*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the samples.
Though Glen Keith is a relatively young distillery, its shortish history is peppered with curiosities. Founded by Seagrams on the site of an old grain mill in 1957, the distillery not only produced whisky, but also functioned as something of a research lab. It was always intended to be a high-volume production plant, servicing the needs of popular blends like Passport, 100 Pipers, and of course, Chivas Regal. Initially, Glen Keith tripled distilled its spirit which, given its Speyside location, was a little uncommon, but after a decade or so, the distillery changed to the more common double distillation. It’s also worth noting that this was the first distillery to use gas-fired stills and one of the first to use automated mashing.
Among the more interesting “experiments” that took place at Glen Keith were those with yeast and peated whiskies. Instead of relying only on commercial yeasts, the distillery created their own yeast strains from the wort (the liquid that comes from the mash, prior to fermentation), and from the pot ale (the residual, molasses-like liquid left after the first distillation). The peated whisky produced at Glen Keith (and sold as Glenisla and Craigduff) was produced not with barley that had been exposed to peat smoke, but instead with water that had been “smoked” and then used in production. For a more in-depth look at this unique distillery and its innovations, I recommend reading Martine Nouet’s profile of Glen Keith.
The distillery continued to churn out blending malts and the rare single malt expression until 1999 when, while running into a bit of, shall we say, trouble. Seagrams mothballed the facility. In 2001, ownership of Glen Keith, along with the rest of Chivas Brothers, was passed into the hands of Pernod-Ricard. It stayed dormant for another 11 years until 2012, when work began to repair the distillery. In 2013, production started once again, and today Glen Keith is among the largest single malt distillers producing close to six million liters of spirit annually.
Glen Keith has appeared very rarely as an official distillery bottling, most of its single malt output is more visible from independent bottlers. This 19 year old expression from the Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range was distilled in 1996 and matured in an ex-bourbon cask.
The Nose: Very pleasant fruit and grain. Upfront, bruised apples, spiced apple sauce and Poire William mingle with sweetened malt and oatmeal with too much brown sugar. Nice, floral honey notes, a little orgeat syrup, and some interesting hints of red berries float behind. Soft oak notes round things out along with vanilla, cinnamon and a touch of fruit cake. Adding a little water brings out even more malty notes, a touch of stone fruit, and a bit more vanilla syrup.
The Palate: Really nice, creamy mouthfeel, though it begins a little hot and remains a little spirit-y until the end. In contrast to the nose, that sweet, malty character is stronger than the cider-y apple notes, as are the honey and red fruit notes. There’s a stronger nuttiness as well – toasted almonds with a bit of salt. There’s sharper, more tannic oak and spice than on the nose as well with grippy, sawn wood, vanilla bean, rough cinnamon, clove and black pepper. With water, the nuttiness and sharp oak is eased a little, and as with the nose, a touch of stone fruit is added to the mix.
The Finish: Mouth-watering with lingering oak tannins, honeyed malt, red fruit, and crushed spices.
Thoughts: Nice stuff, a fairly straightforward Speysider with a few surprises. Though 19 years old, there’s more grain and ester-y spirit character than I expected…but that’s not a bad thing. There’s a nice consistent progression of malt and fruit happening throughout. The oak influence is lighter than expected but manages to provide a solid counterpoint. The surprises come in the form of those hints of red fruits and the appearance of stone fruit with the addition of water. Though pleasant and drinkable at strength, I think adding a little H2O calms the hot-ish palate and adds another level of complexity.
The Exclusive Malts 1996 Glen Keith 19 Year Old, Speyside, IB, 2015