It is one of those wonderful roadtrip days through the scottish highlands. The sun plays peek-a-boo with the passing clouds and presents the beautiful landscapes in the light and shadows that make every photographers heart jump. I’ve got a few days off work in the distillery and a visit from a fellow travel maniac and whisky friend. Naturally we’re on the road! Glengoyne is her favorite distillery so we have a room booked in Milngavie. Since she walked the west highland way before that officially begins in that little town, we decide to walk the way back from the distillery. The bus takes about 25 minutes to the distillery and… why do I even mention it… we´re late. But thank to the mad scottish bus drivers we make it in time. Although I’ve never been here the place looks familiar. And yes, in a not so distant future from this time on I will recognize the distillery as the outside film set of „The Angles Share“ one of my favorite whisky films of all time (in fact as far as I know there are only two: Whisky Galore! and The Angles Share, both worth a closer look). While we’re on the subject: The fictional distillery in the film, more or less the Deanston Distillery is a combination of Glengoyne Distillery (outside shots) and Deanston Distillery (scenes in the distillery e.g. the still house). Balblair Distillery comes into play later, when they try to steal the „Maltmill“, which actually existed as a part of Lagavulin Distillery a long time ago… But I’m getting carried away! Glengoyne, we’re actually entering Glengonye Distillery not without a nice fotoshoot infront of the buildings… Its a sunny day and the light is as fantastic as our mood.
From the variety of tours we pick the „gold medal parade“ for 25 £ including a tasting of the 12 yo, 18 yo, 21 yo and the cask strength. The standard tour is 9 £ so in the upper regions of tour prices. Glengoyne is a busy place. Being close to Glasgow and on the west highland way makes the distillery an ideal tourist attraction. Being a tour guide myself I am impressed with the scottish relaxedness of the guides and shop staff.
A curious fact about Glengoyne for me is its location and therefore the difficulty of sorting it into the classical scottish whisky reasons. Since its resting precisely on the lowland-highland line, with its warehouses being on the lowland side, the distillery and still house on the highland side, it seems like perfect hybrid whisky. The division in regions today is a tricky subject. There has been many arguments about the regions and the individual style of the distillery seems to be a more accurate characteristic to me then the region characteristics. As for the Lowlands most experts would agree that whiskies like Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie (with Bladnoch being mothballed for many years the only really accessible lowland malts) are light boddied and often described as „easy accessible“(1). Me and Mike (my scottish malt mate) always felt about lowland whiskies as easy to drink (smooth but not spectacular on the nose and the finish) and often a bit bland. So yeah guilty as charged, we’re both highlands and islands fans. The highlands instead are a huge region including the northern part of Scotland, the east, the west and many count islands like Arran, Mull and Orkney in this region as well. Which makes it almost impossible to give them a general characterization. But I always felt that these whiskies are more full-bodied, more complex and more punchy which usually floated my boat much more. But ey, in the end it all comes down to personal taste right? So lets get back to Glengoyne. Having its location in mind I consider this a very interesting malt. The labels read „highland malt“ and to me it presents itself like a bit of both, smooth and passive like a lowland malt, but hiding some highlandish characteristics in the back. Glengoyne prouds itself with being unpeated so much they put it on their box covers. With my travel companion being extremely sensitive to smoky flavors in the negative dimension, I’m not surprised that she loves the Glengoyne house style. The second characteristic that Glengoyne waves the flags for is that is is „unhurried“ referring to the long middle cut (about three hours) which is in fact quite a long time. They claim to have the slowest stills in Scotland and this method give them a „smooth and hugely complex“ spirit. Probably something every malt whisky distiller would say about their product, but I have to admit that most Glengoynes I’ve tried were quite smooth indeed. Glengoyne works with a classic combination of bourbon and sherry casks with an increasing content of sherry and first fill sherry casks while we go up the age and price latter. My favorite being the 21 yo so far. Having a closer look at the 15 yo version recently, I come to the impression that Glengoyne might be a whisky that can easily be overlooked. Some of the rougher malt fans like me might try this and think „nah to bland, to soft“, but giving it time and a few drops of water did A LOT to this malt. You’ll find a lot of delicate dried fruits and tobacco notes in this one. As you know some whiskies react more and some less to water and some air. But in this case I was surprised what the malt had to offer once we found the key. So Glengoyne showed us once again what you can say about almost every scottish malt whisky: It´s made with patience, so enjoy it in patience!
The tour and the visit itself where nicely done by and old Scot, picture policy being quite rigid unfortunately. As least the stillhouse is open yo we could take some pics of the stills from the outside. I loved the display of different stages of maturation in bottles, pointing out where the different expressions of Glengoyne would be situated. Although I missed a warehouse experience very much! The tasting was very pleasant and I loved the fact that the distillery told us exactly the contents and percentages of their bottles (how could I miss writing this down!).
Back in the visitor center we both couldn’t get around buying a distillery only bottling. She went for the handfilled, me for the „Teapot Dram“ a marriage of some sherry casks at cask strength. Lovely stuff. So all in all I very much enjoyed my stay at Glengoyne. Its a lovely place with a very well done visitor center and dedicated staff. You can feel its a professional touristy place but still it does not feel too spoiled for me. Lets hope things don’t change for the worst in the future. As for the whisky it is pleasant but definitely not a „in your face“ whisky. Fans of Talisker and Glendronach will have to put some work in one of their bottlings before they will find something. But if you do, you might be positively surprised. Well, it’s a fascinating world isn’t it? If you ever pass Glengoyne I would definitely recommend a visit. We end our malt mission with a lovely journey back to Milngavie not without the traditional getting-lost-for-a-while. With a slowly paced walker like me we take about 3 hours to get back to our bnb, but I have to admit this way has something. Maybe one day in the far future I’ll walk it all by myself. Oh no pun intended but the original name of Glengoyne when it was founded it 1833 was „burnfoot“(2). I will leave you here malt mates while you give this a thought or two.
Résumé: Glengoyne is a beautiful distillery on the west highland way just about ok in terms of tourist-overkill. It’s style lives from the idea and image of patience and relaxedness, so we hope things will stay like this. If you have the patience you might discover your love for this malt. And if you won’t… there`s plenty of alternatives 😉
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