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Having left my prize wines & spirits in safe keeping back in London when I departed for Hong Kong in July, the bar stocks were as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard when I arrived here. Not so now. Thanks to a range of enthralling virtual tastings that I have been invited to over recent weeks plus a barrage of entries for The QDF Factor (more of that in a subsequent Blog), I could now open one of the best bars in Hung Hom.
A ‘virtual tasting’ might sound a pretty sterile affair. After all, how can even the wonders of an online tasting via Zoom or Microsoft Teams replace the pleasure of one-on-one human interaction? The answer is that it doesn’t replace, it complements. And, done well, it offers a marvelous connection between products and people, wherever those people may be.
Such was the case last week when I was honoured to take part in an exclusive pre-launch tasting of The Glenturret’s new range, which will be handled in travel retail by Axiom Brands, and represented by well-known industry figures Andrew Torrance and Calum Lawrie.
The range (www.TheGlenturret.com) is the first to be created by the distiller’s new owner, Glenturret Holding, a joint venture between luxury goods house Lalique Group and Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss (Lalique’s second-largest shareholder).
The line-up has been crafted by a man synonymous with great whisky-making, Master Blender Bob Dalgarno, who spent 30 years at The Macallan. Four core expressions are on offer: Triple Wood, 10 Years Old Peat Smoked, 12 Years Old and 15 Years Old, as well as the 25 and 30 Years Old, which are limited to just 204 and 750 bottles, respectively.
By Zoom, I was able to join Bob Dalgarno, together with Managing Director John Laurie and The Glenturret Distillery Manager Ian Renwick in a fascinating conversation that felt as intimate as if we were in the same room and made a mockery of the 9,500 or so kilometers in between us.
Alas, my samples (pictured) had not arrived in time (they were delivered the following morning) so this really was a virtual tasting in every sense for me. But it was a highly educational one, that offered insights every bit as rich as, say, the delectable 12 Years Old with its fruit cake character and gentle warming spice.
Welcoming me to the launch, John Laurie said: “A better way to describe this launch would be a reawakening. The Glenturret is a hidden gem in Scotland, and one that we are very proud to be bringing back to life at this stage.”
Hidden no longer. The new range embraces an outstanding array of single malts. If you like rich, soft rounded whisky styles (and I do) these are for you. The first thing Bob Delgarno did when he arrived at The Glenturret was to “disappear for three months into the distillery” in an effort to get acquainted with what was in the casks (“the rest of the family” as he puts it). There he came to understand how the maturation differed at The Glenturret compared to where he’d worked before, while plotting how he would help craft the new range.
The tasting (which I mirrored with my own 24 hours later) started with the New Make Spirit, at 63.5% not to be sampled without a large splash of water (at least twice the whisky pour) to reduce it down to around 20%. Why taste New Make Spirit? “Because we need to understand it – it influences everything we do every day,” says Bob.
Then it was time to move on to the range, starting with Triple Wood (triple referring to the use of American and European oak that had previously held sherry, and some bourbon barrels). The fusion of woods has resulted in a nicely balanced medley of flavours, the sherry to the fore complemented by seductive vanilla notes in the soft 43% abv unaged whisky. It’s soft, accessible and a fine unaged introduction to the range.
Now, as they say, for something completely different – the 10 Years Old Peat Smoked. As soon as you’ve opened your bottle the smoke hits you. But, despite the 50 abv alcohol, don’t expect a big, heavy peat monster – it’s surprisingly sweet with a nice balance of fruit and, again, vanilla. “For me, out of the range, it’s my favourite whisky, by far,” says Ian Renwick.
So to the 12 Years Old (46% abv). I mentioned fruit cake earlier, and that taste profile analogy encapsulates the gorgeous marriage of spice and sweet citrus characters. This lovely deep golden whisky, best cut with a gentle splash, epitomises the rounded, balanced nature of the whole range. Outstanding.
Finally to the 15 Years Old, at 55% needing a cut of water to open it up. But not too much. As I write (at 12.30 in the afternoon so I am nosing only), I get an unmistakable hint of marmalade on the nose and a toffee apple character that I also picked up in the 12 Years Old. Bob used second-fill American casks and has produced a sumptuous malt with a beautifully rich mouth feel, almost liqueurish in its viscosity.
“It just lingers,” says Bob, “just sits on the palate.” Basks on the palate, even. It’s soft, elegant and the kind of whisky that just screams nightcap like a New York pedestrian screams “Taxi!”
Under its new owners, The Glenturret is capable of stepping up production from its recent 170,000 litres a year to 500,000. While it probably won’t go that high, whatever the cap it will not come at the detriment of quality.
“We don’t want to be compared to other brands,” says Bob. “On purpose we do not mention other brands internally so that we continue to forge your own path. We would love to be the single malt Scotch whisky of choice for those special occasions and special moments.”
The new range represents an emphatic stride in that direction. Scotland’s hidden gem now awaits discovery.