Glen Ord is located in the northern Highlands, in the same part of Scotland, generally, as Balblair, Pulteney, Clynelish and Glenmorangie. And in my limited experience there’s a significant intersection in the profiles of the whiskies from these distilleries (I am referring here to the classic Glenmorangie profile, and not to all their experimental finishes etc.). Their mainline malts generally eschew sherry, and (with the occasional exception of Clynelish) they generally have a very light hand with the peat as well. The profile tends, therefore, to be relatively austere with the fruit mostly in the apple/pear family with the occasional stone fruit, and the emphasis coming from briny notes rather than smoke.
Some would say that it is in this profile that you come closest to tasting what Scotch whisky is all about, away from the extremes of sherry or peat. I am not a fundamentalist in that sense but I have come to enjoy it far more than I did when I first started drinking single malts in anything but a casual manner–in the beginning, I fear, I found it a little boring. I don’t mean to suggest that this a common or necessary evolutionary development but it took me a while to begin to appreciate the subtler charms of this style of whisky. It was a cask strength 11 yo Glen Ord, 1998 from Signatory (cask 3475) that first opened my eyes and so when I found this bottle quite deeply discounted a few years ago I jumped on it. This was part of Diageo’s annual special release in 2005, and I guess the lack of familiarity of the name kept it from selling out. These days it’s mostly available, where it is, closer to the list price of $250, but you can still find it for considerably less if you look hard enough. I certainly think it’s worth the trouble.
Glen Ord 30, 2005 release (58.7%; from my own bottle)
Nose: A little spirity at first but then there are lovely notes of honey and freshly pressed apple juice. Polished wood as well, and dry white wine. More citrus now and also pineapple and I want to say banana–some white pepper on the edges as well. The fruit gets a little musky with time, edging over to apricot. With even more time there’s a distinct briny note. A few drops of water brighten up the citrus and also draw out a malty note, along with something lightly grassy. Some vanilla too now.
Palate: Sweet malt and lemon. Quite a bit of salt too and some pine resin. The other fruit are lurking just beneath the lemony surface, which really gets quite intense with time. Let’s see if water releases them (this is very drinkable at full strength, by the way). No, the other fruit are content to let the lemon do the talking. The lemon gets a little sharper with water and a little less salty, but wait there are some apple peels now too–a light bitterness, at any rate, which really frames the lemon well. Oh, after a few minutes the wood gets more expressive too, but it’s all very elegant and not at all discordant. After more time the lemon is joined by some tinned pineapple.
Finish: Long and lemony. The salt expands with time. And with water the bitter/peppery note hangs around longer.
Comments: I remember this being a much more elegant and subtle malt when I first opened the bottle (almost three years ago now–it’s held up remarkably well, courtesy Private Preserve) but it’s still very lovely now. I didn’t take notes then but I think the lemon is much more pronounced now than it was when the level was higher. The finish is just a little simple, but the palate and especially the nose are good enough to pull it up to 90 points anyway.
Rating: 90 points.