Glen Moray: Regular and Variation

Glen Moray

Which of these would you say was matured fully in a white wine cask?


Glen Moray is another distillery about which I know very little. I know that it is in the Speyside, that it doesn’t have much of a reputation and that its whisky is available for not very much money in the US. Until recently, that whisky was a 12 yo at 40%, which retailed in most places (and still does) for less than $30. As of a year or two ago (or at least that’s when I noticed it) it has been joined in the US by a 10 yo at 43% (higher than the 40% of the European release) that has been matured entirely in chardonnay casks, and which also retails in most places for less than $30. I’d resisted the blandishments of the 12 yo for many, many years on account of snobbery: an undistinguished distillery with “Glen” in its name and very low prices, I reasoned, was unlikely to add up to promising whisky. And the 10 yo I resisted when I first saw it on shelves last year because even goddamned Murray McDavid (who have finished whiskies in everything but a septic tank) did not mess with chardonnay casks (as far as I know). A gimmick, I thought.

Then I got some good reports of the 10 yo from some trustworthy folk, and decided to take a chance. And as I was putting together a tasting for some friends featuring two whiskies each from two different distilleries but from two different cask types, I decided to get the 12 yo as well. This tasting took place last night, and was quite a success–the group as a whole liked both, especially the 10 yo (everyone other than me tastes the whiskies blind at my tastings); and everyone was also very impressed by the price/quality ratio of both these whiskies. So, I decided to taste them again tonight in order to be able to take some more detailed notes than are possible in our tastings, which are really social gatherings featuring whisky (as they should be).

Glen MorayGlen Moray 12 (40%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Acidic; just the slightest bit butryic at first (but this goes away fast). Then a vibrant lemony note that hangs around for a while. After a little while it gets just a bit sweeter and a musky, malty note develops. With more time, the lemon turns to vinegar.

Palate: Thin, watery. Not a whole lot going on. Some of that lemon at first, and then just some woody, vaguely spicy, and finally bitter notes.

Finish: Short. Not much to report–the wood spice hangs around a while.

Comments: I think I like this a little less tonight than I did last night. The nose is dynamic, but there’s not much happening on the palate or finish–no development to speak of. Still for $25 or less, it is hard to complain, and I’d happily drink this if nothing better were available, especially in the summer. The Tomatin 12 and Tamdhu 10, however, represent even better value at this end of the price spectrum.

Rating: 79 points

glenmoray10chardonnayGlen Moray 10 (43%, matured in chardonnay casks; from my own bottle)

Nose: Raisins, toasted wood, musky fruit. Cooked apples? Gets buttery/creamy with time.

Palate: Pretty much as on the nose, with the fruit perhaps a touch more tropical. Everything is very well integrated and the mouthfeel is very nice. With time, I get orange peels (a hint of Cointreau) and more wood spice.

Finish: Medium; not much development but a pleasant aftertaste.

Comments: This is not complex whisky, but what it does it does very well and elegantly. I didn’t know what to expect from a chardonnay cask but this is not it. Blind, I would have picked this as a vatting with a fair bit of sherry cask whisky in the mix. A steal at the price and gives the Tomatin 12 a run for its money in the affordable division. Hell, I think it’s better than many better-known and more expensive entry-level bottlings from many more famous distilleries. Get a bottle–you won’t regret it.

Rating: 83 points.

Overall: I don’t think I will replace the 12 yo, even at the low price. Though as I say that, it’s not a bad whisky to have in your bar to serve at large gatherings. At 43% it would likely be much more dynamic on the palate and at 46% it might well be very good. Perhaps Glen Moray will up the abv as some other distilleries have been doing of late. The chardonnay cask, however, I will replace as soon as it’s done–and I might even pick up a replacement earlier if I see it on a shelf. Not a world beater, by any means, but excellent value for money. And now I am more disposed to try some Glen Moray from independents.

And finally, a note on colour: the image at the top of this post shows the two bottles side by side. The quite distinctly darker whisky is the 10 yo chardonnay cask. As I’ve never seen chardonnay of this colour, I am going to assume that this is a fake tan courtesy caramel colouring–my guess would be that the whisky coming out of the chardonnay casks at 10 years is probably very, very light in colour. If you have information to the contrary, please note it in the comments.

20 thoughts on “Glen Moray: Regular and Variation

  1. There was a time many moons in the past when one of my better source’s for decent quality, low cost whisky was Trader Joe’s. This fine establishment would buy a boat load of whisky from Scottish distillers trying to break into the American market. Over the years I had some winners and some duds, but all were reasonably priced. On the high side, The Dalmore 12 YO arrived in around 1995 or so priced at a budget friendly $19 (I also scored two cases of Glen Ord 12 or $8/btl). On the low side Auchentoshan was one of the worst whiskies I have ever had (so bad I have never tried another), but it was low cost. The problem, of course, is that once the shelves are empty, the next distillery trying to break into the market with profit losing whisky gets the space. Low and behold the Glen Moray 12 arrived about ten years ago and an unreal price of $15. At the time, I thought it was a fine whisky and a fine value. Your tasting notes are dead on and I agree for a low cost cupboard whisky it serves its purpose. I do need to seek out the ten year old as I have not tried it. Disappointment on the E150a though.

