Last week the Malt Nuts gathered once again to taste and discuss another distillery, though unlike most of our tasting which have a large lineup this one was more concentrated because we were diving into a dead distillery and as we all know, those bottles ain’t cheap. The particular distillery we were delving into this evening was Glenesk and while it was a on a smaller scale, it was no less educational.
A quick timeline of the Glenesk distillery (via Malt Madness)
- 1897 converted from a mill to a distillery and named Glen Esk
- 1899 bought by J. F. Caille Heddle and name changed to North Esk Distillery
- 1914 closed during WW1
- 1938 reopened as a grain whisky distillery and name changed to Montrose
- 1954 bought by DCL (Distillers Company Limited)
- 1954 – 1964 went by either North Esk or Glenesk, not sure which (maybe both?)
- 1964 transferred to SMD (Scottish Malt Distillers – former DCL subsidiary), converted back to a malt distillery and name changed to Hillside
- 1973 William Sanderson & Sons Ltd took over license to distill (Vat 69 whisky)
- 1980 name changed back to Glenesk
- 1985 closed in December
- 1992 SMD cancelled the distilling license
- 1996 everything was demolished except the maltings which were sold to Paul’s Malt Ltd. who were bought by Greencore
- 2010 Axereal bought Greencore and now owns the maltings
Being Malt Nuts the whiskies were still wrapped and blinded to keep guessing and any preconceived notions at bay. We also had 2 ringers thrown in to make things interesting and keep our taste buds guessing. As per usual we toasted our gracious host and then it was on to the Glenesk tasting!
- Nose: Waxy fruit, honey, dusty spice, 7UP, Twizzlers, toffee and “ozone”.
- Palate: Honey, malt, dried fruit, acetone, dusty spice, medicinal, generic candy and an alkaline / mineral-like quality.
- Finish: Some sweetness, but mostly earthy malt, caramel syrup and hay.
- Overall: C (73-76) Ask and ye shall recieve. February of last year at our Audacious Aultmore Tasting I ranked this as the worst whisky of the night, bordering it on a C-, and mentioned I’d like to try it again. Barry snuck it into this tasting as a “palate warmer” to see everyone’s reactions after the bottle had been opened for a while. The imitation peat quality was gone and my first ball park rating for this was C+ / B- and over the course of the night it steadily became flatter and flatter as I went back to it and eventually landed on a solid C. Definitely not a whisky I enjoy.
2: Glen Esk 17 years – Connoisseur’s Choice (40%)
- Nose: Strawberries and cream, sherry, dried dark fruit, paxarette and light touch of wood.
- Palate: Dried fruit and a cloying dark fruit syrup blanket the palate followed by notes of leather, dry oak and nuts.
- Finish: Dr.Pepper with a touch of dried fruit and old wood.
- Overall: C+ (77-79) There was something off about this whisky. I couldn’t fully place my finger on it, but it was simultaneously cloying and sharp while also having some almost decent flavors bouncing about in it. Messy is the best way I can describe it and it seems like not even sherry casks can help Glenesk.
3: Glen Esk 20 years – Duncan Taylor (58.4%)
- Nose: Caramel perfume, plastic, paint thinner, grass, weird watery fruitiness and a strange artificial honey-like sweetness.
- Palate: Hay, root beer, plastic, char, burnt sweets (toffee / caramel), acetone, same weird fruit from the nose and a dollop of acetone.
- Finish: Sharp fruit notes accompanied by alkaline, hay and old musty wood.
- Overall: D (63-66) The reveal on this one was both surprising and not surprising at the same time because I had it before at a dead distillery tasting done with the LASC (linked above) where it took home the award for the worst whisky of the night. Though unlike that night I wasn’t getting any boiled meat notes, however I should note that the bottle we tasted at LASC had been open for a week or two before we tasted it and this one was freshly opened that night. Who knows, maybe the boiled meat will resurface as it oxidizes.
4: Bunnahabhain 10 years – Signatory (57.8%)
- Nose: Sherry, dried dark fruit, iodine, spice and a bit of cocoa, caramel and sulfur.
- Palate: Sherry, dark fruit, iodine, brown sugar and a touch of pepper, sulfur and caramel.
- Finish: Sherry, wood, spice, sulfur and smarties.
- Overall: B+ (87-88) This was a boone to the senses after the Glenesks and Aultmore. I noted that it was a a touch tart and a bit sharp overall, but still very nice to sit and sip; letting it open up with a little water and air it got even better with the dark notes becoming richer, but it remained a bit sharp and tangy – especially on the finish. I also want to note that it’s entirely possible that this is getting a higher score than it should because of the company it was in, though we’ll find out at some point since sherried Bunnies are a future meeting theme.
At this point it’s well established that I don’t care for Glenesk and I honestly wouldn’t pick up a bottle at $40 let alone $1,200+ like they go for. True I’ve technically only had 2 bottles of it at this point, but with both having a sharp acetone character it seems to me that they either did something “off” in the distillation, like including an excessive amount of heads and / or feints, or they just used horrible casks that leached out acetone without giving much oaky richness.
I don’t know the exact reasons why Glenesk seems to be so terrible, but what I do know is that I enjoy tastings like this just as much as I enjoy tastings where I love everything I taste. Seriously, tasting bad whisky can be just as much fun, and in some instances be even more educational, than tasting good whisky because you can’t fully appreciate how good whisky can be without also experiencing how bad it can be. It was an all around educational experience and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Till next time. Cheers!