There’s a certain magic about a coastal distillery — often inspired by marketing which draws upon images of wind and spray-lashed warehouses, rusty stains on whitewashed walls and the crack and jangle of halyards in the nearby harbour. While the distilleries of Scotland’s west coast may come to mind when these pictures are painted, the nearly 5,000 kilometres of the country’s coastline offers plenty more coves in which casks are found slumbering, and spirit runs from stills.
When it comes to slumbering, few may be as somnambulant as Glenglassaugh, perched atop an Aberdeenshire cliff, peering sleepily towards the Moray Firth. Abandoned to the mothballs between 1986 and 2008, Glenglassaugh is a name that has never really been given the opportunity to fall from the tongues of single malt enthusiasts, but it bears the benefit of its imposing location on the rich coastal salinity that runs through its spirit.
With the distillery having slept through most of the 1990s and 2000s, its new owners at the BenRiach Distillery Company had plenty of juggling to do when they took control in 2013. With a significant gap in production, there was no chance of carrying on as before, and a new strategy was required to balance the old with the new. The last few years have seen the occasional well-aged release (such as the highly regarded 2013 40-year-old) alongside newer non-age statement releases (Torfa, Revival and Evolution) to lay the foundations for a new direction for the brand.
From these foundations, then, come three fantastic new releases from the Highland distillery, carefully crafted by Master Blender Rachel Barrie and packaged in wonderfully hefty, engraved glass bottles. Inspired by the environment in which they’re made, two of the expressions bear the names of the nearest villages to the distillery – Portsoy and Sandend, while the third is the first core range age statement released from the distillery since its reawakening.
A Highland single malt whisky matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine casks and bottled at 45% ABV. The new heart of the core range shows the signature coastal style in every drop.
Nose: Ripe apricot and fig with toasted vanilla and sea air.
Palate: Pistachio nuts, dates and sweet figs, with morello cherry and whipped cream.
Finish: Lingering red fruits and coastal air.
A Highland single malt whisky matured in bourbon, sherry and manzanilla casks and bottled at 50.5% ABV. Named for the golden bay that sits beneath the distillery, this is a beach whisky, if such a thing exists.
Colour: Summer gold
Nose: Vanilla ice cream, candied pineapple, burnt pine, clove and cardamom buns.
Palate: Salted caramel, pineapple, lemon, cherry, gorse and grapefruit.
Finish: Slightly citrusy with a touch of sea salt and vanilla.
A Highland single malt whisky matured in sherry, bourbon and port casks and bottled at 49.1% ABV. Named for the nearby fishing village and inspired by the boats that ply their trade on the rolling Moray Firth.
Colour: Deep amber
Nose: Strawberries and tropical fruit, oily salinity, charred mango and buttered toast.
Palate: Dark chocolate, fermented soy, mango, sea salt, dark pepper and old wine.
Finish: Some fruit remains, liquorice, sea kelp and salt.
There’s an ongoing debate in the whisky industry about the importance of place. Whether it is terroir in barley or in peat, or the temperature and climatic conditions of warehouse maturation, lines are drawn, and arguments slung to vouch for or against the influence of location on the style of a whisky. In particular, some producers (wind and spray-lashed warehouse imagery notwithstanding) will tell you that a seaside maturation makes no difference to the whisky, but Barrie takes an opposing view, enthusing that “to taste Glenglassaugh Single Malt is to experience the coastal influence of Sandend Bay and the ancient harbour towns nearby” — an area she remembers well from her childhood.
For her, the whisky is “shaped by the coalescence of land and sea … the imposing yet calming crash of waves and the sweet smell of gorse in the air.” The gorse may be fading for the year, but the flavour lives on; captured for your delectation in the heavy, tactile sea-glass-inspired bottles of this stunning new range.
For those unable to taste Sandend on a beach, Portsoy on a harbour wall, or the 12-year-old in a distillery warehouse, Glenglassaugh has partnered with acclaimed landscape photographer Richard Gaston, to produce a photography series to capture the distillery’s symbiotic relationship with the land and sea of the local area. It might not bring the salty sea air into your home, but it will encourage you to revisit your preconceptions about how far the environment of production and maturation can bring to the spirit in the glass.
Glenglassaugh 12-year-old (£50), Sandend (£55) and Portsoy (£60) are available now from all good whisky retailers.
To discover more about Glenglassaugh, visit: glenglassaugh.com
All images courtesy of Glenglassaugh.