Friday, 25 April 2014

Glen Garioch Drambassador

Whisky Discovery
The beautiful Still Room at Glen Garioch, conveniently located in Distillery Road
If you've bumped into me at Whisky Shows recently you'll know I'm a big fan of Glen Garioch, I'll always drop by to saviour one or more of their Vintage releases, despite having sampled them all previously. I have a few from their range on my shelf too, and we called upon their 1995 Vintage for our first Whisky Tasting that we held towards the end of last year. The Glen Garioch distillery was also the first Scottish distillery I visited, so has even more relevance as I've met the people who make the Whisky.

You can imagine I was pretty excited to learn that I had been chosen to be a 'Drambassador' for the Glen Garioch distillery, an unpaid position, but with the opportunity to revisit the distillery on an expenses paid trip should this blog post be favoured amongst the others, how could I refuse? 

My first task (hopefully there will be additional duties) as a Drambassador is being to be among the first to discover a new Glen Garioch expression/vintage, receiving a blind sample along with some clues as to it's identity along with a bar of plain chocolate that had pieces of crystallised ginger stuck to it along with a small pot of jam.
Whisky Discovery
The Drambassador's pack
The Clues

The first of my clues told me that the entire batch of this expression was distilled one Summer's day when Scotland took part in a global sporting event, and that the country where this event took place being closely linked to their tasting notes. 

My mind immediately thought of The Commonwealth Games, especially as Scotland would be hosting the event in Glasgow this year, but was it truly a global event? I considered some vintages: 1994-Victoria, Canada; 1998-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 2002-Manchester UK. Three vintage years certainly, global? Yes, but not all inclusive. There has already been a Glen Garioch 1994 vintage, but 1998 could be a contender, but how could Malaysia be closely linked to the official tasting notes? Then there was 2002 and Manchester? I didn't think so!

With rugby being my favourite sport, this was my next line of investigation. I'm also aware that Morrison Bowmore Master Blender Rachel Barrie is also a big rugby fan, so this seemed to fit nicely. The Scotland rugby team have always featured in the Rugby World Cup tournament, a truly global sporting event, and totally inclusive (well if you can field a rugby team, and qualify!) and again I started to think of some vintage years: 2003-Australia; 1999-Wales; 1995-South Africa. Again three vintage years, but with 1995 and 1999 vintages already in the current line up, left only 2003 as a possible contender, alas being held in October and November didn't fit with the summers day, and with England being the winners that year seemed even less likely!

The only other Scottish sporting team I'm familiar with is the Football team, and with 2014 being a FIFA World Cup year, this also seemed 'topical'. Unfortunately Scotland hadn't qualified this year, and haven't done so since 1998, when the competition was held in France during the summer months of June and July. There's no 1998 vintage Glen Garioch, and since this year has cropped up twice in my initial investigations looked a strong contender!

My second clue told me that the Whisky is a perfect marriage of two regions, and that I might find that I may be reminded of something else. No research needed here? I wasn't sure, and thought I'd best read on to the end of my clues before tasting.

Clue number three told me the casks were previously stored in a cave, 100km from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite being the second largest ocean, with all of the East coast of the Americas and all of the West coast of Africa having Atlantic shores, I was still being steered towards a 1998 vintage and France, where 'cave' is also French for cellar and started thinking of wine casks from South West France.

The farmer called them 'effers' but I knew what he meant
The fourth clue was describing the type of wood this expression has been matured in: 'The oak shares it's name with a breed of cattle.' I know very little about breeds of cows but surprised myself with being able to write a fair number of cattle breeds down! All those Sunday evenings watching Countryfile paying dividends for my cow knowledge, but none of them closely resembling names of oak! Friesian Oak anyone? Perhaps I needed to review types of oak used for casks?

And so I discovered that Limousin was not only a region of France famed for its oak forests, but also for a breed of highly muscled beef cattle. While researching Limousin I discovered that it's grove of French Oak was prized for it's distinct character and flavours in wine fermentation, and that vintner Rémy Martin has exclusive rights to these oak groves, a partnership that has been established for over 100 years. 

I needed to find out a little more about Rémy Martin next, as it was most likely that the casks used would have once held something from them. Whilst I had heard of the brand and knew that they were famed for their Cognac, I wasn't aware of any whiskies being matured in Cognac casks. I also need to find out if Rémy Martin used caves to mature their Cognac! 

