Glen Garioch. Japanese Beam-Suntory's footprint in Scotland.
Glen Garioch, is pronounced “Glen Geery”. I know, a lot of letters are left out there, but I have been practicing to say it. This visit surprisingly reminded me a lot of how my tour started in Canada at Canadian Club. I wasn’t exactly expecting this going into the distillery tour, but I did know that Glen Garioch was purchased by Beam Suntory in 1994. Very similar to Canadian Club. I am extremely interested in the Japanese hand in the Scottish Distillery market. As some of you may know many of the distilleries in Japan were outlined and made to emulate how the Scot’s do it. As we have all seen recently, that the awards are starting to pour in for the Japanese whiskies and they may be a bigger player in the global market very soon. Seeing them with a handle in Scotland is something I think everyone should keep an eye out for.
Suntory closed the facility immediately after purchasing it and then re-opened in 2009 with a re-branding strategy. Many of the old Stag symbols and marketing of Glen Garioch were eliminated. Glen Garioch also used to have a peat flavor to it and the Japanese got rid of that too along with its malting floor. They were actually still malting on site before they were purchased in the 90’s. If you find an original Glen Garioch before 1994, pick it up! It’s probably very valuable. The visitor center was the old cooperage. Like most distilleries now, they outsource their casks and cooperage needs along with their malting and bottling. They were in their silent season, but for a very cool reason and probably something I will never see again. They were having their spirit still replaced after 37 years of use. Their stills were the first I have seen that use a combination of heating plates and coils.
The Founder’s and 12 year old bottling's are available all year. Then they will have special releases throughout the year. With saying this, I was a little discouraged. Glen Garioch is very difficult to find. Apparently the tour guide only knew of one bar in NYC that carried it. Capacity is at about 1600 liters of new make spirit every day and they have 11,000 casks and four warehouses on site. What currently happens is the new make spirit is picked up in trucks, brought to Glasgow where Beam Suntory has offices to be put in casks and then sent back to Glen Garioch for aging. When it’s time for bottling the casks will again be transported back to Glasgow. What was interesting about their stills, was that they have a third still that looks very clean in the middle of the still room. It actually is never used and is just kept there as the original spirit still of the Glen Garioch Distillery. No spirits run through it, but they don’t want to get rid of it.
Fiona was my tour guide and I was curious to know how often Beam Suntory and management are around the facility. I also wanted to know if she knew what the plans were for the future of Glen Garioch. She said they only come around a few times a year and the only change they have heard rumored is some of their production will go to the Teacher’s Blend. This is not confirmed, but this was what she had heard. Currently they only produce for their single malt. Either way, I think this is a great tactic for Suntory. They need to keep their feet dipped into every whisky market to keep a handle. Just like they did when they bought Jim Beam to form their conglomerate “Beam- Suntory”.
I tried the following drams and what was great is I got to take them home. This way I wasn’t rushed to sample them in the allotted tour time. I was able to bring them home and really work through the following three drams.
Founders Reserve 48% ABV
Holly's Tasting Note..
Nose: Malt, toffee, chocolate dessert/mousse, creamy, raisins.
Palate: Raisins, caramel, spice, oak.
Glen Garioch Wine Cask
Holly's Tasting Note..
Nose: Sherry oak, red berries, wine, pine, raspberry peach iced tea.
Palate: First touch is thick and sweet, old berries, oak, pepper kick and ginger kick. Does kind of end dry like a red wine. Very long finish.
This one is something we will probably start seeing again. People are trying to mess around with wine casks instead of bourbon, sherry, port etc. I am glad I got to try this one.
1997 Small Batch- a doozer! Cask strength at 56.7% ABV
Holly's Tasting Note..
Nose: Honey, flowers, orange cream, oak.
Palate: Oranges, wood, slight pepper spice, spicy finish.
Up next is Glen Dronach..