COVID has had a big impact on our meetings and thus far we have managed with virtual tastings by video link. This month’s meet was a little different. Six of us met , socially distanced of course, at the Black Horse in Amberley and others joined in from home via video link.
GlenAllachie is a relatively modern distillery founded in 1967 and situated in the central Speyside region. Until recently the whisky produced here was used in blends manufactured by the Pernod-Ricard group. In 2017 the distillery was acquired from Pernod-Ricard by a consortium of three people led by Billy Walker who has previously owned BenRiach and Glendronnach. In the three years under its new ownership it has won several awards for its single malt expressions and ‘Distillery of the Year’ in the 2019 Scottish Whisky Awards. Quite a remarkable achievement.
That’s enough background, let’s get on to the important bit -
Chinquapin Oak - Initially on the nose orange zest, tending towards marmalade, and sawdust, but not in an unpleasant way. (Coming back to this one later in the evening the nose was vanilla ice cream, maybe custard). In the mouth, cinnamon sweets with a little heat, some white pepper and liquorice all leading to a medium length spicy finish. Adding a few drops of water brought out flavours of bananas and butterscotch mellowing the spiciness.
French Oak – Aromas of banana sweets (those foamy ones), darker fruits, butterscotch and some difficult to identify notes that some likened to chlorine or superglue! To taste, honey, citrus fruit (possibly grapefruit), white pepper and a tannic woodiness. The finish on this one was a real surprise - long and very complex in waves going from sweetness to fruit to pepper and a final tannic dryness. Adding a few drops of water enhances the sweetness, brings out some toffee on the nose and seems to prolong the finish.
Spanish Oak – Wood, leather, citrus fruits, a hint of coconut, some vegetive notes on the nose. Tasting revealed an initial hit of salt followed by vanilla and cinnamon spice leading to a short , almost abrupt spicy finish with a lingering slightly unpleasant bitterness. A few drops of water thinned down the feel of this whisky but still left the bitter finish, so no real benefit.
So how did we rate them? In first place was the French Oak followed by the Chinquapin oak. There was little between them - both are excellent whiskies, but the lovely finish of the French oak whisky won the day. The Spanish Oak was a little disappointing and trailed well behind the other two.
All in all, a very good evening that certainly did highlight the differences between the finishing casks. They are all oaks, but the influences of native climate and the speed of growth has a big effect on the characteristics imparted to the finished whisky. There were some consistent flavours and aromas across the range, fruit, sweetness, orange, pepper and spice, and these probably reflect the characteristics of the base GlenAllachie spirit. It would have been good to have had some of their new make spirit to see if we could confirm this.