The search for the next great cask, Scotland – Day 2 part 4

One of the things that I love to see is new V&T customers, and regular customers too, wander into our Scotch whisky room and just stand there as minutes tick by, taking it all in and then coming alive when they discover that we do indeed have that Scotch expression they had been looking for, sitting quietly on the shelf, waiting for a good home.

That is how I felt as I wandered the passageways between the casks in Signatory’s warehouses. For me I was taking in the stamps on the ends of the barrels, drooling as I discovered rare old Macallan, Laphroaig and Bowmore that were laid down on cold earthen floors decades ago, and were deep in a slumber waiting for their day to shine in a bottle. As I meandered through one of these narrow passages, I looked up and just above my head in the gloom I could make out a cask stamped, Glenturret 1989. I called out to Des and asked him if this one was for sale to which he again shook his head (the Macallan and Co. were also not for sale), but he did offer to fetch me a sample. Des is a man who likes his job and half of it is sharing and tasting with an appreciative audience. The bung was removed, the copper thief was lowered into the cask, and out came a generous sample of golden liquid. I put my nose to the glass and inhaled for several long minutes before finally letting the cool whisky touch my lips. I had tasted the nectar of the Gods and now I was in Heaven.

I was snapped back to reality when Des’s assistant began hammering the bung back into the cask and I looked up to see Des walking away to the next warehouse. I followed him along but something was niggling at me, one of those now or never feelings, a feeling tinged with impending regret if I didn’t act, and with that I turned on my heels and ran back to find the cask again, jotted down the cask number and rejoined the group. Later as I sat with Des refreshing our palates over another cup of tea and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, I mentioned the Glenturret that was not for sale. Negotiations were opened and I am glad to say that our old friend eventually came onboard, allowing the Glenturret 1989 to come back to Indy.

Many people have never heard of the Glenturret Distillery. And why would you have, as the distillery has never been truly marketed either in Scotland, the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter? Instead the distillery has been hidden away behind a giant whisky visitor attraction known as The Famous Grouse Whisky Experience. Anyone who ventures beyond the razzmatazz of this Disneyland for Blended Scotch will be treated to a beautiful little distillery not unlike the Edradour distillery to its south, resplendent with quaint old buildings and whitewashed walls. In fact, it produces around the same amount of whisky for its single malts as Edradour: a paltry 120,000 liters per annum. Distilling, albeit illegally, began on the site prior to 1775 and continued until the present distillery was constructed in 1818. Production continued until the early 1920s, when it closed and was dismantled. In 1957 a whisky enthusiast by the name of James Fairlie purchased the distillery, refitted the production equipment, and commenced distilling two years later. It has been in production since then, mainly producing malt for blenders. It has changed hands several times, most recently (as in a couple of months ago!) its owners, The Edrington Group (owners of The Macallan & Highland Park Distilleries), put the distillery up for sale, so if you have a spare few million hanging about you know what to do!

Every distillery has its own way of doing things and Glenturret, in this the age of automation and computerization, has a five-man team who work with their hands through every process. In fact the distillery’s motto is ‘By Hand and By Heart,’ a nod to carrying on traditional practices. These guys were practicing craft long before ‘craft’ was cool!

They operate the last hand-turned mash tun in all of Scotland. This is an incredibly hard job to do by hand (the reason that no one else works the grist by hand anymore), however Distillery Manager Ian Renwick swears that the physical act of turning the grist with wooden rousers helps to extract all of the sugars out of the grist, leading to more alcohol and better yields. The fermentation process is also incredibly long at about 100 hours in Douglas Fir wash backs (no stainless steel here!), a process which brings out much fruitier notes within the whisky. The team also runs the two stills extremely slowly, with just seven liters of spirit coming off the second pot still every minute. Running the stills in this manner means that the vapor is coming into contact with a lot of copper, which in turn helps to clean it with the end result being a light, sweet, and delicate spirit. Even the cutting of the heads and tails is done by eye as opposed to the more common computer-aided method. There really is a lot of attention to detail here and a well thought out process that has been running efficiently for almost 60 years.

Back to 1989: it doesn’t seem like too long ago but I guess it is, it’s the year the Berlin Wall came down, and it’s the year Glenturret’s delicate spirit was filled into a hogshead cask no. 233 and rolled into the warehouses at Glenturret. Fortunately for us Andrew and Des managed to snag that cask for their business and we in turn get to bring this almost 30 year old single malt Scotch back to Indiana. Quite a journey!

As I said earlier, it is a spectacular whisky, the fruitiness is unbelievable. My first thoughts upon tasting it were of fresh strawberries atop a shortcake base topped with a hefty dollop of freshly whipped cream. Upon further examination stewed peaches, pear liqueur, and Ceylon cinnamon appear on the nose. The carryover of fruit notes from the nose to the mouth is exceptional and a great richness and density coats the palate. It is a wow whisky, both soft and gently sweet and dangerously good. It is also almost 30 years old and to have this level of delicate fruits and freshness in a whisky of this age is almost unheard of.

Everyone of our five panel tasting team had a similar experience with this whisky and there was no question about whether we should bring it back to Indy or not, it was, when will it be arriving? We have a few months to wait and a few months to save for it; it will be worth every penny, I can assure you!


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 Vine & Table #301