One of the things that’s great about being a Twitter obsessive, as I admittedly am, is that there are many people from the world of whisky out there chatting away. Earlier on this year my path crossed with that of Keith Wood (@whiskyemporium), who I saw asking some techy questions about twitter one morning while clicking through a search looking for whisky tweeters. A quick exchange of non-whisky related banter led to a chat about whisky and a bit of website crosslinking. Since then I’ve been a regular reader of his site and was rather pleased to be on a list of competition winners recently, bagging myself a sample of Glen Flagler Pure Malt from Keith’s collection in celebration of his 500th online tasting note – ta muchly, sir.
He initially posted up a picture on twitter and asked us what we thought of it, which led me to do a bit of digging about the name on the internet where the story is confused – this is what I’ve extracted from the sites that seemed to tally together.
Glen Flagler is a relatively new and very short lived brand in the whisky world, appearing sometime after 1965 when Inver House built a new distillery as part of a complex in Moffat, converting an old paper mill to spirit production purposes. There were two pairs of pot stills producing three different malts, Glen Flagler (a lightly peated but heavier than usual lowland), Islebrae (a peated version of Glen Flagler made in the same pair of stills that doesn’t seem to have been released as a single malt) and Killyloch (a traditionally lowland style whisky), as well as continuous stills producing Garnheath grain whisky and neutral spirit. The vast majority of the malt went into Inver House’s blends, with small amounts of Killyloch and Glen Flagler also bottled in their own right. The site grew with warehouses, a cooperage, bottling plant, maltings (the largest in Europe at one time) and blending facilities. However, Islebrae and Killyloch disappeared by the mid-70s and Glen Flagler was killed in 1985/6 with the closure and dismantling of the distillery. Some of the site’s facilities still remain, but the majority has now been dismantled. In total a lifetime of only 20 years, less than the age of some of the whiskies that have been released under the Glen Flagler banner.
However, the name of Glen Flagler lived on. Inver House had a management buy out and became an independent company with rights to the Glen Flagler name. As such it became one of their brands and was attached to a pure/vatted malt whisky (now officially called a Blended Malt Whisky – a whisky made of a blend of various single malts from different distilleries, but still only containing malt whisky) – Glen Flagler Special Reserve Pure Malt. This still appears from time to time and is not particularly expensive – the bottles I found online seem to come in at under €50. However, single malt Glen Flagler (and Killyloch) is a very different thing – there’s basically none of it left. In the mid 90s independent bottler Signatory found a few remaining casks of both and produced limited edition bottlings which now change hands for the prices you’d expect for the last bottles from a 25 year dead distillery – it looks like they even came with a miniature of the whisky in addition to the main bottle so that you could have a taste of your rather pricy investment as well as just looking at it. in 2003 Inver House themselves did a 30 year old release, Glen Flagler 1973 which comes in at about £600 per bottle, but is beaten by the 36 year old Killyloch 1967 released at the same time, which comes in at just over £1000.
The label on the bottle Keith has doesn’t match up with the Inver House Glen Flaglers that I’ve found online, listing the producer as Mason & Summers and giving the Moffat Distillery’s post code as their address. Mason & Summers are now Mason & Summers Alcobev and were acquired by an Indian company in the early 2000s to push whisky brands in India, but this was produced before the sale when, I assume, they were still exporting whisky around the world. This bottle is, as Keith pointed out from the neck label, an Italian import and with the postcode on the bottle I assume this is an Inver House bottling that was distributed by Mason & Summers overseas.
In the end we’re not sure what this whisky actually is, just like with most blends. It’s got the Glen Flagler name on the bottle but we have no idea whether it has anything inside that was produced by the distillery.
So, more importantly – what’s the whisky like? On the nose there was some sweet vanilla and maybe a touch of acetone (fake bananas and custard?), with blackjacks and fruit salads, a hint of mulchy grass and a bit of burned wood. To taste it was initially sweet but had a slab of tannic wood in the middle, with a prickly mouth feel and centrepiece of sour liquorice. The finish was dry and woody but with a hint of sweetness. A bit of water changed things with more vanilla on the nose, and the taste became custardy with the sour streak running through the middle. The finish kept some of its dry wood but added custard with spiced fruit. Quite nice, but maybe too much of that drying wood sensation for my liking at the moment. Both Keith and Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast, another of the sample recipients and producer of one of my favourite weekly podcasts, reckoned it should have been bottled a bit stronger and drinksLink reckoned it lacked a bit of punch, but I think it’s fine where it is and preferred it with a slug of water to take the edge off the tannins and bring out the custardy vanilla.
Flavour-wise it fits the profile of the traditional Glen Flagler produced between the 60s and 80s, but we’ll probably never know which whiskies went into the blend in the bottle. However, I salute the blenders of Inver House and their efforts to recreate the flavours of their short lived whisky in blended malt form.
Keith’s tasting notes can be found on his site. Mark’s can be heard during the “What I’ve been tasting this week” department on WhiskyCast 275. DrinksLink’s article is up on their site. Many thanks to Keith for the sample and also the bottle picture above.