As I munch autumn pears in the cool breeze of a near-October evening, it seems slightly incongruous to recall the glorious summer’s day — the kind that makes you forget the rest of the abominably cold and wet summer’s days — that I visited Glen Moray. The previous day’s dramming at Aberlour and Balvenie had prepared me for the all-too-rare combination of whisky and sunshine, but this day’s pace was less frenetic, its agenda much more open, plus I’d had a full night’s sleep and a proper breakfast. The relaxed style of tour at Glen Moray, then, felt fitting.
Besides me and Sunjay, there were only two other people on our tour in addition to our guide and a trainee guide. The 2-to-1 guide ratio allowed us to wander through and take photos at our own pace, as one guide could lead the way while the other waited to bring up the rear. (As at Aberlour and Balvenie, Glen Moray was in the middle of silent season and so we could take photos throughout the distillery.)
The whole tour was fascinating but laid back, lacking canned marketing speak and instead more like a dialogue with the guides offering local knowledge and fun facts. For instance, one guide pointed out a road winding through the distillery grounds which was the original way into Elgin and over which Macbeth, among others, is said to have travelled. The road also happened to pass a wee cottage where the excise man used to live — yes, on site! I’m sure today’s excise men are quite disappointed this is no longer the case.
By far the best part of this tour, and most tours, was the warehouse. Here I learned that distilleries throughout Scotland (and presumably elsewhere?) swap casks every so often, storing each others’ aging spirit in their respective warehouses. This is done as a precaution in case some unforeseen disaster — a fire, for instance — were to wipe out the stocks of the distillery on-site: at least there would still be something left in the other locations. Glen Moray have also put transparent lids on some of their casks, allowing one to observe the color of the spirit as it ages as well as its dissipation, the fabled “angels’ share” which evaporates through the porous wood year by year.
The distillery folks have done another clever thing: setting out different kinds of casks on their sides and allowing visitors to remove the bung and smell the spirit within. (I think I’m sniffing a port finish here.) Although I am pretty familiar with the different aroma profiles of various casks and finishes, it was enormous fun to go from cask to cask and inhale each in turn, especially with the pervasive curtain of general whisky-scent hanging all around me.
After the tour, of course, we proceeded to the tasting. I hadn’t previously tasted Glen Moray, so every dram interested me. The guide gamely offered the 8, 12, and 16 year olds, and then allowed us to sample other, less common expressions. While the 16 yo seemed to me exceptional for a standard expression, the Chenin Blanc finish sticks in my mind. I regret not having the space to buy a bottle at the time.
Glen Moray Classic (8 yo)
Nose: Light, citrus-y — plenty of lemon, and some hay.
Palate: Very easy to drink with classic bourbon notes of vanilla and a wee bit of spice.
Finish: Quite short with very little spice, but satisfying.
Glen Moray 12yo
Nose: Cherry, ginger, and a bit of a fruit bowl.
Palate: Overwhelmingly bitter at the back of the palate — I didn’t note anything else.
Finish: Short. (I must not have liked this one much, I wrote next to nothing!)
Glen Moray 16yo
Nose: Toffee, brown sugar, rich stewed fruits.
Palate: Incredibly smooth, with lots of chocolate and ginger notes.
Finish: Light and delicate, but lingering.
Glen Moray Chenin Blanc 2003 (Cask no. 1839)
Nose: Chocolate and toffee — very rich. Opens up with water to include crème brulée.
Palate: At cask strength, lots of dark chocolate, bitter orange and black currants. With a few drops of water, it takes on a lighter character with more lemon and orange.
Finish: I didn’t note the finish — but I noted how much I liked this particular expression!
Glen Moray 1995 Port Wood Finish
Nose: Cherries, plums, chocolate.
Palate: Dark chocolate, oak and bitter orange.
Finish: Not noted.
Two thumbs up to Glen Moray for providing a true five-senses experience! I’m looking forward to further enjoyment of this distillery’s whisky as it becomes more widely available in the US.