Thursday, April 29, 2010

Glenkinchie 12 years old Single Malt Whisky Review

Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
You are no doubt familiar with the words Speyside, Islay and Highlands, which of course refer to famous regions of Scotland that are home to many great distilleries.  But, Lowlands?  Maybe you have not heard of it and this is understandable.  The Lowlands is that region that generally borders on England. 

Anyway, enough of the boring little geography lesson.  What we are concerned with is whether or not such a region is home to a good distillery or two?  Well, actually it is home to three functioning distilleries:  Glenkinchie (near Edinburgh); Auchentoshan (near Clydeband) and Bladnoch (near Galloway).  We know from my previous review of Auchentoshan 12 year-old-single-malt that I am not a fan of that distillery.  The question for today is whether or not Glenkinchie is any good?  Well, students of scotch whisky, let's investigate!

I am not going to tell you how many hundreds of years ago this distillery was founded or the name of the brothers or family that started it all.  Why?  Because it seems that every scotch distillery has the same quaint, fairy tale, and I just refuse to parrot the stock marketing material embossed on the bottle labels and packaging.  I mean surely there was a greedy Scottish family out there, a couple hundred years ago, who were essentially bootleggers and tax dodgers, who made fine hootch and did it, not for the love of the spirit, but for the love of money!  Imagine that, a Scot who loved money?  What's wrong with that storyline?  I am waiting for that tale to be inscribed in fine poetry on the back of a scotch bottle.  I probably will have to wait a while for that one.

Before moving on to my tasting note, what I will tell you about Glenkinchie is an interesting observation made by the late, great scotch whisky chronicler, Michael Jackson, in his book Whiskey - The Definitive World Guide (DK Publishing Inc., 2005, NY).  At page 100, Mr. Jackson wrote that the greatest Lowland distillery was Rosebank.  It is owned by Diageo, a multinational drinks company, but closed in 1993.  How come? 

In order to answer the above question, a brief explanation of the Classic Malts Selection is necessary.  In 1988, a drinks company going by the name of United Distillers and Vintners (who subsequently were bought out by Diageo) started marketing six single malt whiskies by region:

Dalwhinnie 15 years:  Highland

Talisker 10 years:  Isle of Skye

Cragganmore 12 years:  Speyside

Oban 14 years:  West Highland

Lagavulin 16 years:  Islay

Glenkinchie 12 years:  Lowland

The problem with the "regions" of Scotland identified and marketed by United Distillers and Vintners and subsequently Diageo is that they are in some cases invented purely for the purposes of marketing.  No one else speaks of "West Highland" as a distinct scotch whisky region.  Moreover, such is the case for "Isle of Skye."  Why is this the case?  Simple.  Diageo wanted to showcase Oban and Dalwhinnie, referring to one as from Highland and the other from West Highland.  Isle of Skye is not normally regarded as a distinct scotch producing region.  It is merely home to one distillery, Talisker, which happens to be owned by Diageo.  All marketing.  The traditional regions of Scotland are: Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay.  It is interesting to note that Campbeltown has a long history of being a scotch producing region, but is not represented in the Classic Malts line-up.  Could it be due to the fact that Diageo does not own any Campbeltown distilleries?  Me thinks so.

So, what does the above discussion have to do with Rosebank?  Back to Michael Jackson at page 100:

"When Diageo put together its six-strong Classic Malts range, it had to choose between Glenkinchie and Rosebank for the Lowland representative.  Most people in the firm would have chosen Rosebank, but in marketing, image is all; Rosebank sat next to a dissused canal and bridged a busy main road, while Glenkinchie lay in pretty farmland, with more tourist appeal.

Why, though, close Rosebank down?  Even if it was insufficiently pretty to be a frontline distillery, the quality of its spirit was such that it deserved to be in the portfolio.  Today the canal is open and industrial heritage is celebrated, Rosebank remains closed."

So, there you have it.  Glenkinchie was not generally regarded as producing the finest single malt whisky in the Lowlands.  That prize went to Rosebank, but it got shut down in favor of Glenkinchie because the latter had a prettier location, which lended it to the aims of marketing.

