Glenglassaugh Distillery was founded in 1875 in a quaint coastal town in the Scottish Highlands by the name of Portsoy, which has a rich history and a connection to the maritime trade, including the transport of spirits. This provides not only a fitting backdrop for a distillery like Glenglassaugh, but also as a filming location for the incredibly popular hit TV show "Peaky Blinders,” in which the band of well-dressed gangsters used the port as a hub for delivery of bootlegged alcohol.
The distillery is one of the Scottish adopted children of American spirits giant Brown-Forman, alongside GlenDronach and BenRiach. And although GlenDronach and BenRiach have garnered high regard among modern whisky enthusiasts, you might be wondering why Glenglassaugh has in recent memory remained somewhat of a hidden gem, often only found in specialty whisky stores with obscure releases.
The reason is simple. Glenglassaugh’s distillery had been mothballed from 1986 to 2008, which led to a significant gap in its inventory. Moreover, even after resuming operations in 2008, the distillery wasn't exactly producing tons of whisky. This is why until very recently, the distillery produced a small range of mainly no age statement (NAS) whiskies such as Revival, Evolution, and Torfa, interspersed with a few older, limited edition releases.
2023 marks a big turning point for the Glenglassaugh brand. After a long wait, the distillery announced a rejuvenated portfolio and three new core range releases, already launched in Europe, the US and now in Singapore. The fresh design direction and new branding is also evident from the packaging: the new bottles feature mint-coloured caps and an elegant waveform indentation the bottles.
Behind the new lineup is the respected Dr Rachel Barrie, the current Master Blender of Glenglassaugh Distillery. Barrie stands amongst some of the most respected figures of the modern Scotch industry, and is not only a Keeper of the Quaich, but has also been honoured as a Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame Inductee. Much of this is due to her work at many of the most well-known distilleries over the course of her career, including Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Laphroaig just to name a few.
Before this brand revival, not many of us are familiar with Glenglassaugh. So without tasting this new lineup, you can’t quite say there’s a typical profile of a Glenglassaugh malt. That said, Master Blender Barrie shared that the distillery’s coastal location near Sandend Bay, which faces the North Atlantic ocean, inspires a maritime character in its whiskies. This is a character augmented by the choice of cask and spring water used in the production process.
The proof is in the dram. We had the privilege of sampling these new offerings through a very sweet tasting set sent by Glenglassaugh, which invites us to do a flight of all three of their core releases starting with the 12-year-old.
First in the lineup is the Glenglassaugh 12 Years Old at 45% ABV, which serves as the new flagship 12-year-old single malt, a first for the distillery in this age category. Next, we have the Glenglassaugh Sandend at 50.5% ABV, aged in manzanilla sherry casks, which apparently is intended to enhance the distillery's coastal character. Finally, there's the Glenglassaugh Portsoy at 49.1% ABV, which incorporates some peated malt and explores a different dimension to the Glenglassaugh range.
Let’s give them a taste!
Glenglassuagh 12 YO, 45% ABV – Review
This new 12-year-old flagship is drawn from bourbon, sherry, and red wine casks.
Nose: Fruity and expressive, with a predominantly bourbon cask influence. Opens with orange oil and expressive rich fruit notes of apples, pears, figs and dates. A creamy vanilla undercurrent is present, along side a growing woody mustiness that gradually reveals a subtle solvent-like quality. There is a mild mintiness that prick the nose a bit, reminiscent of camphor. Over time, gentle coastal elements surface, evoking salted caramel nuances.
Palate: Great texture – it’s notably creamy, viscous, and oily. Opens with very light flavours and a clean profile, starting with a mellow sweetness akin to candy floss and bubble gum. This cleanliness in profile paves the way for quite pronounced saltiness and very distinct pepperiness. At the same time, there’s some tart apple sharpness and a hint of copper that hints at the youth of the spirit. There’s also a herbal flourish, as pepper turns towards a light mintiness.
Finish: Pretty long, with persistent saltiness, gradually giving way to fading spice notes. A delicate dusting of cocoa powder lingers at the very end.