Further investigations told me that because of it's 'loose' grain Limousin oak is most suited for Cognac, Armagnac, Sherry and Whisky ageing. Discounting whisky, I considered the two French spirits, Cognac and Armagnac, both fitting into the 100km from the Atlantic range, but I'm not familiar with either of them, having never tasted either. Can you believe that? I'm the wrong side of 40 and have never tasted Cognac or Armagnac, something I intend to change this year! 

I then considered Sherry, and upon deciding it was indeed sherry o'clock poured myself a glass of Fino, that was a smart move! I've been on a bit of a sherry mission recently, initially from curiosity to find out a little more about the fortified wine casks so often used in whisky maturation. Sherry comes from Jerez in Spain, which also features an Atlantic shoreline, so could also be a possible contender! 

So before tasting this new expression from Glen Garioch I have determined (rightly or wrongly) that it was distilled one summers day in 1998, that it has been matured in French oak casks, Limousin Oak to be precise, and that the casks had been previously used, so definitely not virgin oak, and possibly Cognac casks.

This brought be straight back to clue number two; a perfect marriage of two regions, Scotland and France, the 'Auld Alliance', perhaps I could be on the right track?

Whisky Discovery
Where is this chocolate and jam leading me?
But where does the chocolate with crystallised ginger and pot of jam fit in with all of this? I hear you ask. I pondered with the same question, for hours. Before I knew it I'd eaten half the rich dark chocolate and picked off most of the crystallised ginger, I was getting nowhere! The French aren't well known for their chocolate, especially as two of their neighbours are renowned for their chocolatiers. The jam seemed to be a type of plum jam, not Victoria plums, but more of a Damson Plum, or Blackcurrant And Plum. France is famed for a type of Plum Jam, though Mirrabelle Plums are golden plums grown in the Lorraine region and much of the production goes into jam making, but it's an orangey yellow colour.

Whisky Discovery #780

Glen Garioch 1998 'French Oak' ex-Cognac casks (48% abv)
Highland Single Malt
Price tba
Whisky Discovery
I give you the new Glen Garioch 1998 Cognac Cask in front of some 'familiar friends
I tasted this on its own and immediately found the 'house style' in my mental notes. I decided That I must be frugal with each pour, keeping it to no more than 15ml each time as I wanted to sample at different times of the day, and get a morning tasting in too, seeing as I had a long Easter weekend. I also wanted to try it with and without water (really taking this role seriously) as well as sampling alongside the othe Glen Garioch expressions I have at home; Founders Reserve, 12 Year Old and 1995 Vintage

I decided to stick with the Cognac Cask for my guess as further investigations into the Suntory brands led me to Louis Royer, a Cognac producer from Jarnac which is just to the East of Cognac, fitting nicely with the 100 km rule, and closer inspection of their website seemed to indicate caves were used to store the casks. However, if I was supposed to find Cognac notes it this new expression, I've failed miserably as I wouldn't know a Cognac if it slapped me in the face!

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Yellow Amber (or Ambre Jeune)

Nose: A familiar Glen Garioch spicy herbal note of heather greets you, with an underlying honey sweetness. Not quite as spicy as the Founders Reserve, and not the soft honey sweetness of the 12 Year Old, something right in the middle of the two. There's no aroma dominating the nose, it just comes across balanced, with some gentle fruit notes, soft pears and white grape notes. a drop of water brings some fresh sawn lumber and releases waves of soft vanilla.

Palate: Rich and refined, a lovely malt-wood balance, with a mouth-coating quality that again feels right. The spices build quickly which last right through to the long finish, along with a zingy peppery note, but never over powering. There are flavours of fine oak wood, shavings from a carpenters plane, the grape juice note follows from the nose, bringing sweetness to the balance, then right at the end there is a touch of earthiness to it. a drop of water releases ginger, but not the crystallised ginger I was expecting.

Finish: The finish is long initially spicy, which is followed by the oak wood flavours, some of the oak tannins starting to dry the mouth, inviting another sip, then again a touch of earthiness at the very end.

Empty Glass: My morning treat, nosing the empty glass (covered overnight) the following morning gave malty chocolate notes and a touch of that herbal heather.

Verdict: A lovely inclusion to my flight of four Glen Garioch's, and it sat very nicely alongside one of my favourite vintages, the 1995. I'm very much looking forward to it's release and revisiting this, because it really is something I would like to put on my shelf.

Sláinte! Dave