Well, enough introductory remarks, let's see what Glenkinchie tastes like.

Glenkinchie 12 years

Fresh, lemony and citrus.  Very restrained.  Pleasant, but-not-over the top incredible.

Palate (undiluted)
Light bodied and ever so slightly peated.  Begins sweet and rounded with green apple.  A little creamy.  Flavors transition to lemony/lime cereal.  Maybe even lemon meringue pie.

Finish (undiluted)
The lemon meringue quickly disappears and what remains in the mouth is raw onion and faint wasabi (ugh!). The onion and wasabi foreshadow raw alcohol/ginger root that dries across the palate.  Not good.

General Impressions
This single malt starts out ok on the palate, but takes a horrible turn (think Jan & Dean's Dead Man's Curve) for the worse on the finish when the onion and wasabi appears before melding into plain old alcohol.  This is totally unacceptable at the high price point charged for this single malt scotch.  I am very disappointed. 

This single malt scotch was not cheap.  For the price, I expected a lot more.  I have no problem with it being light bodied.  What I have a problem with is that alcohol finish.  I mean rubbing alcohol.  Really makes it taste cheap on the finish.  No value for money here.  This is a single malt that confirms my opinion that blended scotch whisky can in some cases be better than single malts. 

I am unsure as to whether or not the addition of water improves this single malt.

Bottom line:  Not recommended.  Very expensive for what you get.  A simple unfolding of flavors.  Where is the complexity?  For a high priced single malt scotch, there is not the level of complexity of flavors that should be there.

If I was a Roman Empreror and this malt was a gladiator staring up at me from the bowels of the Colosseum, awaiting word of his fate, he would be getting a big thumbs down from me.

Jason Debly

P.S.  Is Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition any better?  Check out my review here.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Jason
    i must agree. Gkinchie is my worst buy yet. i paid a hefty 50$ for this malt, and i must say, i am greatly dissappointed by it. really it's not better than many cheaper blends out there.
    not going to do that anymore.
    booo for GK!

  2. Gal, unfortunately for me, when I purchased this one, I also picked up the Distiller's Edition. Haven't opened it and dreading doing so. I suspect I also threw away some money on that one.

  3. Had this at an irish pub with a baked brie and green apple slices appetizer. Very very good combination.

    Didn't get any of the harsh aftertaste that you experienced. If you're dumping it, I'll give you my shipping address. ;P

  4. yes this isn't one of the best malts out there. Avoid if you can!

  5. Mike, Glenkinchie 12 starts out ok but the wheels fall off the cart at the finish. That lingering flavor is oak/ginger, turning to unadulterated alcohol/wasabi. But, I could imagine that if I had it with food, the scotch would be a tad better.

  6. I must say that reviews like this one make me truly doubt the consistency between different bottles/years of single malts. I am certainly not singling you out, many of the reviews available differ considerably from my experience, and in fact, the reviews of other writers.

    My tastings of Glenkinchie have all been from one bottle, so perhaps mine was the anomaly. The nose was sweet apple and malt sugar. It started off sweet, smooth and had quite a thin mouth feel. I would certainly agree that it is not complex, but as I have a preference for sweet, I found it quite enjoyable. It seemed to soften in the mouth and the flavour didn’t build. Light apple and a bit of alcohol. Simple. A small amount of unexpected smoke. Over time the flavours muted and dropped off. Where did the taste go? Then the finish arrived out of nowhere. Sweet malt, dry oak, and more light smoke. Delightful and long, much longer than the start would lead you to believe. So unexpected that I actually said "Wow" a couple of times. Would be a wonderful malt for a beginner if the price was more in line. I'm going to have to try this again somewhere else and see if I feel differently. Maybe tonight.

  7. Hello Howard! Thanks for your observations. I would appreciate if another message from you with respect to your follow up tasting to see if it remains consistent.

    Great tasting note by the way!

  8. Finally had a chance to taste this from a different bottle. My initial impression was the same. Light on the palate, flavours fading away, and then a finish from out of nowhere. I can understand how you sensed those off flavours. I did not get anything unpleasant, but there was definitely a sensation of “something” on the top of my tongue at the back. After a few sips I tried it with a bit of water for the first time.