This expression stands out for a very unique taste sequence. The nose is really inviting and expressive. The palate is pleasantly sweet, though not as fruity and expressive as expected – what took my attention was the distinct coastal character that actually seems to take over my palate quite a bit. The transition between flavours feels slightly disconnected - I’m intrigued but not yet fully convinced. Let’s turn to the others.
Glenglassuagh Sandend, 50.5% ABV – Review
Turning to the Sandend expression, this has a base of ex-bourbon matured whisky with a proportion of manzanilla sherry casks that are said to bring out a bit more salinity in it.
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Wow – this is delightfully floral and sweet. Opens with powdered sugar, luscious Sauternes or a sweet, oaked Chardonnay. Tons of green grapes blend with sweet citrus notes of grapefruit and pomelo, tinged with a light tartness. Lashings of vanilla cream come through, along with soft oak notes and subtle white florals.
Palate: Remarkably mellow and smooth for its 50.5% ABV, and it’s quite well-integrated too. Very clean and sweet in the mouth, gradually showing hints of green grapes and citrus fruits, then vanilla and cream. A coastal dimension also slowly unfolds, becoming subtly maritime but this time a lot more balanced and subtle. Spices do emerge, with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a touch of black pepper.
Finish: Relatively short, characterised by vanilla and salted caramel, and a gently fading warmth from the spices.
Charming and well-balanced. This whisky is reminiscent of a sweet white wine or sake in its sweetness and clarity. It has an outstanding bright, floral, sugary character beginning with the nose, and carrying on with the mellow palate – which once again, it's surprisingly smooth and welcoming for its high ABV.
Glenglassuagh Portsoy, 49.1% ABV – Review
Finally, probably the heaviest one of the trio – we have the Portsoy which is made with “peated single malt”, then matured in sherry, bourbon and Port wine casks.
Colour: Deep gold
Nose: Rich and multifaceted. Opens with a rich maltiness and honey, layered with the freshness of apples and caramel. There’s a light mossy grassiness intertwined with an earthy, plowed soil aroma. Peatiness isn’t very obvious here, though there’s some smoked heather and grilled pineapple, developing into intriguing savoury elements of soy sauce and grilled unagi, rounded off with a hint of toasted nuts.
Palate: This is the fullest bodied of the trio sampled, opening with a robust maple syrup sweetness, vanilla and malt forming the core. There’s a rather pronounced chili spiciness that quickly builds along with – once again – rather subtle smokiness that resembles charred pineapple, and gradually grows in ashiness (with an edge of vegetal notes) that mirrors roasted broccolini, with a squeeze of lemon and a twist of the sea salt grinder.
Finish: A fairly short finish once again. I get a drying sensation, with a touch of coffee grounds, dry oak and a subtle ashiness that fades.
This tastes decidedly intentional, and is my favourite of the whiskies tasted. It’s the most multifaceted of the trio and still manages to strike a remarkable balance and harmony across the dimensions of fruits, salt and smoke. I also like the rich maltiness and honeyed vibe it gives.
It’s a very gentle nudge into the world of peat, rather than a full plunge. Peat lovers (like myself) might not even register the smokiness here. For those who generally steer clear of Islay whiskies, this should also be very acceptable - it offers a kind of smoked heather or roasted vegetable experience that is very acceptable and quite pleasant.
This flight has been a pretty insightful look at what distillery has been cooking up for the past couple of years!
It’s clear to me that distillery has crafted a range with both diversity and a unifying theme. All 3 expressions seem to fit the common thread of a bourbon-focused profile with a touch of the coast, and yet they are pretty much impossible to mix up in unlabelled glasses. I have little doubt that under the guidance from Master Blender Rachel Barrie, the distillery would evolve from being a hidden gem into a recognised name in Scotch in the years to come.
That said, what caught my attention most were the no aged statement expressions – the Sandend and the Portsoy – the Portsoy emerging as my star of the trio for its richness, balance and subtlety in peatiness.
The varied profile of Glenglassaugh’s whiskies offers an interesting mix of diversity and subtlety for both whisky enthusiasts and newcomers to Scotch alike. All three expressions are now available via Brown-Forman’s official online channels and various spirits stores in Singapore.