Glenburgie 21, 1995 (Signatory for K&L)

Glenburgie 21, 1995, Signatory for K&L
K&L’s annual winter parcel of Signatory cask exclusives arrived a few weeks ago. As I did last year, I split these with a bunch of other whisky geeks—the idea being to try before buying. Given David Driscoll’s skill with hype—and the apparent endless market out there for hype—there’s always the risk of things selling out before you get around to tasting a sample, but that’s far better than the risk of spending $80 or more on what seemed like a great deal only to discover that it wasn’t. That was certainly true in spades with the Linkwood 19 that I reviewed last week. It was not terrible but it had absolutely nothing to recommend it. I’m hoping this Glenburgie will be better. Bourbon cask Glenburgie can be very good indeed (see, for example, this official release) and, as it happens, a couple of years ago K&L had another Glenburgie from Signatory that I quite liked. Well, let’s hope this one is closer to that than to this year’s Linkwood.

Glenburgie 21, 1995 (55.3%; Signatory for K&L; hogshead #6504; from a bottle split)

Nose: A lot of citrus to start (lemon and lemon zest) along with a big grassy note. The acid gets sharper very quickly and muskier, maltier notes emerge from below; there’s a medicinal note too (not peat/iodine but uncoated tablet and rubber). The acid recedes as it sits and the malty notes come to the fore. With more air a mild buttery, toasted oak note emerges as well. More citrussy again with water.

Palate: Pretty much as advertised by the nose  at first except it’s more cidery than lemony. Some bitter oak here too especially as it heads to the finish. The mouthfeel is a little thin and it tastes hotter than the abv would suggest. On the second sip the bitterness is much stronger, almost overpowering (a combination of lemon zest and oak). With time and air there’s sweeter fruit here but it can’t get past the bitter oak which gets more astringent with time. Will water fix this? To some extent: less hot and less oaky now but the sweeter fruit disappears too, leaving only the lemon.

Finish: Medium-long. Hard to get much here past the bitterness. The finish is where water really helps.

Comments: I liked the nose (once it settled down) but it’s too hot and oaky on the palate and finish. A pity as what I often like about Glenburgie is here but struggling to make it past the off-notes. I guess the price is good in the abstract for a 21 yo malt but you’re not drinking an abstraction. In reality, this is a cask that probably should have been left for the blender’s vat where other malts/casks would have balanced out its flaws. Better with water.

Rating: 80 points. (Pulled up by water.)

5 thoughts on “Glenburgie 21, 1995 (Signatory for K&L)

  1. There are, of course, at least two other possibilities:

    1) That they don’t really know what they’re doing a lot of the time.

    2) Their chief focus is obviously to bring back casks they can sell but their chief criterion for this is probably a combination of high age statements and low prices; quality may be a secondary consideration and mostly postulated after the fact in their hype. It’s certainly very hard to find very many overlaps between the tasting notes Driscoll posts for a lot of their casks and what many people actually find in their bottles.

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    • Driscoll’s words, when he’s not trying to sell, indicate that MAO’s #2 is very much right on. In fact I have no reason to think they don’t know what they are doing.

      “Keep in mind that the single barrel whiskies I’m buying were originally intended for blending.”

      “People will sacrifice brand recognition and luxury if it means getting a good deal. Our sweet spot is $60 to $100 for a 750-ml. that’s bottle-aged 15 to 20 years.”

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  2. Interview: K&L’s Spirits Buyer David Driscoll Talks Scotch Whisky Trends
    November 22, 2016
    California retailer K&L Wine Merchants operates three stores in the Golden State, located in Redwood City, San Francisco and Hollywood. Traditionally known as a wine powerhouse, over the past decade K&L has seen its spirits sales grow from 3% of its revenue to the current 12% share. For the nine years, head spirits buyer David Driscoll has developed direct relationships with Scotch whisky distillers, bringing products from small-lot players into K&L’s stores and cultivating a loyal customer base. SND recently spoke with Driscoll about current Scotch whisky trends.

    SND: How does Scotch stack up in terms of spirits sales at K&L?

    Driscoll: Scotch is roughly 50% of our spirits sales, with a strong focus on single malt.

    SND: K&L focuses on small casks. How are you choosing producers?

    Driscoll: Since each distillery is now making five or six whiskies, shelf-space is overcrowded. We have to balance the need to have new Scotch whiskies with building traction for existing products.

    SND: What are the hottest sellers?

    Driscoll: Single barrels from lesser-known distilleries are flying off the shelf, when priced right. A private K&L barrel of Royal Brackla 17-year-old single cask ($59.99), owned by Dewar’s, sold out in 10 days. People will sacrifice brand recognition and luxury if it means getting a good deal. Our sweet spot is $60 to $100 for a 750-ml. that’s bottle-aged 15 to 20 years.

    SND: What about the old and rare market?

    Driscoll: It’s treacherous. The whiskies have become so expensive that I can’t sell them, so I’m not buying them. They went from $500 to $1,000 retail to $5,000 to $10,000 for the higher-end 25- to 40- year-old single malts. A 50-year-old name brand sells for $25,000, but I can sell a 50-year-aged Scotch from a less high-profile distillery for $250. Keep in mind that the single barrel whiskies I’m buying were originally intended for blending.

    SND: What’s the selling approach?

    Driscoll: Online sales now comprise 50% of our spirits business. We have a whiskey club, and I have a blog with tens of thousands of followers. We also have 12,000 followers on our Twitter feed, which is heavy on spirits, and we do email and newsletters. Our younger demographic is fun. Social media is creating momentum for us.

    SND: What other trends are you seeing specifically in single malt?

    Driscoll: The market has changed quite dramatically. Regions have become irrelevant. With blended Scotch declining, distilleries who traditionally created whiskies for blending are now marketing the product as single malts.

    SND: Are customers overwhelmed by the array of choices?

    Driscoll: Actually, customers love it. The trend is toward collecting dozens of Scotch bottles with different flavor expressions. People will buy a new bottle without any pressure to finish the old one.

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