Spirit Of The Week: Glenglassaugh 46-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
Glenglassaugh’s Master Blender opens up about a $4,800 whisky kissed by the land, sea and air of Scotland.
In 1875 the Colonel James Moir founded a distillery on the crescent coast of Sandend Bay, its placement by the smashing waves of the North Sea lending his spirit an inimitable influence. While his Glenglassaugh Distillery crafted coveted whisky for centuries, primarily for blends, the 1980s “Whisky Loch” crash that sank hundreds of distilleries across Scotland felled the Colonel’s endeavor as well.
Until December of 2008, that is, when the mothballed distillery resurrected its whisky-making soul. All the while barrels of its luscious single malt treasure rested in the mothballed Sandend Bay cellars, soaking in their wood and littoral climate while they awaited their raison d’être.
It has been the duty of Glenglassaugh Master Blender Rachel Barrie to periodically sample these rare casks to see when one might be ready to share with the world. Recently she pulled a whisky thief filled with ancient spirit from cask #1978, tasted its golden Highland elixir, and instantly recognized its time had come.
We had a chance to ask the distinguished Master Blender a couple questions about this oh-so-unique $4,800 expression, and Barrie’s answers rang with so much Scottish poetry we decided to offer them to you uncut—much like her nearly half-century old barrel of Highland single malt.
What specific terroir elements does Sandend Bay bring to the Glenglassaugh table?
It’s impossible to separate Glenglassaugh the whisky from Glenglassaugh the place. The lush sweetness of this coastal single malt is a complete distillation of its natural surroundings in Sandend Bay. Its whole essence is created by both the visible and invisible influences of land, sea, air and spring water.
With exceptionally rich mineral water used to distill Glenglassaugh (five times the average mineral content of Scottish water) and coastal microflora surrounding the distillery in Sandend Bay, a unique and highly distinctive coastal tropical sweetness is created in the spirit.
During decades of maturation in our coastal warehouses, the microflora and fresh elemental ocean air uniquely coalesce with spirit and oak to shape a luscious elixir with rolling waves of complexity and a luxurious and timeless taste.
You’ve waited almost a half century for this barrel to reach its peak. What qualities specific to this cask let you know it’s ready to be shared with the world?
There are very few treasured old and rare casks remaining in the coastal warehouses at Glenglassaugh Distillery, and those that have reached their 40s or even 50s in age are extremely rare indeed. Cared for under the watchful eye of the warehouse team, I regularly checked in on the liquid gold maturing inside this cask, using senses alone to ascertain if it had reached perfection.
I discovered that cask #1978, distilled on 3rd September 1975, had reached perfection at 46 years old, polished on the shores of Sandend Bay.
This 46 year old elixir was one of a very few remaining casks of very old Glenglassaugh. With only 215 bottles left at a natural cask strength of 41.7% ABV, it was time to bottle the luxurious and perfectly balanced liquid at its peak, with an abundance of seductive tropical and ripe summer fruit, finessed on an ocean breeze.
Tell us a bit about the cask itself, and what particular flavors you enjoy most with this unique expression?
Glenglassaugh 46 Year Old has been shaped by maturation in both second-fill and first-fill American oak, amplifying the taste of silk and creating a harmonious balance of tropical and sumptuous ripe fruit. With luscious waves of mango, plum and cherry, rolling on a seductive ocean breeze, Glenglassaugh 46 is quite simply the quintessential coastal single malt. Long maturation in American oak has amplified the taste of silk, creating an elixir of lush tropical sweetness kissed by the ocean breeze.
What are the challenges of resurrecting a distillery that was mothballed for decades?
Glenglassaugh was reawakened after more than two decades of slumber in December 2008, initially producing small volumes, which culminated in the launch of a number of small-batch bottling releases in the years that followed. Fortunately, the distillery has proven to be stalwart in weathering the storms of its checkered past since its foundation in 1875 and is now sustaining distillation of Glenglassaugh spirit through its two stills, in the same way as the past, patiently looking forward to the bright future ahead.
Since its reawakening, Glenglassaugh’s quintessential coastal character has proved timeless, shining through just as it had in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. We are extremely fortunate that a small number of these old and rare hidden gems still rest in our coastal warehouses, their sublime and luscious beauty a testament of the timeless nature of Glenglassaugh’s spirit. In recent years, production has slowly and steadily increased, with room to grow, as we continue to lay down Glenglassaugh spirit to mature in our coastal warehouses.
Only 215 bottles of Glenglassaugh 46 could be pulled from the barrel, all bottled at cask strength (41.7% ABV), non-chill filtered and naturally colored. Sealed with wax and hand-numbered, Glenglassaugh 46 retails for $4,800.