Review: Glen Garioch, 1989 Wemyss

Glen Garioch – 25yo 1989 “Peaches and Cream” Wemyss

(Distilled 1989, bottled 2014, hogshead, 357 bottles, 46%)

Always an interesting distillery is Glen Garioch. For a start it’s one of the oldest around, dating back into the 18th century, and with a name that trips up even those of us whisky nerds who kid ourselves we’ve got an okay grip on the ol’ Gaelic. (It’s pronounced “glen geery”, deriving from the Doric dialect of the north-east Highlands.)

It’s taste rather than trivia we’re concerned with here though, and that remains … interesting. Pre-1980s Glen Garioch was often very smoky, rather in the Brora mould; post-1997 it has been totally unpeated. The 80s and 90s were a time of transition, then, and batches from that period are quite varied: sometimes smoky, sometimes fruity, sometimes (especially in the mid-90s) very austere and a bit grassy. You don’t know quite what you might find with these years, and here’s one from right in the middle of that vintage of vaguery. Personally I’m hoping to find some peaches and cream.

Nose: The initial impression is of plant sap – green and cooling, with a wee hit of menthol. Then come the peaches (yay!) and some cantaloupe and a touch of coconut. A deep breath finds some earthy peat (just a touch), coal tar and liquorice root. I’m even getting a tiny waxy and metallic thing, a bit like a weird hybrid of Clynelish and Ben Nevis.  We’re in the Highlands, that much is for certain. As it breathes it becomes more obviously fruity, with oranges popping up, and a bit of something redcurrant-ish.
Taste: A fun and exuberant start, being both softly creamy and quite zingy with spice. A little salty too, which is slightly unexpected. Peach and orange, still, and a bit more lemon.
Finish: A dry finish – again with an earthy side, now accompanied by some bitter herbs. Peach-flavoured iced tea, perhaps, and lots of cough candy. I’m reminded of when you sometimes eat a persimmon that is simultaneously sweetly fruity and yet tannic.

In a way this bottling is like a Greatest Hits of mid-period Glen Garioch. The smoky, the fruity, the grassy – which one will you find? Well, sort of a bit of them all. Like a compilation, though, it doesn’t necessarily cohere into something with its own identity.

To be slightly more concrete: a great and complex nose, but then slightly downhill from the initial does-what-it-says-on-the-tin peaches and cream into a bit of a disappointing finish. Still a really solid – and always interesting – Glen Garioch though, and quite an evocative encapsulation of this period of the distillery’s history.

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