Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Glen Garioch 12 years old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

A battle rages on the shelves of liquor stores in your community!  You can almost smell the cordite as you gaze upon the shrapnel of gaudy advertising in the form of life-size, cardboard, bearded Scotsmen, clad traditionally in tartan patterns, which are only slightly less jarring than a TV test pattern.  Of course, your Scotsman is wearing a kilt and has a big smile on his face as he plays the bagpipes, and at his feet lies a bottle of Glen Poison Malt on sale today for a very special price that is the same damn price everyday.

And what pray tell is this urban warfare for?

The contents of your whisky glass!  War is never about justice or right or wrong. It's about money and competing economic interests.  Similarly, the multinational spirits companies are at war with each other for your whisky buying dollars.  Who is winning?  Well, think about the most common single malts.  C'mon!  You know them.  Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12 and Macallan 12.  The fighting is particularly fierce for the entry level single malt segment of the market:  the 12 year old single malts.

I, of course, as unpredictable as a soldier gone AWOL, bought a malt that doesn't have a big chunk of market share in the 12 year old segment:  Glen Garioch 12 years.

Nose (undiluted)
Dandelion, hops, lager beer, a little spirited.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet porridge with brown sugar on top.  What starts out ordinary builds quickly on the palate to become quite a whopper of flavors.  The little train that could if you will.  What happens?  A massive railway car of flavors of golden wheat, ears of corn that have been freshly shucked, boiled to perfection and then drizzled with butter and salt!  Hmmm!  Wait, there is more.  Oak, barley sugar, hops and lager notes.

Finish (undiluted)
Big salt licks, stewed apples, dried apricots, burnt toast and a flourish of peat.  The salty tang hangs nicely.  The finish is quite grippy and mouth coating.  You'll be salivating like Pavlov's dogs!  This is due to the high ABV.

Recommendation - Add a little water!
In light of the ABV of 48%, it does taste a little hot on the finish.  The high ABV contributes to the big mid-palate and mouth tingling finish.  I prefer this malt with a little water.  Don't get me wrong.  It is very enjoyable neat, but the addition of water just takes it down ever so slightly such that it is more pleasurable, and maybe more complex.

At an ABV of 48%, it's a little overpowering for many.  Makes one's mouth literally water.  Pour a 1 1/2 oz (4.5cl) of this impressive malt and add 3/4 of a teaspoon of distilled, non-carbonated water.  Do that and you are tasting a Persian carpet of spiced honey bread with toasted rosemary that delivers a velvety texture that will divinely unroll on your palate.

Be careful with the addition of water because it is very easy to over-dilute this single malt.

General Impressions
I was surprised by how good this single malt turned out to be.  A few years ago, this brand was a symbol for a decent malt, with no surprises.  It was cheap, but decent.  Nevertheless, kinda in the doldrums.  However, recently the owners, Morrison Bowmore Distilleries, made the decision to re-make/relaunch this whisky on the 12 year old battlefield.  Specifically, they boosted the ABV from 43% to a whopping 48%, and it is non-chill filtered.   Subjectively, I think the quality of wood management has improved enormously.  I have no direct knowledge other than what I taste as I have no contact with the distillery.  But, this is my suspicion.  I think the spirit is aging in quality American bourbon casks followed by some time in Spanish sherry casks.  The result is a vast improvement.

Price Point - Ouch!
A few years ago, Glen Garioch was bottled at 10 years and could be had for the tidy sum of $20!  Not any more.  Non-chill filtered, higher ABV plus good wood management cost money.  Moreover, they have probably hired new staff too.  Maybe a master blender with better ideas.  S/he costs money too.

The price point is now in the vicinity of $60.  But, you know what?  I am happy to pay that price because this malt delivers!  But, there are a lot of guys who were accustomed to paying $22 for the 8 or 10 year old and are grumbling.

I recently reviewed Royal Salute 21 years and you know what?  Glen Garioch 12 reminds me a lot of what Royal Salute 21 years should taste like and what made it a great blend.  Besides that high end blend, if you like Glenfiddich 15 years Solera or Dalwhinnie 15 years, I think you will be a fan of Glen Garioch 12 years.

Where's the Smoke?
Not a lot of smoke or peat flavors in this single malt.  If you are a peat head, you may not want to invest in a bottle of Glen Garioch.  I do not think the lack of smoke and peat is a defect or detracts in any way from this well balanced malt.  Just giving you a heads-up in case that is an important flavor component to you.

Opposing Forces

The enemy or should I say the competition better watch out because Glen Garioch has big guns in the relaunched 12 year old that will fight hard to take space on liquor store shelves everywhere!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.


