A Classic Whisky Revival
It's true that peated Scotch whisky has made a tremendous comeback over the last decade. Ardbeg has risen to an almost rock star-like status, Lagavulin continues to be a benchmark, and even Laphroaig has managed to turn the word "medicinal" in to a positive descriptor. Islay is indeed the new mecca for today's modern whisky drinker, but that doesn't mean the Highlands have gone completely out of fashion. I don't think you'll find a single retailer whose malt business has ceased to revolve around names like Macallan, Glenlivet, Balvenie, and Aberlour. Even though an influx of youthful enthusiasm has managed to build a modern market for edgier, higher proof, more potent styles of Scotch whisky, it's still something the allure of old fashioned single malt, from the basics of the Glenmorangie 10 year to the sherry-laden delights from Glenfarclas, that drives most of our sales.
After more than a decade of working in whisky retail, I've seen just about every trick in the book when it comes to new marketing ideas. I've tasted wine-finished malts, rum-finished malts, unpeated whisky aged in peated whisky casks, and just about any other permutation you can dream of that involves bringing something bold and new to the scene. I'm a weathered veteran at this point. We've withstood year after year of experimental batches and imaginative endeavors, and there's still not a week that goes by where I'm not being spoon fed a dram of some sensational new creation that intends on pushing the whisky boundries further. To be honest, it’s starting to wear on me. I’ve been losing my lust for Scotch consumption over the last year and I often find myself longing for happier memories from the past. I've been looking backward, not forward, for some semblance of that passion that originally excited me about whisky in the first place. However, for the first time in a very long time, I’m excited about old fashioned, no frills, classically-flavored Highland malt whisky again and I have Glengoyne to thank for that revival.
Glengoyne is one of those distilleries that seems to fall into the murky and rather nebulous pit of “Glens” in the Scotch whisky world—Glenallachie, Glenburgie, Glencadam, Glendronach, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glen Garioch, etc. It’s one of the Glens, right? Dig a bit deeper, however, and you’ll find a very compelling case for giving the distillery your attention. First off, Glengoyne was once part of the Edrington empire, alongside Macallan, Highland Park, Tamdhu and Glenrothes, until it was sold to Ian MacLeod in 2003. If that last name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Ian MacLeod was our very first point of contact back on our original trip to Scotland. We used to buy our Chieftain’s single barrel selections from them directly, including legendary casks of Brora, Port Ellen, and Clynelish. Like most companies today, MacLeod began to transition out of the evaporating single cask market and focus more on distillation, eventually buying Tamdhu as well in 2011. When the cask program vanished, so did our direct business with MacLeod, but I’ve kept my eye on their activity for years since as I always found them to be a professional-minded company. In short, it seemed like they really knew what they were doing.
Flash forward to 2017 when one of my long-time friends in the business switched companies and began to work for the MacLeod importer here in the states. “When’s the last time you tasted through the Glengoyne portfolio?” he asked me. I didn’t have an answer, so we made an appointment for after Christmas. It didn’t take long for my excitement to begin bubbling because perhaps the only thing more pleasing than the superb quality of the Glengoyne whiskies themselves is the incredible pricing that goes along with it. In style, the whiskies are very much along the lines of Glenmorangie, but with a bit more sherry influence. The entire range sees some sherry maturation, so think of the house style as somewhere in between GlenMo and Macallan. The richness of that sherry becomes more pronounced in the older expressions, particularly the 18 and 21 year old editions. Again, imagine the Glenmorangie 18 year old, but with more sherry, and for the same price. What I particularly enjoy is how the sherry and the oak maturation marry seamlessly with the inherent malt flavor and stone fruit character of the whisky—toffee and apples, as the label says.
When I look at the value proposition these whiskies offer in today’s market, it makes me think back to our original meetings with Ian MacLeod outside of Edinburgh long ago. I’ve always found that great businesses could be successful in whatever they put their mind to, be it bottling, blending, or distilling if they were focused on the customer. In the new and improved Glengoyne, you’ve got a whisky brand doing exactly what I wish more brands would stick to today: make really good whisky that tastes like it should, and sell it for a price that represents value to the customer. It doesn’t seem that hard, does it? Unfortunately, in the age of limited edition, turn and burn sales strategy, doing one thing really well is no longer all that appealing to the short attention span afflicted; hence, we get forgettable non-age statement (NAS) editions ad nauseum, over and over again. If it busts, then you simply start over and do it again. One of them will eventually catch on, right?
In summary, if you’re looking for something new (as in something you’ve never tried), yet you’re simultaneously searching for that initial taste sensation, that supple and mouthcoating richness that made you crazy for Scotch in the first place, I think you’ll rediscover that feeling as I did with these Glengoyne editions. On top of that, you’re dealing with a real Scottish independent here, in the vein of Kilchoman, that isn’t part of some multi-national conglomerate; it’s just a bunch of Scottish guys, making really good Scotch, for people who like Scotch—with an emphasis on the ”really good Scotch.” Maybe that has something to do with the quality here. Ian MacLeod isn't looking to take over the world, just provide it with something it's sorely missing as of late. We’ve locked in some pretty competitive pricing on the set.