It feels strange to describe GlenAllachie as the new kid on the Scotch whisky block. The Speyside distillery first opened in 1967 and has been in continuous operation for 33 years. However, it was only in 2017, when the distillery became the passion project of an industry titan, that it began to land on the radar.
That titan is Billy Walker, who purchased the distillery from Pernod Ricard with the aim of turning it into a revered single malt whisky. He already had previous in this regard, transforming the fortunes of GlenDronach before selling it on to Brown-Forman for a reported $430m.
There was no GlenAllachie brand to speak of prior to Walker’s arrival. Like so many other distilleries in Speyside, it only served to feed into blends. But it had potential and it took just a year under its new owners for its first single malt range to emerge.
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Five years down the line, Walker’s signature style is all over GlenAllachie. That style is sherry-led whisky produced with the highest quality casks. Walker, a qualified chemist, strongly believes in the value of a good cask. The distillery proudly shares its annual budget for cask procurement ($2.6m for 2022) to indicate its dedication to cask-focused maturation.
The ethos has won many a heart and mind. A loyal group followed Walker from GlenDronach to GlenAllachie and he is winning many more fans as interest in Scotch grows. While core releases are widely available, GlenAllachie’s limited editions sell out in a flash and regularly go for four times the price on whisky auction sites.
The hype reached fever pitch earlier this year with the launch of the 50th Anniversary Series, celebrating Walker’s half-century in the industry. Consisting of three expressions, the series celebrated the past, present and future of Walker’s career. The UK’s allocation never touched the ground. Websites were sent crashing, store phones rang off the hook and thousands were left disappointed.
The Past Edition was a 100% sherry-influenced 16 Year Old, uncut and unfiltered at 57.1%. The Present Edition was another sherry-influenced 16 Year Old, but this time finished in rare Japanese mizunara oak casks. The Future Edition is an experimental 4 Year Old notable for being the distillery’s first peated release.
Intrigued by the meteoric rise in interest and set to hit the US market in time for the holiday season, we wanted to try the Past and Present editions ahead of their US release. Here’s what we thought:
The GlenAllachie 50th Anniversary Past Edition
Walker carved his reputation in heavily-sherried whisky, so it makes sense that the Past Edition be an unabashed sherry bomb. Limited to 4,000 bottles, the Past Edition sat in nine rich Spanish sherry casks for its entire maturation. Generously released at a cask strength of 57.1% ABV, it pushes the limits of its category. It’s a dream for those who love sherried whisky, a symphony of classic notes: honey, dark fruit, muscovado sugar and Christmas spices.
Nose: Hardly any ethanol burn, even at cask strength. It smells like a dessert wine, or a traditional English trifle. Cinnamon and nutmeg sit alongside orange peel for that Christmas Day vibe. A little more time in the glass allows some wood influence to come through in the form of toasted walnuts, which conveniently adds to the trifle-ness.
Palate: A syrupy mouthfeel. Surprisingly palatable at cask strength with a lasting spice that happily sits in the background. As sweet as caramel with some more floral notes emerging with a few drops of water.
Finish: Medium. Some more wood influences emerge as the whisky evolves, but the sweetness stays strong throughout.
Rating: 7.5/10. This may be a top mark for those who love a sherry bomb. It has all the hallmarks of high-quality maturation and is delivered at an exceptional strength – perfect for experimentation. But there does come a point where the liquid becomes more sherry than whisky and this dances on that line, albeit with purpose, pride and precision.
The GlenAllachie 50th Anniversary Present Edition
The Present Edition has been designed to pay homage to the spirit of experimentation that Walker has instilled into GlenAllachie.
Mizunara casks are fascinating. On paper, the Japanese oak tree shouldn’t be used for whisky. The wood is fragile, porous and must be 200 years old before it can be felled. Still, they are so sought-after because of the characteristics they impart on the liquid. It came as some surprise to see that GlenAllachie had secured mizunara casks, such is the demand.
“Sourcing mizunara casks has been a long-held ambition of mine,” Walker told us. “After much persistence with our favored cooperage, to our great delight, we managed to access a number of mizunara casks.
“We’re looking to acquire more this year and next as we were blown away by the results from this first exploration. It truly is a special oak genus, and we are uber excited about experimenting with it further in terms of the flavor contribution these casks provide our single malt.”
Due to the limited nature of the casks, this release was limited to just 2,900 bottles at 48% ABV. The liquid was matured in PX and oloroso sherry casks before being finished in mizunara for an unstated amount of time. We suspect it was in there for 18 months, perhaps two years, but that is speculation on our part. Due to the appeal of mizunara casks, this expression remains the most sought-after of the three.
Nose: Starts with the typical sherried notes of dark chocolate, cherries, blossom honey and walnuts. But go deeper and you start to pick up the mizunara influences: ginger spice and sandalwood intertwined with crème caramel.
Palate: The mizunara cask brings this sherried whisky to life with an initial zing of spice. It’s perfect at 48% with the strong wooded notes in harmony with the sweeter end of the spectrum. Dark berries and toasted sugar with hints of sandalwood and mixed nuts.
Finish: Long. The spice lingers on and leaves a wonderful coat on the palate. The whisky continues to dance between sweet and savory. Every sip brings a new level of flavor.
Rating: 9/10. A near-perfect score for an exceptional whisky. Mizunara oak has worked its magic, delivering a vibrancy and wooded quality you usually get with liquids twice its age.