At least one person has asked me why I did not mention anything from Glen Garioch in the “austere whisky” category in my post on stocking a well-rounded single malt bar. After all, Glen Garioch rarely presents easy pleasures but has a strong reputation anyway. My answer was and is that I have not had much luck with recent official releases, and those are what are most easily available (especially the Founder’s Reserve and the 12 yo). Independent releases are a different matter and show the distillery in a better light, in my view. That said, it is true that the indies I’ve tried tend to be from earlier eras than the standard OBs—in fact, all three of the indies that I’ve reviewed were distilled in 1990 and were quite a bit older. This one is from 1993. 1994 is said to be when Glen Garioch stopped using peated malt and so it probably also does not have too much in common with contemporary official releases. But this is still around itself so you can see if my take sounds enticing enough for you to consider a bottle.
Glen Garioch 21, 1993 (52.5%; Maltbarn; bourbon cask; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Quite sharp to begin with lime and tart green apple; some wet stones below that. The acidic note becomes more apple cider vinegarish with some time, which means there’s a slight sweetness below the sharper notes. Very clean—nothing grainy or grassy or gingery about it. After a few minutes there’s a touch of soot but also an expanded fruitiness with muskier notes of ripe pear and melon peeping through. A few drops of water make it chalkier at first but also bring out more of the musky fruit. After a bit some vanilla emerges as well.
Palate: Sweeter on the palate to start but then it takes a quick turn for the sour (aspirin) and mineral. Chalkier and limier on the second sip and more austere; some white pepper too now. The muskier fruit hinted at on the nose doesn’t make an appearance. Very drinkable at full strength but on account of the acid it packs a punch. Anyway, let’s see what water does. Well, it makes it even more austere, damping down the acid and upping the acrid bordering on plastic notes.
Finish: Long. Acid (lime) and soot and hot tarmac. With time there’s a plasticky edge to the acrid notes. As on the palate with water.
Comments: This is a very particular and somewhat old school profile. While the nose is more expressive than the palate throughout, it’s generally pretty austere; until you add some water, that is—and even then it doesn’t exactly turn into a fruit basket. Not much obvious sign of the peat on the palate but it’s evident on the nose and finish. Unless you know you like this sort of a profile, or would like an extended introduction to it, I’d recommend trying a sample before buying. Though given the low outturn (142 bottles) you might have to move fast.
Rating: 85 points.