    Different whisky! Some weight and this time the flavours did not ebb at all. Far less sweet and the flavours concentrated at the back of the mouth. Oak. But, no finish at all. None. Nada. Might as well have come from a different distillery.

    I won’t buy a bottle at our local price, but I would drink it if offered. Neat.

  9. Howard, for the price of Glenkinchie 12 yrs, there are a lot of better 12 year old single malts out there. I guess that is my point.

    Experimenting with water can be useful, as it has been for you. Thanks for posting.


  10. Just tried this for the first time today, was recommended by a friend. Agree that it starts fine and finishes.. well, a little rough. Over ice, allowing for a few minutes for some water to appear, it is great. Perhaps a bit overpriced, but I am enjoying it. Starts so well and is head and shoulders above many others.

  11. Agree with the review. After tasting more than 50 single malts ($40- 100 price range) with my whiskey friend, Glenkinchie 12 yrs is at the bottom of the list with Glenkinchie distiller's edition next to it. Nose and finish are two components, which ruins this whiskey. Glenkinchie 12 yrs has very rough bitter and alcoholic finish. Very unpleasant. Very disappointing for single malt whiskey. Since my whiskey buddy and I do not use any ice - only room temperature water to dilute whiskey, it is difficult to judge how good this one over ice. On the other hand, my personal opinion is that any of single malts should not be diluted with ice. This is what blends are for. Ice brings the temperature down and thus reduces the nose intensity significantly because vapor pressure is proportional to the temperature. And nose is one of the three key components, which define single malts over blended whiskey.

  12. Jason, I just discovered your blog and love it. Re: Glenkinshie 12, given that much of your review focused on your belief that it is not worth its expensive price, I wonder whether your view would change if the price were lower. I ask because my local shop sells Glenkinshie 12 for $32. Having never tried it, I'd be interested in giving it a shot -- unless, that is, you believe my $32 would be better spent on (or towards) another bottle.

    Thanks in advance for your answer, and for everything I've already learned from your excellent reviews.

    - Josh

    1. Josh, if you can find Cragganmore 12 or Glenfiddich 15 solera, Redbreast 12 (Irish whiskey) at the same price, I would opt for those over Glenkinchie. Unfortunately, I suspect that my suggestions are more expensive.

      $32 for Glenkinchie? I dunno, I think there is always something better out there. It is a poor single malt and I recently tried a bottling from last year and the disappointment continues.

      What about Powers Gold 12yrs. A great Irish whiskey that sometimes can be had for a good price.

      Good luck and comment anytime!

  13. Jason, thanks for the helpful (and quick) response. I've read many of your reviews since discovering your site a couple weeks ago. But the first bottle I ever bought based solely on one of your reviews was the Cragganmore 12. I absolutely love it. That experience (along with my enjoying a few other of the whiskies you've recommended) has led me to believe that I have similar tastes to yours.

    As for the others you recommended, the Glenfiddich 15 Solera has been on my to-buy list for some time now, so I'll definitely pick that up soon. I've also been tempted to check out Redbreast 12. Both are somewhat pricier than Cragganmore 12 at my local shop ($20 and $30 more, respectively), but that will only slow me, not stop me. The Powers Gold 12 seems like an interesting alternative (especially at $34). I'll be sure to try all three sooner or later.

    Thanks again for the advice, and keep up the great work.

    - Josh

  14. have tried lots of malts but this is the one for me always ask for it when out its like all drinks some you like some you do not if liked its a good one

  15. Interesting. I've not tried the Glenkinchie yet, but I've had Dimple 12 (for which I believe Glenkinchie is the lead malt) and it was one of the worst whiskies I've tried. I found the finish short and sharp, leaving an alcohol burn in the throat. Much like your experience with Glenkinchie. Thanks for the heads up, you saved me $80.

  16. I am confused. This whisky gets called the lady malt. So where wasabi and onions come in I'm not sure.

    Definitely one of the easier and more palatable malts.

    Also for it's age, I would say conpetitively priced is more accurate.