As far as revamps go, Glenglassaugh’s recent reinvention certainly caught my attention. This Highland distillery reimagined its core range a few months ago. They launched three new whiskies – the Glenglassaugh 12 Years, Sandend and Portsoy. I think the new packaging is spot on. But what about the liquid?
It’ll be interesting to see how Glenglassaugh’s new dawn plays out. The brand never really received much attention since it reopened in 2008. It always stood in the shadows of its sister distilleries, GlenDronach and BenRiach. The three distilleries were famously acquired in 2016 by Brown-Forman for a hefty sum. The sellers? The BenRiach Distillery Company led by Billy Walker.
He only ever owned Glenglassaugh for three years, from 2013 until the sale to Brown-Forman. That didn’t prove enough time to properly relaunch the distillery. “Glenglassaugh is probably the one that we didn’t get to showcase properly to the market,” Walker once shared. “I’ll be really interested to see what comes out of there in the future.”
When Brown-Forman bought Glenglassaugh, they initially focused their attention on BenRiach. GlenDronach was already well-established and BenRiach was a bigger brand with a potentially larger return on investment. It makes sense Glenglassaugh had to wait. Now that the BenRiach range has been properly overhauled, Glenglassaugh is finally getting its due.
The three new Glenglassaugh whiskies are said to be “shaped by the influences of land and sea.” It’s consistently presented as a coastal spirit by its owners. And indeed, the distillery has a quintessentially coastal location. It’s a beautiful place to visit. Not the distillery necessary, but the area, including Sandend Bay and the neighbouring village of Portsoy.
Contrasting cask types were used to differentiate between the Glenglassaugh 12 Years, Sandend and Portsoy. The 12-year-old matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine casks, while the Sandend matured in a combination of bourbon, sherry and ex-Manzanilla casks. Finally, the Portsoy spent time in bourbon, sherry and ex-Port casks, but also includes peated spirit.
Glenglassaugh 12 Years (45%, OB, 2023)
Nose: Initially hints of chalk, cured meats and an assortment of red berries, accompanied by a sliver of sandalwood, walnut skins and apricots. Just a few greener, plant-based aromas. And also burnt caramel, a touch of marshmallow, banana candies and some coconut. It becomes sweeter with time. Very easygoing. Taste: Mouthfeel is somewhat oily, but slightly cloying due to the wine casks. A fair amount of caramel with some coffee grounds, light minerals, a pinch of salt and a good amount of vanilla pods. Also crème caramel, burnt toast and some touches of aniseed. Finish: Medium length with some chocolate mousse, pistachio nuts and dates. A faint salinity lingering in the background. Ending on a few leafy notes.
The Glenglassaugh 12 Years just comes across as being very skillfully put together. The wine influence is just right, not overdone in any way, which is always a danger. It’s accessible and a nice introduction to Glenglassaugh. It’d be interesting to see if I can discover a through line with their two other new whiskies.
Glenglassaugh Sandend (50.5%, OB, 2023)
Nose: A somewhat candied first impression. Candied lemon, sweet bananas and vanilla-flavoured foam blocks (a type of candy in the Netherlands). Slightly more floral after a little while. Gorse comes to mind. Then it’s all just citrus, minerals and a fair amount of tropical influence, offering some balance to the sweetness. Taste: Again, the mouthfeel is on point. Definitely a recurring candy-esque sweetness. hints of honey and butterscotch, along with some chalk. Also vibrant fruits of the tropical variety, gentle oak, a pinch of pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Finish: Short to medium. Hints of sultanas and apple, and a thin veneer of sweetness remains.
Sweet initially, but balance is achieved through the citrus and gentle coastal elements. The Glenglassaugh Sandend also well-integrated. Maybe not as coastal as I expected, given the name and use of Manzanilla casks. Would’ve like it even better had it been less sweet.
Glenglassaugh Portsoy (49.1%, OB, 2023)
Nose: Sweet peat. That’s what many people like, and that’s what the Portsoy offers. Dense dried fruits, orange peels and a touch of wet pebbles. There’s a gentle touch of wood smoke, some warming spices and a sliver of aniseed, as well as chocolate buttercream. Taste: Slightly thinner mouthfeel (compared to the other two), which is surprising. There’s definitely a sprinkle of salt, some smoked deli meats, blackcurrants and charred pineapple. Just a sliver of tar and gingerbread as well. Finish: Medium to long. Somewhat ashy, but certainly warming and wintery too.
Such an easygoing whisky. The peat and sweetness are a proven combination that work for the Glenglassaugh Portsoy as well. Not the most complex, but a well-engineered whisky. An allrounder. Good work by Rachel Barrie and her team.