The bottle I am reviewing today is the first taste I’ve had from the Glen Elgin distillery, but given my experience with this one, it won’t be my last. The challenge will be, though, to find an “official bottling” because most of what is currently available comes from various Independent Bottlers, like this one, which was bottled by Signatory Vintage. The subject of today’s review is a Glen Elgin 17 yo, Signatory Vintage 1995; it is a single cask bottling of whisky that was distilled 07.11.1995 and bottled 19.09.2013, matured in Hogshead, Cask No 1640, and we have bottle 60 of 362. As are most of the Unchillfiltered Collection, this whisky is bottled at 46% abv, is unchillfiltered (I know, redundant, since that is part of the name) and has no added coloring……whisky au naturale! Yea!!!
Glen Elgin Distillery
The Glen Elgin distillery was designed by the renowned architect and distillery designer Charles Doig, who is famous for the Pagoda-style kiln chimneys – sometimes referred to as the “Doig Ventilator” – that have become so emblematic of Scotland’s whisky distilleries. I doubt, however, that anyone would consider Glen Elgin to be one of Doig’s masterpieces! You see, the Glen Elgin distillery is made of up a series of rather modest buildings….and modest might be an understatement: nondescript, utilitarian, industrial, innocuous, bland, are all other terms that come to mind when looking at photos of this distillery.
In a moment of incredible prescience, or perhaps just showing an extraordinary depth of understanding of the whisky industry in Scotland, at the time of Glen Elgin’s completion, Doig predicted that it would be the last one built in Speyside for 50 years; and his forecast proved remarkably accurate as no new distilleries were built in Speyside until 1958 when the Tormore distillery was completed.
Timing also had a significant impact on Glen Elgin, and led to a very rough start for this small Speyside distillery.
Construction of the distillery began in 1898, just prior to the 1898-99 collapse of Leith whisky blender, Pattison’s, which famously drove Scotland’s vibrant whisky market into a severe recession that caused numerous bankruptcies and distillery closures. The impact of the Pattison Crisis was certainly felt by Glen Elgin’s owners and within a year of beginning production in May 1900 they were forced to sell the distillery at a significant loss.
In 1901, the distillery was then acquired at auction by the Glen Elgin-Glenlivet Distillery Company for £4,000 and production began once more, but that was also short-lived, lasting only from 1904 to 1905.
Glen Elgin changed hands once more 1906, when it at last began a stable period of almost 25 years in the hands of Glasgow whisky merchant and blender John J. Blanche, who retained ownership until Scottish Malt Distillers, Ltd (SMD) acquired the distillery in 1930. On the upside, the distillery’s fate improved under SMD when SMD licensed the distillery to White Horse Distillers. To this day, Glen Elgin whisky remains a key component of White Horse blended whisky, which sell 12 million bottles a year and is exported to over 200 countries worldwide – this is one of the reasons that you don’t see many official releases of Glen Elgin on the shelf!
The Glen Elgin distillery was also challenged by one other significant issue. By the end of the Victorian era the railroads significance had become critical for the whisky industry. Trains were used to transport raw materials in and whisky out – far more effectively than in the past. In fact, access to the railroad system had grown so important that the owner’s of Balblair demolished the distillery in 1872 and rebuilt it half a mile down the road where it could benefit from the nearby railway. Unfortunately for Glen Elgin, the planned branch of the railway was never constructed and Glen Elgin was left “stranded” without the means for effective delivery and shipment of their whiskies.
Glen Elgin remained a relatively small distillery, operating with just two stills until 1964 when the distillery was rebuilt and the number of stills was expanded from two to six. Glen Elgin’s stills are relatively small, and the distilled spirit vapors are cooled via six external wooden worm tubs. Small stills and the use of worm tubs to cool the vapors “should” result in a more full-bodied, denser spirit, however Glen Elgin’s longer fermentation times – standard at 90 hours – and a slow distillation leads to a lighter, fruitier spirit. Production at Glen Elgin has increased 50% and the distillery is now running 7 days with 16 mashes per week. Total output is 2.7 million liters per year.
An interesting little factoid about Glen Elgin: until the 1950s, the distillery was operated and lit entirely by paraffin. Entirely! Think about that for a second! All of the distillery machinery was driven by a paraffin engine and a water turbine. As you can imagine, it was a full-time job to keep the paraffin lights burning….and it also shows why distillery fires were a relatively common mishap in years past. You have a mix of flammable liquids and gasses, and open flames…..sure, what could go wrong there?
Review: Glen Elgin 17 yo, Signatory Vintage 1995, Unchillfiltered Collection
Color: Pale Gold.
Nose: A big glass full of ripe, fresh fruits – red apples, peaches, strawberries, maybe some bananas, with honey drizzled on top. Some nice oak influences – a touch of coconut, a hint of white pepper. Soft floral notes show up after a few minutes as do some delicate touches of baking spices.
Taste: Really an elegant arrival, soft yet full-bodied, just a touch of a spirity-bite but it works well here. The fruits, more vanilla now, the honey and soft spices, a touch of lemon.
Finish: Lemon-vanilla, soft fruits, a hint of tannins toward the end. Quite long and really nice.
Overall: This was my first Glen Elgin and I admit to some surprise about how much I liked this one, but then I really didn’t know what to expect. I do know that Signatory has a pretty good track record in picking casks – at least in my experience, so it was a reasonable bet when I picked it up. This Glen Elgin is full of vibrant aromas and flavors, has a beautiful body and a wonderful finish; it would make a fantastic introduction to someone new to Scotch whisky.
Distillery: Glen Elgin
Bottler: Signatory Vintage, Unchillfiltered Collection
Type: Single Malt
Age: Vintage 1995 17 year-old, Distilled 07.11.1995, Bottled 19.09.2013
Maturation: Matured in Hogshead, Cask No 1640, Bottle 60 of 362
Availability: Currently available (Specs, locally)
Sample Source: My own bottle
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.
Whiskey Opus, Dominic Roskrow, Gavin D. Smith, Juergen Diebel, Davin de Kergommeaux