Glen Garioch 12 year old

Glen Garioch 12 year oldDistillery: Glen Garioch
Region: Highland
Age: 12 years old
abv: 48%

First things first, let’s get those pesky phonetics out of the way. For with Gaelic nothing is ever quite what it seems, and Garioch is actually pronounced Geerie. Its namesake glen earned fame as The Granary of Aberdeenshire for its rich, fertile fields and top quality grain. With barley in such plentiful supply, its perhaps not surprising that Glen Garioch distillery established itself here as early as 1797, making it one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. Indeed, the barley profile is still very much present in Glen Garioch’s house style, with malt, honey and toffee shining through in many bottlings. Given all this, you might be surprise to hear that the distillery faced severe input shortages, but – unusually – the limiting factor was not barley, but water. Glen Garioch was mothballed in 1968 due to “chronic water shortages and limited production potential”, and subsequently sold off to Stanley Morrison, who also owned Bowmore distillery. He intiated a search for a new water supply, and struck liquid gold when a well was found on a neighbouring farm. The new water source was so good that production increased to ten times its previous level, facilitated by a new pair of stills.

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Highland Park 12 year old – Viking Honour

Highland Park 12 year old - Viking HonourDistillery: Highland Park
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

With names such as Einar, Svein and Drakkar, the Viking theme has always been strong with Highland Park. Indeed, Orkney was a Viking outpost for over 600 years, and their influence is found all over Orcadian folklore. Apparently it makes for good marketing too; recently Highland Park’s core range was given a makeover, with each expression gaining a new Viking-related subtitle and an elaborately carved bottle. I actually preferred the simplicity of the previous packaging, as the new look and feel is a bit over the top.

Packaging aside though, the whisky remains very much the same. And that’s a good thing: where many distilleries have mainly focused on NAS bottlings, Highland Park’s aged range is still going strong. The 12 year old is a classic, epitomising the honey sweet, smoky spirit that the distillery is known for. Highland Park is often referred to as everyone’s friend, and you’ll be hard put to find someone who severely dislikes the distillery’s drams. That doesn’t automatically make this a great whisky though, so let’s see what Highland Park Viking Honour is actually like.

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Isle of Jura Elixir 12 year old

Jura 12 Elixir Review 01Distillery: Isle of Jura
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 46%

Evocatively named Elixir, Isle of Jura’s 12 year old expression sounds as beguiling as Water of Life itself. In this, Elixir fits right in with other Jura bottlings such as Prophecy and Superstition. Mystical marketing notwithstanding, Elixir’s only magical property is that it never fails to put a satisfied grin on the face of anyone who drinks it. Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and Amaroso sherry casks, this Jura has been bottled at the sensible strength of 46%.

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Glen Elgin 12 year old

Glen Elgin 12 year old reviewDistillery: Glen Elgin
Region: Speyside
Age: 12 years old
abv: 43%

Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, Glen Elgin distillery was initially off to an ignominious start. Although plans for the distillery were drawn up when confidence was still high, by the time construction finished, the whisky bubble had burst and the industry was in a death spiral. Glen Elgin distillery opened in May 1900, and filed bankruptcy just six months later, selling at a fraction of the price it had cost to construct the distillery. It would remain closed for much of the next three decades, until Glen Elgin passed into the ownership of DCL, the forerunner of Diageo. The distillery continued to limp on in relative obscurity, until in 1964, the number of stills was tripled to six, and Glen Elgin began distilling the raw materials for the White Horse blend. Until this day, Glen Elgin’s fate has remained largely the same, with most of the distillery’s production disappearing into Diageo’s blends. However, Diageo does bottle a widely available 12 year old malt whisky, as well as several other releases that are a lot harder to come by (including an excellent 16 year old). The 12 year old happens to be the first malt whisky I ever drank, so I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Elgin and I make sure to always have a bottle on my shelf. Lucky then that Glen Elgin 12 happens to be so affordable, this dram represents great value for money!

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Bowmore 12 year old Enigma

Bowmore 12 year old Enigma 01Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Although Bowmore Enigma has been discontinued (and replaced by the likes of Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands), it can still be found in some specialty stores. Once a proud member of the Travel Exclusive range, Bowmore Enigma comes in a 1 litre bottle, and boasts a higher percentage of whisky that’s been aged in European oak compared to the regular 12 year old. These ex-sherry casks give this whisky a sweet, almost juicy character.

I have to admit that I’m still searching for a Bowmore expression that’s really satisfying. Maybe it’s simply not my style, but I find many of their whiskies to be a bit too shy. In fact, you don’t often hear someone proclaim that Bowmore is their favourite distillery. Peatheads will tend to go for something else, whereas in my view Bowmore simply does not compare favourably with other medium peated whiskies such as Talisker or Highland Park. But perhaps Enigma will stand out, so back to the matter at hand.

This particular Bowmore isn’t actually all that enigmatic, especially compared to many of the NAS bottlings that are currently on the market. We actually know Enigma’s age, as well as the casks it’s been matured in, which is more than can be said of  Bowmore’s current Travel Exclusive range. Then again, Enigma sure does have a mysterious ring to it, so let’s try to decipher what this whisky is all about.

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Age Your Own Whisky – Glen Elgin Islay Finish

Age Your Own Whisky - Glen Elgin Islay Finish 01

After the Ardbeg Port Finish it was time for something new. Clearly, Ardbeg is a heavily peated whisky with a distinctive smoky character, and I’m counting on the fact that my cask will have retained some of these flavours for the next batch. The idea is to take an unpeated whisky, and impart it with some smokiness purely through the maturation process. This isn’t necessarily a new concept, as whiskies such as Glenfiddich Caoran, Scapa Glansa or Balvenie Islay Cask have all been finished in casks that previously held peated whiskies.

For this batch I have chosen Glen Elgin 12 year old. It’s a soft Speyside which I happen to like very much – partially because it’s the first malt whisky I ever drank – but also because it has quite a distinctive flavour profile. I selected a Speyside for this batch, since I think a whisky like this will be easier to ‘tame’. I reckon the peat influence from my cask will be quite subtle, which is why I need a soft whisky that easily takes on new flavours.

As I described previously, the small size of my cask means that the maturation process is incredibly quick. After continuously taking samples (not a chore at all 🙂 ), I decided that after just two weeks, my Glen Elgin Islay Finish was ready.

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