointment was how the finish just disappeared after adding even a little way, removing one of the best parts of the experience. It would be interesting to experiment and see if there's a degree of dilution that retains the finish, if you don't have much to work with I'd leave it be.
I can also see why people bemoan the loss of the older floor malt Glen Garioch as a bit of peat could really take this spirit to the next level. While I'm glad to have tried a pure bourbon cask release first, I can also see how this would take well to sherry casks, hopefully edging further in the savory direction.
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