Speyside. Unpeated. Madeira Cask. 13yo. 46.3%.
Glen Moray (pronounced Murray) is a Speyside distillery, located in Elgin in northern Scotland. It began life as the Elgin West Brewery, before it was converted into a distillery in 1897. These days, as a distillery and brand it is oft sidelined. Personally, I’d seldom encountered it until the last year or two – and then only its entry level offerings. My main recollection of it is from the two or three years I spent back in my native Australia: Glen Moray was always on special in the local bottle shop, in a promotional pack with two branded glasses. This was probably the Classic Single Malt, but I’m not sure exactly. In many people’s eyes, my own included, Glen Moray was easy to discount due to, well, it being discounted. In an industry sometimes obsessed with premiumisation, it seems that value for money and quality can be perceived as mutually exclusive. So, Glen Moray for me was always there, on shelves in shops and bars, but nothing of particular interest – just a value quaffing whisky.
Fast forward a year or two and I was managing an independent cocktail bar in Edinburgh that was looking to make its mark as a whisky bar. We’d decided to do this not through simply packing the shelves with as many bottles as possible, but by trying to stock ‘interesting’ bottles – limited releases, weird casks, independent bottlings etc. I was constantly on the lookout for bottles that filled these criteria – and when I spotted the Glen Moray Cider Cask Project, this seemed to fit the bill perfectly. This was the first release in Glen Moray’s ‘Elgin Curiosity’ range and was the first cider cask I’d ever seen (and, indeed, the first to ever be released I was to find out). What struck me about it was the impact the cider cask had had on the whisky; it had imparted genuine flavours of cider, beyond the green apple notes so often associated with Scotch Whiskies – especially those from Speyside. This might sound a bit obvious, but quite often weird and wonderful casks can have fascinating effects on whisky but not necessarily impart their own flavours. Without going into too much detail, fino sherry casks have always been a good example of this for me – I love what they do to a whisky, but they don’t make it taste like fino.
The following year, Glen Moray released the next in the Elgin Curiosity range – this time a Rhum Agricole Cask. Again, my interest was piqued, and again the strength of character imparted was staggering. Many rum cask whiskies taste ‘rummy’, with tropical fruit notes and a sweetness you’d expect from a rum influence. Glen Moray’s offering tasted like Rhum Agricole – that funky, almost vegetal flavour associated with this style of rum made from fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses. Anyway, all this leads to the third and latest release in the series – Glen Moray’s Madeira Cask Project, released Monday June 1st, 2020. I got hold of a bottle this week and was obviously keen to try it. Madeira is definitely the least obscure of the casks so far used in this series, with many distilleries releasing Madeira casks and cask finishes over the years. However few have blown me away – and with Madeira being a category I’ve bizarrely become more familiar with in the last 12 months or so, I was looking forward to seeing if Glen Moray had managed to extract the same level of flavour from the cask as in their other releases.
Madeira has a range of styles, like sherry, but it doesn’t really get ‘dry’ as sherry does. Even the dryest stuff (Sercial) is pretty rich, and this is reflected in the nose and mouthfeel of this whisky. The colour belies huge cask influence, being a lot lighter than you’d expect something matured for 13 years in, say, port, though there is a distinct woody note on the nose that tells you the whisky has taken a lot from the oak. The palate has a lot of stone fruit, and a white wine-like richness akin to an oaked Chardonnay. The finish is complex and sweet with notes of caramel, honey, butterscotch and a touch of aniseed or liquorice all-sorts – possibly the strongest reflection of the madeira cask in this dram. This dram for me is delicious and very approachable, sitting in a place where most people can enjoy it: enough spirit character for the bourbon-cask fans; enough cask influence for the sherry-cask brigade.
I am a big fan of this whisky and there are few people who I wouldn’t happily pour a big dram for knowing they would enjoy it. At roughly sixty-five quid it is definitely priced fairly for its quality. However, it doesn’t have quite the wow-factor that the first two did – there isn’t a ‘the snozberries taste like snozzberries’ moment as in the Cider and Rhum Agricole cask projects. Having said that, I’m not aware of a ‘madeira-bomb’ produced by any distiller, and this may be the best reflection of that archipelago’s fortified wine that I’ve come across in a whisky.
I have no official relationship with Glen Moray, though I have done a bit of event work for them in the last year or so and the on-trade rep for Scotland is a mate, who I’ve know for about the same amount of time. The Madeira Cask Project was gifted to me by Glen Moray, though not with any obligation to review.
The cocktail and whisky bar mentioned, The Last Word in Edinburgh, I managed for approx. 12 months, now 18 months ago.
Distillery: Glen Moray
Age: 13 years
Cask: Madeira – Full Maturation
Non-Chill Filtered: Y
Natural Colour: Y
Price: Approx £60-£65
P.S – it is worth noting that the Cider Cask Project was removed from the market at behest of SWA, citing that the casks were not approved for the aging of Scotch Whisky, so as it stands it may be not only the first but the last of its kind.