A fine whisky from low down in the Scottish Highlands


We thought this week we’d revisit a few of the remarkable whiskies of the Glengoyne Distillery from fairly low down in the Scottish Highlands.

Glengoyne is sadly not as familiar a name to many as it should be. It was founded in 1833 in a wooded glen on the western edge of the Campsie Fells, not far from Loch Lomond, almost exactly on the demarcation line between the Highlands and Lowlands (about 30 minutes outside of Glasgow). The distillery had a good reputation and in 1984 was issued a royal warrant as supplier of whiskies to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s household.

Yet, the brand was allowed to wane in the mid to late 1990s, just when single malts were really taking off in the U.S. Everything thankfully changed for the better when Glengoyne was bought in 2003 by Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd, an independent, Scottish, family-owned business.

Ian Macleod and Company Ltd. was founded in 1933 and acquired by the Russell family in 1963, becoming Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd. The Russell family already had a good reputation as blenders and bottlers, a reputation that, under the name Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd, has only grown and become more respected over the decades. Glengoyne became its first whisky distillery, followed more recently by Tamdhu.


Soon after Ian MacLeod took over the distillery, it began to release a series of interesting and exciting new expressions of Glengoyne that quickly thrust the brand out of the bargain bins and onto the top-quality shelf. Also of note, for you intrepid whisky tourists, Glengoyne is one of the prettier and easier-to-visit distilleries, if you are not heading way up north, and is a very worthwhile tour in terms of the layout (the entire process of whisky making can be viewed in a relatively compact space) and knowledge and integrity of the tour guides (minimal marketing guff and no outright bluffing when asked substantive questions). The visitor center is full of goodies, too.

As for the whiskies, for some time we only ever really got to taste these whiskies in the U.K. Whether it was limited distribution or just limited name recognition keeping it off the shelves, all we know is that Glengoyne seemed hard to find. Fortunately, this has changed, and we recently got to taste three expressions of Glengoyne and each was just amazing. Each is well worth seeking out. For all of you who dislike peat, take note as Glengoyne is known for not using peat smoke to dry the malted barley to make whisky. Here then are three expressions of Glengoyne to find and enjoy:

Glengoyne 10 year old (43 percent abv; $40): This wonderfully smooth, easy quaffed whisky offers fresh, lovely herbal aromas, with noticeable sweet American oak scents, and more cream than fruit – water flattens the nose a bit and isn’t needed, though it brings the citrusy elements more distinctly through on the palate. Otherwise, the palate is delicious as is, with excellent balance between bitterness and sweetness, with warming flavors of pure malted barley, vanilla, honey, some ginger, and a glimmer of cooking apples and pears. It features a lovely, drying barley finish with some added chocolate and coffee notes.

Glengoyne, Distilled 1996, limited edition (bottled in 2010; 3,000 bottles all for the U.S. market; 43 percent abv; $68): An interesting change from the 10-year-old, as the nose here shifts from herbal and creamy to more fruit and vanilla, and then caramel with some slight but pleasant damp, funkiness lurking in the background. This is followed by sympathetic flavors of zesty, almost tropical, fruits, ginger, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, with slightly broken-down chocolate fondant. This carries through into the drying finish with a little more heat than warmth, and notes of spice, oak, sharp/astringent walnuts and some lovely cream to balance what otherwise promised to be searing.

Glengoyne 17 year old (43 percent abv; $70): This lovely, complex whisky offers lively grassy, herbaceous aromas that parlay variously into citrus fruits, cedar wood, chocolate, stewed cherries, peanut butter, mint and even shortbread. Pulling away from the nose to the palate, for eventually you will wish to drink as well as sniff this one, brings notes of orange, vanilla, malted barley, raisins, red currants, sweet cream, and chocolate, ending in a long, rich finish of milky coffee, citrus zest, candied ginger, some overripe grapefruit, peanut brittle, coconut, honey and slightly burnt shortbread. Delicious. L’Chaim!

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