(Distillery Visit and info with Review of Products at end)
Quietly going about its business for 50 years, The GlenAllachie distillery has never really been one to shout about itself. Indeed, in my three years touring Speyside it has never crossed my mind to take that first left after Aberlour and take a peek, thinking it nothing more than an awkward road to the bottom of BenRinnes for a wee walk with the dogs.
Then came Billy Walker. Refreshed after his “retirement” from the BenRiach Distilling Company sale. Speaking to the crew at GlenAllachie it was no great surprise that 73-year-old Mr Walker did not stay retired long, if he ever did at all.
Billy and his team consisting of Graham Stevenson and Trisha Savage bought GlenAllachie from Chivas Regal, who had been using the distillery since 1989 after a short 4-year closure for their Blended expressions. When the distillery reopened in 1989 it was unusually manned with completely new distillery staff. This was one of the reasons that many stayed with Chivas after the latest takeover – having worked together throughout the two decades, many were nearing pension age and a new challenge was one step too far for many. Many are now working at The nearby Glenlivet distillery.
This led to Billy taking in his new team, led by Richard Beattie and hand picked from his vast experience in the trade, the foundations were now put down for the new adventure.
I was lucky enough to get an inside view of the distillery, meeting the guys behind the scene, Billy Walkers new assembly of skilled, experienced and dependable workers. They have all bought fully into the new innovative, experimental but equally precise and quality driven direction that the new regime is aiming for.
Producing around 700,000 litres per year, the distillery is far from running at full capacity. Only 1 Wash a day goes into the Mash Tun, 4 days a week. The quirky 4 Water Mash is a nod to some of the quirky traditions the Distillery holds on to. It is certainly a mixture of old and new, even in the equipment used.
One of the longest fermentation periods I have seen takes place at GlenAllachie, while Production Manager Richard Beattie promises “Over 120 hours”, Production team member Phillip Murray hints at nearer 160 hours of Fermenting is taking place in their stainless steel Washbacks.
This, along with a 6 – 7 hour still run creates a tremendously fruity New Make spirit. Apples, Pears, even sweet Banoffee notes kicking about with a creamy malt flavour playing second fiddle. They have wonderful horizontal condensers, designed at a time
when gravity was a preferred method of the architect. Other quirks are that each still is heated slightly differently, with coils and radiators both being used. There are two separate still safes, designed to allow different still runs to be going at the same time if needed. The filling strength of the casks is 63.5%.
One of the key factors in the acquisition of GlenAllachie was stock. Billy required somewhere that was sitting not just on quality spirit, but plenty of it. GlenAllachie is currently housing up to 90,000 casks in 17 Warehouses. A mix of Paletted, Stacked and New Dunnage storage techniques are used.
In the warehouse we were shown just what we expected to see in a Walker-run enterprise. Variety. From Ruby Port Pipes to Rye Whisky Quartercasks, PX Butts to
Marsala Wine Barrels. And we were only in one small warehouse.
The ethos of the industry currently is to age everything in 10 years of 1st Fill Bourbon Casks and then a Finish in a second cask. This finish could be anything from a few months to 9 years – this is where Billy’s man-on-the-ground and Warehouse manager Lyndsey comes in. Having worked with BenRiach for the last 14 years it is clear that Lyndsey knows every cask in the place, how old it is, what its contents are and most importantly what is expected of it. While Billy travels up from Edinburgh twice a week, he needs someone he trusts 100% on the shop floor and there is clearly an enthusiasm and connection between the pair and the casks they are nurturing.
Needless to say, this is not a new star that has been born, more a sleeping giant that needed a wake up. Billy has a huge reputation in the industry and more often than not produces whiskies that work. With his fantastic hand-picked team, a huge capacity for growth and a truly great unsung spirit, I am sure that we will be seeing big things to come from the Valley of the Rocks Distillery.
Review and Tasting Notes:
The GlenAllachie 10-Year-Old – 57.1% – £56.99
Nose: A hugely impressive nose gives very little indication of the high strength. Fresh, summer grassy notes, malt, apples and Toffee. More chocolatey notes with time, raisins coming through now.
Palate: Almonds, Cinnamon, Barley Sugars, Dark Chocolate. Spiced but not too much, warm but not hot – wonderfully balanced with such a smooth, chocolate/rum raisin finish. Then Wow! What a reflux! All that lovely flavour plus more – spices, ginger, cinnamon, pepper all lingering, woody chocolatey honey finish. Is this really 57.1%?? So smooth.
Finish: lots of coffee notes coming forward, almost like the coffee Cadbury Roses, also getting hints of Raspberry.
The GlenAllachie 12 Year Old – 46% – 42.99
Nose: Caramel and honey lead with raisins. Oak, Malted Barley – “deeper” than CS10, Apple again, minty notes. Brandy Sugar snaps, more sweetness, vanilla hit, some spices developing
Palate: Dry spices – ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, tongue tingling. Definite dry citrus, chocolate (not as dark as CS10), banoffee, creamy malt.
Finish: Creme brulee definitely evident on the finish and lingers. Dry and salivating. Add a touch of water for a peppery kick!
The GlenAllachie 18 Year Old – 46% – £91.99
Nose: Creamy custard cream, banana, toffee, runny honey, spiced apple pie, grapefruit. In time more Malty notes coming through – get more toffee sweetness and a whack of sticky toffee pudding sauce.
Palate: Definite sherry spices, raisins, dark chocolate, sugar coated Turkish delight, ginger, back to that coffee roses sweet from the CS10. Very complex, ever-evolving. Plums and Damsum, black cherry flavours come through with a little time.
Finish: Sweet, long and lingering. Dark fruits and spices.
The GlenAllachie 25 Year Old – 48% – £225
Nose: Nose: Barley sugar, Pears, Burnt Toffee, Mint, Sugared Almonds, Salted Caramel, Mango, Apples and Vanilla. Definitely a theme in all the whiskies of Honey, Pear and Chocolate. Some of the older ones need a wee bit more time to develop
Palatte: Salted Caramel, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Liquorice, Dark Chocolate, Orange and Creme Caramel.
Finish: Almond Magnum Ice Cream
We also had the Production Team, Mike and Phil at the Inverurie Whisky Shop for a fantastic tasting event, through the 10, 12 and 18 year old GlenAllachie expressions along with an exclusive insight to the not yet released McNair’s Lum Reek Blends coming from Billy’s passion for peated whisky. A non-age, 12 year and 21 year old were presented with my personal favourite being the 12.
Notes on Lum Reek Non Age Statement, 46%
Nose: Strong peat smoke, barley sugar and dark bitter chocolate.
Palate: Wet smoke, with vanilla, barley sugar, chocolate and coffee.
Finish: Lingering earthy notes, pepper, sweet vanilla and custard.
Lum Reek 12 Year Old, 46%
Nose: Sweet, toffee and coffee notes. More smoke, but a sweeter note.
Palate: Big hitting smokiness, saline notes, heather flower, toffee and caramel.
Finish: Oily salinity, sweet smoke, tangy peat.
Lum Reek 21 Year Old, 48%
Nose: Dark Chocolate, more delicate peat, apples and pears.
Palate: Tobacco smoke, oak, vanilla, toffee, caramel and pepper.
Finish: Peppery notes, sweet delicate smoke, apples and cinnamon.
Looking forward to these new Expressions hitting the shelves, along with Batch Two of the Core Expressions!
An Artist Impression of the upcoming bottlings from Billy’s McNair’s Releases