Glen Spey (Pronounced: glen SPEY)
57°31'37.9596 N, 3°12'27.2736 W
Glenrothes, Glen Grant, Speyburn, Caperdonich
Doonie Burn (Rothes Burn for cooling water)
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
1,400,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo > UDV (since 1962)
Rothes, Aberlour, Banffshire AB38 7AY, Scotland
Hardly - unless you count the 'Flora & Fauna' range
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2001 - Diageo launches the very first semi-official bottling of Glen Spey - a 12yo 'Flora & Fauna' release.
2004 - Murray McDavid releases the Glen Spey 30yo 1974/2004 (46%, MmcD Mission IV, 720 Bts.) - which some maniacs consider as the very best botling of Glen Spey ever released.
2010 - Almost a decade after the Flora & Fauna semi-official bottling was released, two new "official-ish" bottlings appear; a Special Release at 21yo and a Manager's Choice from 1996. And let's be honest, Diageo would be unwise if they hadn't jumped at the opportunity to sell some of the Glen Spey whisky with a larger mark-up than they could get for the whisky if it was used or sold for blending. Enough people with more money than taste are willing to pay...
One of the most 'obscure' distilleries in Scotland is Glen Spey, even
though it is located in the heartland of malt whisky production: the
Speyside area. This might be caused by the fact that the capacity
of the distillery is relatively modest compared to other distilleries in
the area. What's more, Glen Spey was always meant to be used
for blended whisky and no proper OB was ever released.
Glen Spey distillery was built in 1878 by James Stuart & Co. under
the name 'Mill of Rothes'. Less than a decade later James Stuart
bought the Macallan distillery and sold Glen Spey to W. & A. Gilbey
for 11,000 GBP. According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook they were
the first English company to buy a Scottish malt whisky distillery.
The Glen Spey distillery actually started its life as an oatmeal mill
James Stuart was a corn merchant before he ventured into the whisky world.
The distillation equipment was simply added to the existing mill in the years
before the Glen Spey distillery was sold to the Gilbey company of London in
1887. Apart from a fire in 1920 and an expansion of the production capacity
from two to four stills in 1970, the distillery went about its business fairly
quietly for more than a century
Glen Spey may be an obscure distillery, but it actually has quite a few fairly
interesting features. For one thing, they use special after-coolers to help
condense the vapours from the still. Several distilleries that are located
upstream along the Rothes Burn discard their warm water into the stream.
By the time the water reaches Glen Spey, the temperature is too high to be
fully effective in cooling the stills and condensing the spirit. By the way,
these days the distillers don't discharge hot water directly into the streams
and rivers anymore, because this would be bad for the local fish populations.
These days most hot water is recycled within the distilleries or cooled
through heat-exchangers before it's released back into the stream.
Another noteworthy feature of Glen Spey
is the fact that the 2 spirit stills both have
so-called 'purifiers'. Purifiers act as small
condensers, returning a proportion of the
alcohol vapours back to the pot to be
re-distilled. So, this would increase the
amount of 'reflux' within the pot stills.
These purifiers are said to produce a lighter, more delicate malt whisky.
Since the vast majority of the malt whisky that's produced at Glen Spey is used in
various blends (notably J&B - the logo is even integrated in the large name sign at
the distillery), I would imagine they would aim for a 'heavy' whisky with lots & lots
of character, but apparently that's not the case... Based on my experiences so far,
the relative scarcity of Glen Spey as a single malt isn't really a huge loss to the malt
whisky community - less than half managed to earn a score of 80 points or more.
I claimed earlier that the first Glen Spey OB was a 12yo.
However, as the pictures above prove there has been an eight
years old bottling as well which looks very much like an official
bottling. Unfortunately, this bottle isn't listed on the MMMonitor,
so the existence isn't confirmed by one of the other maniacs.
In the selection of tasting notes below you'll find my purely
personal impressions of around half a dozen bottlings of the
Glen Spey single malt - not all of them positive I'm afraid...
1) Apparently, an alternative name for this malt whisky distillery during the early years was 'Millhaugh'.
3) The malt whisky distilled at the Glen Spey distillery has always been used for blending and blended whisky.
The first semi-official bottling of Glen Spey (in the Flora & Fauna range) wasn't released until 2001.
5) Most of the malt whisky distilled at Glen Spey is used in the famous brand of J&B blended whisky.
Glen Spey 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Neutral. Light. Clean. Maybe just a little bit herbal. Only the obscurity maskes it appealing.
Taste: Grainy and a little bit bitter... Gritty. Growing bittersweet in te finish. Not too impressive.
Score: 65 points - I guess this explains why Glen Spey is hardly ever bottled as a single malt.
Glen Spey-Glenlivet NAS (56.5%, Cadenhead's, Bottled +/- 2003, 5cl).
Unfortunately, Cadenhead's doesn't provide a distillation or bottling year on the mini's in this range.
Nose: Sweet and polished. Sweetened cereals. Grain. Barley. It becomes spicier after adding water.
Taste: 'Middle of the road' and not very expressive. Some nice liquorice notes but not much else.
Score: 75 points - let's go with a score of 75 points for this whisky; we're still in 'average' territory.
Glen Spey 15yo 1985/2001 (43%, Signatory, C#3045, 678 Bts.) - a 'Hamstergeddon' malt.
Nose: Something like citrus, but not actual citrus. Sharp nose. Tea leaves. Continued development.
Palate: A little dull and flat compared to the nose. keeping the overall score out of the 80's.
Score: 77 points - despite the interesting nose I can't really recommend it..
Glen Spey-Glenlivet 15yo 1985/2001 (57.5%, Cadenhead's, Sherry Butt, July 2001, 612 Bottles)
Nose: Full & heavy, big and sweet. Could perhaps use just a little more depth, but I like it. Then spices.
Marmeldade? Fresh croissants with melting butter. Just the slightest hint of burnt toast. The breakfast malt...
Taste: Sweet, fruity and very drinkable at cask strength. Bit of orangy bittersweetness in the finish.
Score: 85 points - without a shadow of a doubt the best Glen Spey I ever tried.
Glen Spey 1985/1999 (60.9%, Cadenhead's, 222 Bottles)
Nose: Sweet start, evolving into bittersweet fruits. Blueberries. Coffee? Nice but not very 'deep'...
Taste: A single drop causes a smooth micro-explosion in your mouth. Becomes grittier with water
Score: 82 points - very pleasant, but it wasn't quite complex enough for the upper 80's.
Glen Spey 13yo 1981/1995 (62.3%, Cadenhead's, Distilled June 1981, Bottled March 1995)
Nose: Restrained start with a hint of coffee. Something nutty? Diesel? A little odd but interesting.
Taste: Salty start; quite unusual. Benefits from a little water; suddenly turns sweet. Coffee as well.
Score: 82 points - further proof that great bottlings come from even the most obscure distilleries.
Glen Spey 21yo 1970 (55.4%, James McArthur, 5cl)
Nose: Sweet and spicy. Flowery. Grassy and just a little herbal. Lemon.
Not a powerhouse malt, but certainly more expressive than the big bottle I tried more than five years ago.
Taste: I got beer on the palate; sour with a pinch of salt. Peat? Menthol. Pine resin. Liquorice.
This expression of Glen Spey whisky is not really my type but interesting enough...
Score: 74 points - just a smidgen below average.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glen Spey Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Glen Spey page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Glen Spey expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or