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  2. I had some more of the 10 yo tonight. It is really very pleasant and dangerously drinkable.

    And re Trader Joe’s, I remember reading a reference to the Oban 14 once having been available there for $8! And that must have been when the Oban 14 was better than it is now. Alas, when I lived in L.A and first began to have discretionary income I was not yet serious about whisky, and so missed the chance, then and in the years after, to buy many of not only the bargain malts of yore but also many now stratospherically expensive malts that would then have been within my reach: the first release of Lagavulin 21, all those early releases of Port Ellen etc…And to think that the first release of the Black Bowmore in the mid-1990s was priced at £100….

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  3. I have been going through the Glen Moray 10 chardonnay matured at an alarmingly rapid rate. Tonight I poured some into the un-rinsed glass from which I’d tasted the sherried Caol Ila 10 I reviewed tonight, and the effect is startlingly good: an intense note of star anise and cold black tea on the nose and a nice edge on the palate as well. Hmmm I think I may need to get an additional bottle of this just for experimental home-blending purposes.

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  4. I’m almost at the end of my bottle of the 12 yo and I see I have failed to report that I’ve felt it’s gotten a lot better as it’s moved to it’s end. There’s more sweetness on the palate and the finish is longer. Still, nothing amazing but very nice for the price. If I were reviewing it tonight I’d bump it up to 80 or 81 points.

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    • I’m glad you have improved your views on the Glen Moray 12yo. Not a world beater but a pleasant sipper. I’ve also had trouble with its acidity at the top of the bottle, which improved as the whisky oxidized. In some ways it reminds me of Speyburn 10yo (another unjustly maligned whisky, including by you, I think), although I do like that one better. Deceivingly simple, it’s the kind you write off but then you wonder when did the bottle get empty. 3* in my book for the GM12. These two are *not* contenders for the Worst Single Malt category – I will gladly submit Speyside 10yo and Lismore, Singleton of Glendullan 12yo, others ahead of them, any time. Not even for the Most Boring Single Malt category, for that matter! (Tomatin 12yo and Macallan 12yo are not bad by any measure, but they are boring).

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  5. And I should also add that I am no longer sure about what I said about the dark colour of the Glen Moray 10 Chardonnay at the end of my original review. Then it seemed odd to me that a white wine cask should impart such a dark colour. Now I realize that it’s quite likely that the wine cask was made of European oak and so imparted far greater colour to the whisky that matured in it (for much longer than the original wine would have). After all, the Hazelburn 8 Sauternes cask is also a very dark whisky (sans caramel) and that’s after only a few years of double maturation in the Sauternes wood (Sauternes is also a relatively pale wine). So, while this 10 yo may well be coloured, my reasoning for thinking so is probably faulty.

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    • Chardonay usually doesn’t have a lot of oxidation (either from sitting in oak casks or steel tanks) before bottling. Once you put it into an oxidative environment, you’re likely to get more color development. I’ve seen, for instance, white port cask whiskeys that got quite dark, though they didn’t start that way.

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      • Yes, but I’m wondering if this is the effect of European oak versus American oak, rather than the wine. There seem to be a lot of white wine finishes/maturations that result in very dark whiskies in relatively short periods of time.

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  6. Based on your review, I bought a bottle of the chardonnay finished 10yr about a month ago for $30. The first night I had a few drinks from it, I found notes of rotten garbage and a lingering bitter aftertaste I likened to licking a used ashtray. I had it again a few days ago and the rotten notes were more along the “musky fruit” you mentioned and the ashy notes were now just bitter wood. It still wasn’t pleasant, but suddenly the combination of the rotten fruit and the bitter finish reminded me of a cheap, oaked chardonnay left out overnight, complete with oxidized white grape juice notes and stale, buttery oak from the wine’s cask aging. At least I can taste the chardonnay influence now, I think. The next morning, my dried glass smelled only of oaked, white wine, not whisky. This white wine finish certainly doesn’t remind me of Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or.

    It’s not as bad as when I first tried it, although perhaps that was just due to my taste buds that night or the bottle needed some air. I don’t regret the purchase too much yet, and I’ll have to explore it more, but at this point I would rather be drinking Johnnie Walker Black for $5 less. I hope more air will help round out the roughness and provide better balance between the fruit and the toasted oak.

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    • I tried this again. The bottle level isn’t much lower, but all the objectionable notes are gone for me this time. I’m getting the tropical fruits along with a heavy dose of wood and a wine influence on the finish. Everything seems integrated but a little coarse. I’m glad the rotten fruit notes and ashy finish are gone for me. This is becoming an interesting alternative to Glenmorangie 10 at a similar price, even if not as refined. I’d buy it again, especially for $20 instead of the $30 I paid.

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  7. Uh oh, sorry to have led you astray. No idea if there have been different releases of this, and if batch variation is even a variable–I did like my bottle from top to bottom myself. And I got mine for closer to $20.

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  8. By the way, my bottle is long gone (and I haven’t actually replaced it yet) so I can’t confirm what’s on the label, but I don’t believe this is a “finished” whisky.

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  9. Hey,

    I was wondering if you have been able to taste the 16 yr old. I really like this one. I even managed to pick up an old one from the 1980s still havent opend that one yet, But the normal 16 for somewhere in the low 40 euro range is really tasty.

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