  1. I've only had the old 10yo version, but still, let me say, "I told you so". I'm glad you liked it! I find the body of Glen Garioch uniquely rich - though indeed reminiscent of Dalwhinnie.

    It's sad though to see that Morrison Bowmore is following in the footsteps of uber-premiumization lead by Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Macallan, and Dalmore. I would hate to start avoiding Bowmore and Glen Garioch, two of my favorite distilleries, the way I avoid the above!

    1. Hi Florin,

      You are right. Glen Garioch was a pleasure, a most unexpected one.

  2. Hi there Soldier,

    Nice review Jason. I haven't come across the Glen Garioch but will certainly look for it.

  3. Love the World War II British Western Desert Forces and the opposing forces although it would have been cool if the Germans had the Deutsches Afrikakorps uniforms, alas they appear in the more traditional Wehrmacht garb.

    1. Thanks!

      A couple of weeks ago, my Mother handed me an old shoe box containing "Britains Deetail" toy army men. A company that made army men of the WWII era. As a kid in 1979, I collected them and set up battle scenes, etc.

      You are quite an astute observer, as I was also aware that it would have more appropriate to have the German soldiers in Afrikakorps uniforms. Unfortunately, I don't have any. (Hopefully, the spirit of Field Marshal Rommel is not offended.)

      Sadly, this toy soldier company stopped making such quality toys many years ago.

      By the way, I hope my post does not offend my German readers. They are not the enemy today or really even then. German soldiers (not Nazis), like their English counterparts, were just doing their duty.

  4. Funnily enough I was enjoying this malt last night in Aberdeenshire. Fantastic flavours and quite reasonably priced really, very overlooked perhaps as you suggest to their history. Several distilleries are upping their game now and we're reaping the benefits of that. Defo a distillery to keep an eye on going forward.

    1. Hopefully, there will not be further price increases.

  5. Excellent review, Jason, and useful intelligence that Glen Garioch has upped its game. I last had it about 10 years ago and didn't think much of it (rather sweet and simple - "uncomplicated" (with the pejorative)). Now you have given me reason to reconsider.

  6. Hi!

    Yes, Glen Garioch has really been revitalized by its owners.

    I read a few of your reviews on your whisky blog and have now added a link at the bottom of my page so that other readers can enjoy them too!

  7. Thanks so very very much. I already have yours on my blogroll. Ryan at value whisky mentions your posts and reviews highly on his blog. I see his assessment is dead on. I'll be absorbing your blog like a sponge.

  8. I still can't get over how the words you use just are so out of this world. I love it. I should visit your blog more often. You are describing a drink and yet each sip reads like a novel.

  9. Thanks for your comments 222!

    This blog is one part whisky review; two parts bad pop culture analogies; shaken (but not stirred), and served with the view that we must not take life to seriously!


  10. Hi Jason,

    I quite like the 8 yr for the price. Nothing too complex but pleasant and I find it similar to Aberfeldy 12. It's been a while since I had it (and I am in the middle of some Laphroaig so won't be able to taste it now) but I remember finding a lot of ginger in the finish.

  11. Jason, I want to take a different tack in the admonishment to lovers of peated malts to approach this bottling with caution. I'd offer instead (as a real fan of many styles of peaty ones myself) that there is a real authentic peat element contained here, but perhaps an unfamiliar one. It's not built of the typical Islay elements (of earthy smokiness, grassy, medicinal or tar/rubber notes) nor much of Island notes from Skye, Orkney or Arran. The peat here makes a Highlands statement: a hard brininess, notes of burnt twigs rather than leaves, and the corresponding bitterness common to peat dug from coastal Highland regions on the West. I really enjoy this dram, maybe for that profile, which seems to be a signatureof the area. Something to evaluate in the malt journey. JK

  12. Jason,

    I actually bought this bottle to mix/try, due to it's price point, and am amazed. For $60ish, I thoroughly enjoy more than my standards in the price range (Balvenie Doublewood, Macallan/Highland Park 12, etc). Maybe it's novel - we shall see.


    1. It certainly has more kick than Macallan and Doublewood. The price is about $20 cheaper than Macallan (which is way over priced).


    2. I have only seen the GG Founders Reserve (NAS) in Chicago area, also 48%NCF for $50, so I picked that up a few weeks back (for the party with the priests). It went extraordinarily nicely next to HP12 as a softer, yet spicier taste companion. Those two with the Doublewood are all $50 by me and further confirmed my dispassion for the DW (everbody loves it but me - just plain and bores me). However, while the GGFR brings up toffee sweetness with water, it is also temperamental - give it just a bit too much and it goes all bitter. When I hear people complain about the youth of a whisky, this is what I imagine they mean.